The Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA) has welcomed the decision by Dumfries and Galloway Council to close forthwith its major mixed stocks salmon netting station close to Annan in the Solway. This follows legal pressure from S&TA on the Council, including the threat of judicial review, that any decisions to allow stake netting to continue would be in breach of the EU’s Habitats Directive because the Annan stake nets are highly likely to intercept salmon destined for the River Eden in Cumbria. The Eden is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for salmon and it is failing its conservation targets.
The S&TA's threat of legal challenge was backed up by Fish Legal in Scotland.
The S&TA's position was that by granting the local netting tenant an additional year to his lease of the Annan stake nets, allowing him to net in 2015, the Council had breached the Habitats Directive – as it had failed to conduct an appropriate new assessment (of the impact of the nets on the Eden SAC) contrary to its legal obligations. Further, any renewal of the lease beyond 2015 would be a clear breach of the Directive.
The Annan stake nets have in recent years declared an annual catch of salmon of up to 1,000 salmon. In recognition of the local concerns S&TA held a public "Solway Salmon in Crisis" meeting in Gretna Green in February, which was attended by 100 stakeholders and other interested parties from across the region.
Paul Knight, CEO of S&TA, said:
"There is no doubt that the threat of legal challenge carried the day in forcing Dumfries and Galloway Council to live up to its obligations. Councils and other public bodies, which own fishing rights, should be under no illusions about their responsibilities to abide by the relevant legislation to protect vulnerable salmon stocks that, in the Eden and all other English rivers, are predicted to be at their lowest recorded levels by 2018. Where we see authorities failing to live up to their obligations, S&TA will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action."
The minutes (http://egenda.dumgal.gov.uk/aksdumgal/users/public/admin/kab12.pl?cmte=ACG&meet=36&arc=71) of the meeting of the Annan Common Good Fund Sub Committee (part of Dumfries and Galloway Council) on 26 May state:
"that further correspondence had been received from the Salmon & Trout Association requesting that the Council immediately informs those persons net fishing in the Solway that they must cease immediately and that, should the Salmon & Trout Association fail to hear from the Council within 14 days of receipt of the correspondence, they would pursue judicial review of the decisions made by the Council, which would include an application for interim interdict of the netting" and that (consequently) the Council agreed "to terminate the Stake Net Lease early with a notice period of two weeks."
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland), commented:
"We welcome the Council's decision. Against a background of declining wild salmon stocks across almost all of the North Atlantic, the Solway rivers have been particularly badly affected with precipitous declines. The evidence from rod catches is compelling. Thus the River Annan's rod catch of 317 in 2014 compares to a five year average of 1557. Similarly the River Nith's rod catch in 2014 of 520 compares to a five year average of 1658 and the River Eden's rod catch in 2014 was some 40% of the five year average. In the circumstances there can now be no justification for any commercial salmon netting in the Solway."
Haaf-netting, a traditional fishing method in the Solway dating back many centuries, is to continue by the Annan estuary. Under a deal brokered by the Annan District Salmon Fishery Board, licensed local haaf-netters will be restricted to a total catch of 150 salmon annually with monitoring facilitated by the implementation of a carcass tagging system. The haaf-netsmen on the Eden are already subject to an annual quota of 10 fish per licensee, imposed by the Environment Agency.
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor for S&TA, added:
"The European Habitats Directive has been pivotal in the Council's decision. It exists to protect the most important wildlife species and habitats in the UK and Europe, including important UK river systems and the fish species such as Atlantic salmon that inhabit them.
However, just as we have success with the Annan nets, we fear that the Habitats Directive is under threat of being weakened by those who mistakenly regard it as a block on business and economic growth. The S&TA believes that any revision of the Directive would leave the long-term future of Europe's biodiversity vulnerable to short-term political priorities. It is vital that the protection the Directive gives to nature is not diluted."