In My Opinion

EFFORTS by a group of dissident Loch Lomond anglers to bring about greater transparency in the administration of salmon and trout fishing on the famous loch, failed last night.

More than 100 members of the historic Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association (LLAIA) packed into Partick Burgh Halls in Glasgow for the club’s annual meeting.

LLAIA website
Lomond: Efforts to introduce a formal catch-and-release policy were defeated in favour of 'education' and a 'voluntary' code

But efforts to persuade the membership to change policy on two key issues – itemisation of spending over £1000 and a formal catch-and-release policy for salmon, were heavily defeated. The club’s treasurer, Alastair Mair, claimed not to have received a letter seeking financial information in depth, sent to him by members last week.

The 100-year-old club, which leases its fishing for, members say, around £20,000 a year from a group of more than 40 riparian owners, now finds itself once again facing unrest within its ranks.

After nearly two years of bitter in-fighting, an emergency meeting of the LLAIA – which has a membership of more than 600 paying up to £175 a year – last May saw officials and committee headed by its chairman and secretary, Michael Brady, cling to power by six votes. Both sides pledged to co-operate for the future in a spirit of reconciliation, but the mood among the dissidents after last night’s meeting was sombre. One said on leaving:

What are we to make of a club which fails to produce minutes of a crucial emergency meeting, which refuses to provide its members with details of how its income is distributed, and which won’t implement a strict catch-and-release policy of the kind being adopted widely throughout Scotland because of seriously-threatened salmon stocks?”

The 2009 salmon and sea trout catch totals for the fishery, which lies at the heart of Scotland’s first national park, were not announced. Fewer than 25% of members are understood to post catch returns; those from public tickets even less. The meeting failed to agree a policy for boosting the numbers.

Why the Association has not implemented an online catch return system, as many fisheries do, is not apparent and there are now grumbles in some quarters about its much-vaunted smolt-rearing programme and an allegedly high turnover of water bailiffs.

LLAIA officials rarely speak publicly other than via lengthy pronouncements on their website and it is hard not to view the organisation as an autocratic private club which is resistant to appeals for change. Its ‘voluntary’ catch-and-release policy for salmon is now at odds with official practice elsewhere in Scotland and its steadfast refusal to open its affairs to greater scrutiny by the membership appears, to outsiders at least, to be unnecessarily reticent.

It is widely accepted that the present committee has worked hard to reverse the ailing fortunes of the organisation which now says it has a financial reserves totalling £250,000 and itself owns four stretches of the River Endrick. Unfortunately, little else seems to have happened in the last 12 months to unify the membership. Pledges of changes within the committee structure to bring in new opinions remain unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, continual sniping from the sidelines about day to day administration and procedures continues to blight the future of one of Scotland’s most accessible and attractive game fisheries which ought to be at the centre of the nation’s salmon angling development plans.

The real challenges ahead lie not with LLAIA, which risks finding itself something of a pariah if it carries on the present vein, but with those who govern the future of migratory game fish – and anglers’ access to them – in Scotland.  How long it takes them to reel in fisheries like Loch Lomond will make very interesting viewing indeed.

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Riparian owners hold the key