Protecting and Promoting Scotland's Freshwater Fish and Fisheries

Protecting and Promoting Scotland's Freshwater Fish and Fisheries

Protecting and Promoting Scotland's Freshwater Fish and Fisheries

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department's protecting and promoting Scotland's freshwater fish and fisheries review. 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 with the assistance of a number of Fellows with direct experience of fisheries and conservation issues.

The Scottish Executive document is most timely and will do much to enhance the debate regarding rationalisation and co-ordination of fisheries management in Scotland. One omission from the review, however, is the absence of any reference to the extensive research concerning freshwater fish that has been carried out over the years by the Scottish scientific community.

The different sections of the review are addressed below. However, the Society believes consideration should also be given to the 'Angling for Change' report of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which has been put together after considerable deliberation by the leading fishery and conservation organisations in Scotland. There is a danger that if not carefully managed, efforts to 'protect' Scotland's freshwater fish and fisheries will be undone by efforts to 'promote' them.

Chapter 1: Scotland's Freshwater fish

The review document is generally comprehensive. However, the Society would like to highlight a couple of points regarding comments on Scotland's freshwater fish. On Page 3, it should be noted that the Rainbow Trout is not a 'long established species' as there are no established populations of this fish in Scotland, though it is widely stocked from fish farms for 'put-and-take' fisheries. On Page 4, the document comments about Arctic Charr that 'Unusually, all of these complete their life cycles in fresh water...'. In fact this is not unusual, for all populations of Arctic Charr in Europe south of 65oN are completely freshwater.

Chapter 2: Conservation mechanisms

The initiatives being developed to address the conservation of wild freshwater fish are most welcome. The designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) will be invaluable in helping to protect some of our rarer and endangered aquatic flora and fauna. However, beyond these designated areas there is still a need to ensure that there is wild habitat protection.

Chapter 3: Threats and challenges

Introductions and transfers
Ill-considered introductions and transfers of alien species are a threat to freshwater biodiversity. There needs to be a greater awareness of this threat and stronger legislation to combat deliberate introductions. For example, Section 24 of the 1986 Act makes it an offence to introduce salmon eggs into freshwater in a salmon district where there is a District Salmon Fishery Board without permission from the Board. Therefore, encouragement should be given to enable complete coverage of Scotland's freshwater fisheries by District Salmon Fishery Boards, which is incomplete at present.

Predators
Predation and predator control is a sensitive and emotive subject. More research is required into the significance of predation (for example by seals) on salmon/sea trout during times of salmon scarcity.

Aquaculture
The impacts of salmon farming are an important consideration for wild salmon and sea trout fisheries. The industry has expanded rapidly in the past 15 years. However, the sophistication of the industry's regulation has not sufficiently changed to keep pace.

There would be merit in a single independent regulatory body to oversee the planning and regulation of the industry in both freshwater and seawater. Currently the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) police the industry in terms of pollution discharge, but the wider environmental impacts, particularly on wild fish stocks, are not within their remit. The role of SEPA should be expanded to become the overseeing regulatory body responsible for the siting and environmental monitoring and control of fish farms, although extra resources will be required for it to undertake this role. More research on the impacts of salmon farming (in both marine and freshwater loch environments) is also required.

The Joint Government/Industry Working Report on Infectious Salmon Anaemia (1999) has recommended 6 or 12 month fallow periods on salmon farms, and the synchronised production of farms within biological areas to break cycles of disease and parasites. Similar suggestions have been made by the Tripartite Working Group through voluntary Area Management Agreements (AMAs) between farm and wild fishery interests. While fallowing and synchronised production is now becoming more widespread in the industry, and will likely increase as capacity becomes concentrated in fewer companies, these practices are only be instituted through a voluntary code of practice. Consideration could, therefore, be given to statutory sea lice monitoring, together with a penalty system for failure to reach lice targets (as is the case in Norway), backed up by stronger encouragement for the use of fallow periods and synchronised production. There could also be mandatory tagging for farm salmon and a statutory penalty scheme for any recaptured escapees to act as an incentive for farms to prevent escapes, although policing the tagging of fish would be a difficult job and there are potential animal welfare issues related to tagging as well.

One point to note is that the 1999 'Locational Guidelines for the Authorisation of Marine Fish Farms In Scottish Waters' are only applicable to applications for new sea bed leases (i.e. to the Crown Estate/local authority), and not to increases of existing discharge consents (i.e. to SEPA). Consequently, salmon farm production can be increased in many sea lochs in which the guidelines have recommended that no expansion should be allowed, simply because of companies being able successfully to increase existing discharge consents through SEPA, who are not currently bound by the Guidelines. To address this, SEPA could widen its role to include factors affecting wild salmonids (i.e. sea lice, disease, escapes) as suggested above.

Wider environmental issues
Many authorities and companies whose activities impinge on fresh water have now a considerable river conservation awareness and some, such as Scottish and Southern Energy and the Forestry Commission, take account of the effects of their work on fish and their river environment. Perhaps the formation of a comparable group to the Tripartite Working Group on aquaculture could be considered with regard to impacts of other human activities on Scotland's freshwater fish and fisheries.

With regard to the recently issued 'River Crossings and Migratory Fish: Design Guidance', financial constraints are likely to act against local road engineers taking on the extra costs required to adhere to them when road building. Consequently, funding could be made available for sourcing by fishery managers to sub-contract roads departments to include fish passage operations within their budgets, where necessary.

