Wild salmon: S&TA nine-point action plan for survival
2010: record year for Scottish salmon rod catches

SALMON anglers in Scotland had a bumper year in 2010 according to provisional figures released today. Rod catches of salmon are expected to be well over 100,000 – the highest since consistent records began nearly 60 years ago. More than two-thirds were released back into the water.

But the record-breaking total – and the prospects for this year and beyond – are tempered with warnings that in some areas of the country, runs of Atlantic salmon remain poor and the marine environment for the species continues to be “complex and extremely unpredictable.”

The results are highlighted in the annual review published by the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) and Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS).

The 2010 total compares with 72,595 in 2009 and a ten-year average of 76,341.  The previous highest catch was set in 1988 at 96,488.

In a statement, the chairmen of the two organisations, Alan Williams (ASFB) and Andrew Wallace (RAFTS), said: “The 2010 season will almost certainly be the highest rod catch ever recorded in Scotland.

The Tweed had an astonishing rod catch of over 23,000 and records were broken on many east and north coast rivers. This was despite another poor year for spring salmon.”

From last July, they noted, most of Scotland experienced “robust runs” of grilse and summer salmon.  The main exception, they noted, was the southern Western Highlands.  That region, which has the highest density of salmon farming, has been the focus of a sustained campaign by the ASFB against poor farm location and management.

ASFB, which has a statutory duty to protect and improve migratory game fisheries and RAFTS which is an independent conservation charity, say the public needs to be cautious about the interpretation of the catch statistics.

“Angler effort and angling conditions all play their part in distorting catch data. On top of this it is essential, when drawing comparisons with the past, that we compare like with like.

“In the late 1960s before salmon got anywhere near the Scottish rod fishery, about half a million fish were caught in Scottish nets. There was also a catch of over 3000 tonnes at Greenland and the Faroes. In 2010 the Scottish declared catch by nets will have been between 15,000 and 20,000 – all killed.

The clear message here is that despite strong grilse and summer salmon runs in many parts of Scotland in 2010, salmon are still nowhere near as abundant as they were 50 years ago”.

Both organisations agree that the challenge for fishery managers “is to ensure as much of our salmon producing habitat is accessible to fish, that water quality and quantity and aquatic habitat are of the highest quality and that exploitation in all its forms (rods/nets/predators) is kept as low as possible.”

And they conclude: “When marine conditions favour salmon, as they clearly did for some stocks in 2009/10, then our fisheries will reap the reward. But given the dynamic, complex and extremely unpredictable nature of our marine environment, particularly in these days of shifts in climate, a cautious approach – even against a background of record catches – is the only sensible position to adopt.”

The full annual review is available by email here.

Related stories:

Faroese threaten Scots on netting resumption

S&TA raises stakes against aquaculture industry

Opinion: Why coastal netting seems destined to survive