Salmon netsmen in Scotland tear up longstanding voluntary conservation agreement which delayed the start of the netting season, thus threatening the most vulnerable component of wild salmon stocks

For the past 14 years the members of the Salmon Net Fishing Association of Scotland (SNFAS), which represents the great majority of netsmen including the main operators, have championed the postponement of the start of their season by six weeks – for “conservation” reasons in order to protect early-running spring salmon (the scarcest of all stocks); in effect, given that the legal start date for netting is mid-February (in most districts the 11th) and that most commercial netsmen are members of SNFAS, this has meant that there has been virtually no legal netting for salmon before April at the earliest.

At the Annual General Meeting of SNFAS held in Dunkeld on November 1st members voted to start netting six weeks earlier than has been their practice for the last decade.

Hughie Campbell Adamson, Chairman of the Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)), commented: “For years SNFAS has milked the six week delay to the netting season as evidence of its members’ conservation credentials. The intention to start earlier shows that the netsmen are determined to kill a proportion of the scarcest, most vulnerable and indeed most valuable of our salmon runs. For many years rod interests have given maximum protection to these fish and now virtually none are killed by anglers in the early weeks of the season. In fact most rivers operate 100% catch and release until May or even later.”

The official Scottish catch statistics confirm that in 2012 almost every salmon caught by anglers in February and March was released back into the water.

Mr Campbell Adamson added: “Netsmen, like anglers, have the right to kill fish. However this backward decision reflects the failure of netsmen, unlike anglers, to recognise that these early runs must be protected. Only Scottish Ministers have the legal power to prevent this exploitation under the terms of the Salmon Act of 2003 – ‘if they consider that it is necessary or expedient to do so for the conservation of salmon’. Ministers cannot on the one hand advocate that anglers release all the early-running salmon they catch, and on the other hand sit back and sanction the wholesale killing of these fish before they reach our rivers. Scottish Ministers need to act now if early-running salmon are to be protected.”

Marine Scotland Science’s recent pronouncements on salmon conservation and salmon runs include the following: “All the components of the spring fishery require special management support” (2010) and “The decline has been particularly acute with regard to returns of fish during the spring months” (2012). The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) is adamant that, on the basis of the advice it receives from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), management actions, with regard to net fisheries, “should aim to protect the weakest of the contributing stocks”. There is universal consensus that early-running salmon are the “weakest” of all stocks.