With the end of the Countryside Premium Scheme, and the comparatively limited availability of Woodland Grant Schemes, fresh incentives directed at riparian woodland and habitat improvement are required for river owners to improve the freshwater environment for salmon, trout, other fish species, and wildlife in the rivercorridors as a whole.

In terms of the proposed EU Water Framework Directive, Fisheries Trusts could provide an important source of baseline information on local fish populations and habitat quality, which is standardised via the Scottish Fisheries Coordination Centre.

Chapter 4: The fisheries

The fisheries for trout and other freshwater fish
The lack of management, administration and legislation of fisheries for trout and other freshwater fish is a matter of concern. The brown trout has some statutory protection on rivers where Protection Orders are in force, but only on the Tweed, are other freshwater fish species covered by fisheries legislation. In particular, knowledge of eel stocks is very limited, and management of eel fisheries in areas such as Wester Ross is completely unregulated and the current situation can only be detrimental to what are widely regarded as depleted eel populations.

To permit the management of both migratory and non-migratory fish species (including non-salmonid species such as eels) expansion of existing District Salmon Fishery Boards membership could be an option. Provision of adequate representation and additional and fair allocation of funding would be essential. Fisheries Trusts and Foundations would also need to be represented on such expanded boards. Eel populations are monitored routinely by Fishery Trusts and other Foundations, but without a more integrated approach to eel fishery management this information is underutilised.

Chapter 5: Fisheries management structures

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
The Atlantic Salmon is listed in Annex II of the EU Habitats directive and is therefore deserving of conservation action. SNH's involvement in salmon fisheries management could be increased beyond the establishment of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for salmon, possibly through direct involvement on relevant District Salmon Fishery Boards (such as where districts overlap National Nature Reserves) and indirectly through funding fish conservation related projects.

District Salmon Fishery Boards (DSFBs)
The Society believes that DSFBs should be maintained as the basic management structure for freshwater fisheries, but their current structure and responsibilities should be widened. DSFBs should be extended to cover all areas but, at a minimum, DSFBs 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.

There would be merit in changing the name from District Salmon Fishery Boards to 'District Fishery Boards' (DFBs) and, as noted above, in widening their responsibilities to the management of all freshwater/estuarine fish and fisheries within their catchments. DFBs could then be responsible for the policing and management of these fisheries and raise additional revenue by selling fishing Licenses/tickets/tenancies for fisheries other than salmon/sea trout (e.g. brown trout, eels). The only exception might be the need for increased availability of funds for Fishery Trusts and Foundations, and for fishery conservation and management projects. The revenue-earning role of the Boards, however, could be at odds with conservation of limited or endangered stocks, for example, through failure to enforce catch and release, close seasons and fishing method restrictions; and through stocking policies of non-indigenous strains versus local stock. This could be avoided by reserving to Ministers the right to over-rule Board decisions if deemed necessary for the long-term sustainable management of the salmonid and other stocks.

Representation on the boards should also be wider so that netting interests, aquaculture, wildlife interests and scientific knowledge could be represented on the Board by right, and including, when necessary, representation from SNH and SEPA. In addition, DSFBs are only as well-informed as the individuals involved. Consequently, the quality of salmon and sea trout fisheries management by DSFBs varies greatly. Encouragement should be given to river owners to participate in some form of formal fisheries management training to ensure a 'basic standard' of management.

Fisheries Trusts and Foundations
The Society believes that DSFBs should be encouraged to establish and contribute to local Fishery Trust and Foundations, which should also be represented on DSFBs to assist the flow of advice and information to the Boards. More funding opportunities should also be made available for the establishment and maintenance of Fishery Trusts and Foundations, and for fish conservation and management projects carried out by these organisations (e.g. through bodies such as SNH, SEPA, Local Government, Enterprise bodies and the Fisheries Research Services). It should be noted that the development of Area Management Agreements for aquaculture is likely to involve considerable input from DSFBs and Fishery Trusts in order to monitor sea lice and disease on wild fish, which will in turn have funding implications for these bodies.

Chapter 6: Fishing rights and the scope for wider access to fishing

Fishing rights
The programme of consolidation of existing salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation is much needed and very welcome. The Society agrees with the need for Protection Orders, as long as they are applied with sensitivity. There is room, however, for improvement in the presentation of legislation to make it more accessible to users other than those already expert in the technical details and more could be done by way of explanation of provisions, for example, by including reference to relevant EU Directives. There is also a need to consider whether provisions designed to achieve conviction of those who seek to evade the law are consistent with the legislation on Human Rights. These issues are, however, too detailed for this stage of the review.

The rationale and scope for wider access
The management of wild brown trout in Highland lochans outside Protection Orders is a potential problem. Although these lochans are widespread, they cannot support intensive fisheries and while some may be fished infrequently, others are very popular and their populations may be depleted. It would be unwise to promote fishing on hill lochans without adequate management structures in place to control and monitor it. As suggested above, brown trout, along with other fish species, should be brought under the legal aegis of DSFBs, so that trout fishing could be promoted, marketed, policed and managed by the DSFB's. Fishery Trusts already collate baseline information on brown trout stocks and would be able to use this to guide their management in the future.

With regard to widening salmon fishing, the Society supports the document's comment that the fact that salmon stocks are currently under considerable pressure means that now is not the time to increase exploitation.

 

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