Wild fisheries groups blame make-up of Government-sponsored committee for fudging the issue on the management of mixed stock fisheries

The group set up by the Scottish Government to make recommendations for the future management of mixed stock fisheries (MSFs) – those net fisheries operating outside of estuaries and exploiting salmon and sea trout from more than one river – has failed to reach consensus. There was a clear divide between those who wished to maintain the status quo and those who wanted to instigate change.

The Association of Salmon Fisheries Boards (ASFB) and the Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA) were looking for this group to give a clear message to the Scottish Government that it was time to meet its international responsibilities and establish a robust management plan for coastal MSFs. Instead, because consensus was sought from the group, the recommendations were not sufficiently strong.

This was always likely, given the makeup of the group: four netsmen, one Government scientist and representatives from ASFB, S&TA, the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Scottish Anglers National Association.

Despite the masterful independent chairmanship of David Crawley, it was ultimately accepted that consensus was not possible, and Crawley was forced to produce his own report and recommendations instead.

Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of ASFB, explained: “It was evident from the start that, in order to come away with a clear, workable strategy, this group should have had a presiding judge taking evidence and then making binding recommendations. Instead of which, the Scottish Government simply threw together organisations with conflicting interests, which were never going to agree, and the result is – as expected – a fudge.”

And the losers? Paul Knight, S&TA’s CEO, is adamant: “Our endangered wild fish stocks – yet again.”

The report quotes guidelines from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and the EU, and gives examples of other countries’ policies, all of which accept the problems caused by coastal MSFs – that they make efficient management of individual river stocks impossible because they indiscriminately catch any salmon migrating along the coast, regardless of their river of origin.

The report even cites criticism of Scotland by the president of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO). However, it fails to unequivocally recommend that the Scottish Government should heed all this international advice.

Not surprisingly, although there was much to admire in his final report, both the ASFB and S&TA felt that these recommendations did not go far enough.

The report acknowledges the decline in salmon stocks and recognises the contribution made by anglers to conservation through increasing catch and release, which allows some 60% of all salmon caught on rod and line to be returned alive to the water. But the document fails to condemn indiscriminate exploitation of salmon and sea trout by coastal nets, or face up to the inequality in the burden of management costs – a mere £2 is raised from a netted fish, while a rod and line caught salmon generates £70 towards management costs and conservation projects. These issues were deemed too contentious by the chairman.

Overall, the report is long on the need for more research but critically short of immediate action, as it deems that the present scientific data is insufficient – an attitude that epitomises the lack of urgency shown by the Government and its advisors. In contrast, ASFB and S&TA repeatedly called for the precautionary approach to be adopted, a principle signed up to by Scotland as a member of the EU delegation at NASCO.

Hugh Campbell-Adamson, said: “All is not lost; the first recommendation of The Mixed Stock Fisheries Working Group Report calls on the Government to make a clear, unequivocal policy statement about the strategy for MSFs as soon as possible. The chairman of the group recognised the need for urgency; let us hope the Scottish Government now do too.”

Paul Knight agreed and added: “Scotland risks becoming the pariah of the international salmon world, by its attitude to managing wild fish stocks. ASFB and S&TA will continue to fight for the protection of wild salmon and sea trout, two of Scotland’s most iconic natural resources, and the significant social, economic and environmental benefits that can be derived from their sustainable exploitation.”