The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department consultation on Scotland’s freshwater fish and fisheries: Securing their future. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled by the General Secretary with the assistance of a number of Fellows with direct experience of fisheries and conservation issues.
Overall this Green Paper has undertaken a balanced review of a wide range of issues within fisheries management while also trying to achieve some joined up thinking' regarding other ongoing initiatives. For example, including the Water Framework Directive legislation, the Habitats Directive, the land Reform Bill, the review of regulations governing fish farming, and the Rural Development Strategy. It is also right to focus on all fish species in fresh water and take a holistic view of all fish, and not the narrow view on just salmon and sea trout. However, many of the suggestions put forward in the Green Paper require legislation, which could delay the achievement of any meaningful progress. In specific, the cases of introduction and transfers of non-indigenous species, the transfer of fish between catchments, and the regulation of brown trout and non-salmonid fisheries, require urgent action.
The specific details identified in the consultation paper are addressed below:
Salmon and other freshwater fisheries
Economics (para. 14-16)
Commission an in-depth economic analysis of the sector, to report by 2003
The proposal to carry out an in-depth economic survey of the role of freshwater fisheries in the Scottish economy is most welcome. It will be important that the survey takes into account the regional breakdown (e.g. by Salmon Fishery District) and the current versus potential value particularly where stocks are depleted or underutilised.
Legislation (para. 18)
Introduce a Salmon (Consolidation) Bill when a suitable opportunity arises
The consolidated legislation will need to resolve any conflicts between the existing legislation (which is largely ‘salmocentric’) and the holistic needs of all fish species.
Introduction and Transfer of Non-Indigenous Species (para. 19-23)
Make an Order under the Import of Live Fish (Scotland) Act 1978 banning the introduction, keeping or release of exotic species
The Society believes this issue is particularly important. Already, the introduction of the ruffe into Loch Lomond is having a very negative effect on a number of the native fish species, some of which are of high conservation value. It must, however,address not only straightforward introduction but also introductions as live bait and, particularly, the introduction as aquarium or pond fish. Currently there are no controls on aquarium fish imports, many, live or dead, find themselves dumped in drainage or water systems. Some, such as tilapia and goldfish thrive near factory heated effluents. Already the very serious pandemic aphanomycete fungus Aphanomyces invadans has been spread from South East Asia to waters of Northern India and temperate USA by aquarium fish movements. It has been shown to be lethal to salmon smolts. Similarly opportunities would exist for many other pathogens to travel by these routes and affect not only our invaluable wild stocks but also Scotland's salmon farming industry, its single largest agricultural industry.
Clarification would, however, be desirable on whether the stocking of rainbow trout into catchments for put-and-take fisheries constitutes the introduction of an exotic species. Rainbow trout have been kept since the 1880s without establishing significant natural spawning runs.
Through SNH, explore means of controlling the spread of American mink in the Western Isles
The control of mink is very long overdue, however, Mink is just one of the "nuisance species", albeit one whose effects are very visible. SNH has considerable knowledge of the ecological effects of exotic plants and animals which should make it possible for the Scottish Executive to target other alien species as well.
Views are invited on what priority messages and key audiences might be for such educational material, who would deliver it, and through which method it should be delivered
A priority message must be given to advise the public and particular interest groups about the problems caused by the introduction of fish species beyond their natural range. Although in the short-term this may seem beneficial to many anglers, in the longer term it could result in the loss of virtually all angling opportunities from those waters. Therefore, the angling press and angling societies should be a key focus for educational material about the problems caused by introducing non-native fish species, or introducing fish species beyond their natural range. SNH should play a lead role in promoting such environmental awareness and identifying the key messages, however, the Scottish Executive should ensure that these are messages that are taken seriously by local government and by education authorities.
Ban the use of live fish as bait when a suitable legislative opportunity presents
This proposal, could be supported on a number of grounds: (a) livebaiting could be considered unethical, (b) it has lead to the introduction of alien species to native communities, and (c) it will not stop pike fishing which is very successful in countries such as Ireland where livebaiting is banned.
Control transfers of fish between catchments when a suitable legislative vehicle can be identified
Many stocks of wild salmon and sea trout on the Scottish west coast are severely depleted and require restoration. However, resources are limited, and consequently broodstock schemes are often centrally-based, resulting in a widespread transfer of fish during restocking exercises. Although the most desirable scenario is to establish hatcheries within each river catchment in order to avoid the need for fish transfer, assistance will be required from government and its agencies to do this. Under the ongoing review of fish farming regulations it has been proposed that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) may exempt such small hatcheries from requiring discharge consents, which would reduce costs and administration. However, there are few other incentives available for encouraging such hatcheries and under the Green Paper's current suggestions, restoration of west coast stocks may become impossible.
Seal Predation (para. 24-25)
Consider research on seal predation
The Society strongly support the research on seal predation outlined in paragraphs 24 and 25. There is no doubt that it would be an expensive piece of scientific research if it was undertaken to high quality standards, but it is only by getting that quality in the research that it could be used to defuse an ongoing and long-standing argument.
Increasing Angling Opportunities (para. 26)
Introduce a ban on the sale of rod caught salmon by next Spring
The Society would support a ban on rod-caught salmon since wild salmon is now such a numerically challenged species, although it is appreciated that some estates rely on the sale of salmon, grouse and venison to cover running costs of their sporting assets. The monitoring of salmon catches to prevent their sale, however, will be difficult unless a tagging scheme is introduced as in the Republic of Ireland. One potential disadvantage of banning the sale of rod-caught fish comes from the present closure of the majority of commercial netting stations as it will result in few wild salmon and sea trout being available to the public in the future. It could, therefore, encourage an illegal market in salmon and sea trout.
