Conservation of Salmon and Sea Trout
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department's consultation on the conservation of salmon and sea trout.
This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows with direct experience of fisheries and conservation issues.
The Atlantic salmon, which returns to its home river to spawn, can be approached in a different way from most commercial marine fish. Local decisions and responsibilities for salmon management are not just appropriate but indeed highly desirable, and should allow for regulation where necessary on a river-by-river basis. However, recent voluntary actions by District Salmon Boards and others have failed to halt the decline in wild salmon numbers.
The proposed measures, namely to give District Salmon Fishery Boards and Ministers the power to restrict netting and angling effort in river catchments where populations or fisheries appear to be particularly threatened, seem appropriate given the current perilous state of stocks. They are also in accord with practices already in place in England and Wales.
The document, however, acknowledges that this will be but a partial, although important, answer to the problem. While decreasing exploitation measures can only help stocks, it nevertheless remains to be seen whether the proposed measures are sufficient on their own to have any significant effect on the decline in numbers.
More international effort and consensus is, therefore, required to address the possible problems that are affecting stocks in the marine phase of the fish's life (e.g. the food supply of salmon at sea, influence of sea lice infestations from Scottish and Norwegian salmon farms, illegal netting, by-catch of smolts in the pelagic fishery and predation by seals) as well as the effects of farmed fish escapes (in particular the potential threat of those with any future genetically engineered traits) on wild fish strains.
The current parallel consultation by the Scottish Executive on 'Protecting and promoting Scotland's freshwater fish and fisheries' will also be highly relevant.
The different sections of the consultation paper are addressed below:
It is noted that, although Sea Trout is mentioned in the document title and in this paragraph, it is not mentioned again, even though the declines in this fish have been even more drastic than with Atlantic Salmon. In addition, Sea Trout data do not seem to be shown in Annex A, as is suggested in paragraph 2.
There is also no mention in the document of the inconsistency in the present legislation, most of which recognises and deals with Sea Trout but not the non-migratory Brown Trout. As these are now recognised as a single species there is an immediate difficulty in trying to manage only the migratory component of the stocks of this fish. Many anglers are unable to distinguish accurately between adult Sea Trout and Brown Trout and no-one can separate the juveniles.
n paragraph 2, the consultation document indicates that there is evidence in recent years of adequate smolt runs. This would indicate that production in fresh water is generally adequate and therefore, the re-stocking in which a number of Boards are actively engaged, may not necessarily be beneficial to stocks, or answer the present extensive declines in returning fish.
Scope and application of possible legislation
In whom would the powers be vested?
The Society believes that successful application of legislation requires efficient management of District Salmon Fishery Boards (DSFBs). Representation on these boards, therefore, should be wider so that netting interests, aquaculture, wildlife interests and scientific knowledge could be represented on the Board by right.
The Consultation Document also notes that there are no DSFBs in some parts of Scotland and proposes that the proprietors in such areas, acting collectively, would be able to seek similar measures. The Society believes that it would be inappropriate for loose groups without the discipline of including other related interests, or a proper constitution, to have a statutory position. Successful enforcement of restrictions on rod/net exploitation depends upon total coverage of a DSFB. At a minimum, Boards should be established to cover all rivers flowing into individual sea lochs and the Government should apply pressure on existing DSFBs, where gaps exist, to accelerate this process. Ministers should also reserve powers to over-rule DSFBs decisions on limiting exploitation if deemed necessary, for the long-term sustainable management of the salmonid stocks.
What would be the nature of the measures proposed?
What would be the geographic coverage of the powers, and of any measures which might be implemented using those powers?
There must be enough flexibility within the legislation to enable the application of regulations to individual river systems within an Area DSFB. Thus within the Area Board, regulations on exploitation may be required on a river-by-river basis, not on a district-by-district basis and where river catchments can be divided, this should also be included.
What consultation would be required before these powers are invoked?
Prior consultation is important and appropriate bodies should be properly defined. The procedure should be as simple as possible, open to scrutiny and to appeal, and with reasonable timescales laid down. It will also be important to understand where the final decision lies and the legislation should state this clearly. In putting forward proposals, it will be important for DSFB decisions to demonstrate the reasons for their proposals and to be based upon a proper understanding of the situation with adequate statistics, and a good scientific assessment and evaluation of the data. DSFB's should, therefore, be mandated to have taken advice from Fisheries Trusts, where they exist, and/or the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory (FFL). The proposed legislation will impose substantial additional burdens on these bodies and steps should be taken to ensure that they are adequately resourced.
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) and Environmental Planning (July 2000).