WILD salmon catches in Scotland are at their lowest level since records began, according to Fisheries Management Scotland.
The body, which represents fisheries boards, said figures due to be published later will show stocks of the fish are at their lowest levels since 1952 and at ‘crisis point’, the BBC reported this morning.
Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: ‘The decline in wild salmon numbers is of great concern, and I’m determined that we safeguard the future of this important species.’
But Alan Wells, chief executive of Fisheries Management Scotland, said more needed to be done.
‘Salmon catches in Scotland have reached the lowest levels ever recorded,’ he said. ‘Figures for 2018, taken together with those of recent years, confirm this iconic species is now approaching crisis point.
‘Some of the factors impacting on wild salmon stocks may be beyond human control. But the regulatory authorities now have a historic opportunity to do everything in their power to safeguard the species in those areas where they can make a difference.’
The wild salmon sector has in the past blamed the decline in stocks on salmon farms, and in particular on the spread of sea lice from farmed to wild salmon along their migratory routes.
But sea lice levels on Scottish farms are at their lowest levels in five years, with the country’s biggest farmer, Mowi, saying recently that the problem was now under full control.
A recently completed study by government body Marine Scotland Science found that sea lice made no difference to wild stock survival (http://www.sarf.org.uk/SARFSP010%20Feb2019.pdf).
And last year’s parliamentary inquiries into the impact of salmon farming also concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to impose a moratorium on new farm developments, despite calls from the angling lobby to halt the farming industry’s growth.
Currently, some 99 per cent of wild salmon do not return to rivers to spawn, and theories for the high marine mortality rate include changing sea temperatures, the over-abundance of pelagic stocks competing for food, and predation, by other fish, birds and seals.
Cunningham said the fall in the salmon catch was down to a range of complex factors, ‘many of which are outwith our control, including the unprecedented water shortages Scotland experienced last summer’.
‘We have identified 12 groups of high level pressures on the species, and we’re working closely with key partners to address these,’ she said.
‘Last year, for example, we committed £500,000 to fund research so we can better understand the problem and mitigate against it.
‘In addition, we are providing around £5 million a year to the Water Environment Fund to allow Sepa (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) to remove barriers to fish migration in rivers around Scotland.’
Picture: Fisheries Management Scotland chief executive Alan Wells appearing before the parliamentary inquiry last year