Catches of wild salmon and sea trout have dipped alarmingly in the last two years and river ghillies, boatmen, bailiffs and anglers are fearful for an industry worth £113 million.
Analysts expect catch records for 2014, available by the end of the year, to highlight significant problems in Scotland’s coastal waters and rivers.
Last week, The Marine Conservation Society advised that wild Scottish salmon should no longer be eaten because of its conservation status, claiming Scotland has ‘no management regime in place to prevent an increase in coastal netting.’
Now a new SGA fishing group has been established to ensure government hears the urgent concerns of river workers and anglers, with 2800 jobs sustained by the activity.
The new group feels Scottish government could help the industry and ease tension between anglers and netsmen by applying quotas through a tagging system.
A record of 92 per cent of all Spring salmon were returned to the rivers by anglers through voluntary catch-and-release initiatives in 2013, helping to preserve fragile stocks.
However, no such restrictions have been extended to, or embraced by, netsmen.
Under a tagging system, anglers and netsmen wishing to kill fish will have to apply for a tag and quotas for how many fish can be taken would be based on available science.
“Wild fish need all the help they can get and it is clear that lack of action is no longer an option, which is the main reason for this new group,” said Spey ghillie, Ian Gordon, part of the new body.
“The views of professional ghillies and river keepers have been ignored by too many for too long and we need to provide ghillies, salmon and sea trout anglers and interested parties with a strong voice to ensure the longevity of species, sport and way of life.
“One of the immediate actions Scottish government could take, in time for next season, would be to look at quotas through a tagging system.
“Both anglers, river workers and netsmen, at the end of the day, all want the same thing; more fish in our rivers.
“By applying quotas that everyone is bound by, Scottish government can ensure that conservation measures are targeted and only what is harvestable is taken.”
Poor survival at sea, seal predation and high mortality caused as a result of lice infestations from fish farms have all affected Scottish salmon and sea trout numbers.
One of the proposals being discussed by the new group is a pilot river re-stocking programme, to add resilience to the industry- a key source of rural employment.
Colin Espie, Deeside ghillie for over 40 years and part of the new SGA fishing group, said: “With the current drop in Spring catches, in particular, something needs to be done and people need to speak up now to help the situation.”
New group member, Duncan Ferguson, agreed: “Fishing is such an important part of the rural economy. We need to help tackle the problems and also to encourage the future generations who will become the guardians of our rivers.”
*PLEASE NOTE: We will have more news next week on our website about how you can get involved in the new SGA fishing group.