Conservation, Research and Management of Fishing (para. 27 –34)
Consider the scope to introduce registration of put-and-take and other fish hatcheries along the lines of that which applies to fish farms generally, and to impose greater controls over all hatcheries as a way of controlling the spread of disease
It will be important for all hatcheries, whether they are supplying the fish farming or the put and take fishery markets, conform to the same health standards. Fish diseases are problematic, and can be spread by the incautious movement of young fish.
Consider whether, and in what circumstances, it might be appropriate to require fishery managers to carry out a slaughtering programme
The Society has doubts about the feasibility of a slaughtering programme in most wild situations in the event of outbreak of disease. In the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth, slaughtering wild deer stocks was considered impractical and/or undesirable.
Consult on licensing procedures currently available under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Conservation of Seals Act
The Society welcomes the greater transparency in the issuing of licences for shooting under these acts.
Review FRS freshwater fisheries research programme
The FRS Freshwater Laboratory has had a key role in the research of the biology and management of freshwater fishes, however, the bulk of published research on Scotland’s freshwater fish has come from the university sector. There may be merit in the Laboratory increasing its collaborative links with the university sector, and perhaps a greater degree of tendering of research in relation to freshwater fish. This is not to criticise FRS Freshwater Laboratory, but rather to keep it competitive, and producing good scientific research that can be peer-reviewed.
Management of fishery resources (para. 35)
The proposals are to be welcomed and the Society believes it important that there should be as much openness as possible in relation to fisheries data, which in the past has tended to be rather closely guarded.
Management Plans (para. 37)
The Society questions whether each owner or operator of each fishery would be able to prepare appropriate management plans. It would be more appropriate for each discrete river system to have a management plan, agreed by all the proprietors, but put together with help and advice from various quarters, including the Fisheries Research Service, Fisheries Trusts, District Salmon Fishery Boards, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. Otherwise, with so much devolution to local level, but apparently without much explicit guidance, there might be a risk that quite divergent management practices would develop in different parts of the country. At the same time, care would also need to be taken that the three-tiered structure (individual fishery, area and national levels) would not become hugely cumbersome.
In addition, it should be remembered that while management and exploitation of some species (e.g. salmon), and river systems (e.g. the Tweed, Tay, Conon, Spey and some West Coast rivers) can be based upon long-established research and understanding, those of others can not. Of particular concern are European eels, and also isolated populations of hill loch brown trout. Management of eels is hampered by the limited knowledge of the species, while management of hill loch brown trout is constrained by the quantity and inaccessibility of lochs in the Highlands. Fishery management plans are, therefore, unlikely to adequately cover the management of either of these species for many years.
Area Fisheries Management Committees (para 38-40)
The notion of such flexible committees to oversee the execution of Fishery Management Plans is sensible. Suggested membership should include, at the least District Salmon Fishery Boards, angling clubs, local Representatives of SNH and SEPA, fish farmers, other fisheries Interests and community councils.
Currently District Fisheries Board have the statutory right to police and enforce access to and management of salmon and sea trout fisheries, however, the management of other species with Fishery Management Plans will also require a legal framework. At present, the control of brown trout fishing (e.g. via Protection Orders) is difficult and similar problems with enforcement are likely to arise for other species, such as eels, char and coarse fish. The proposed review of the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976 should, therefore, consider carefully how the statutory management of all freshwater fish species is likely to be enforced under the Area Fisheries Management Committees.
In addition, there is no mention of how the proposed committees are to be resourced. Although members of District Salmon Fishery Boards are currently self-funded co-optees such as angling clubs are unlikely to be. The success of the committees may depend upon consistent participation of the stakeholders involved. Without adequate financial support for administration this may not happen in many areas.
National Fisheries Management Consultative Committee (para 41-44)
The Society welcomes the proposal, however, the details need to be carefully worked out. In particular:
District Salmon Fishery Boards (para. 45-47)
The Society agrees with these proposals, and that if all freshwater fish species are to be managed by one board in each district then membership needs to be widened to include other bodies with related interests such as SNH and SEPA. In addition, where the districts are small, and where there are problems in raising sufficient revenue to run management activities, there could be merit in encouraging the amalgamation of boards.
Protection Orders (para 48-50)
Review the objectives of Protection Orders
The Society strongly supports this review as an opportunity to provide national coverage of such controls.
Promotion of Access to Angling (para 51)
Development of better web-site information about angling
Angling in Scotland should only be promoted where the proper management and conservation procedures are in place.
Tourism (para. 52)
Develop freshwater (and particularly salmon) fishing as a niche market
There is also considerable potential in relation to ‘ecotourism’, seeing fish at fish ladders and observation chambers and waterfalls, so the emphasis needn’t all be angling.
Legitimacy of Coarse Angling Methods (para. 53)
Set lines can cause unnecessary suffering to fish, therefore, a possible solution would be the authorisation of ‘attended rods’, with some maximum number.
Enforcement Procedures (para. 55)
Review the enforcement provisions for salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation
The Society welcomes this review.
In responding to this inquiry the Society would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject: The EU policy on Biodiversity (May 1999); Conservation of Salmon and Sea Trout (August 2000); Protecting and Promoting Scotland's Freshwater Fish and Fisheries (August 2000); Sixth Environmental Action Programme (May 2001); The Nature of Scotland (June 2001); The Future of the Common Fisheries Policy (June 2001) and Natural Heritage Zones Programme (July 2001).