An Alness 'Springer'

15 March 2016Wild Fisheries Reform

Wild Fisheries Reform and Forthcoming Legislation

Wild Fisheries Review
Through 2014 and 2015, the Scottish Government has progressed a Wild Fisheries Review, which has amongst its remits looked at the challenges and opportunities facing Scotland’s wild fisheries, and how Scotland’s natural fish and fisheries resources should be sustainably managed, conserved and developed.

In February 2016, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, launched a consultation paper on Draft provisions for a Wild Fisheries (Scotland) Bill/Draft Wild Fisheries Strategy: a consultation paper, 1.3 MB (PDF document). The consultation will close on 2 May 2016.

Wild Fisheries Reform
One outcome from the review, is that Marine Scotland is now progressing with a program of Wild Fisheries Reform, including a package of Conservation Regulations effective from 1st April 2016.

These Regulations categorise fishing districts/rivers in relation to their conservation status, with accompanying guidance and/or regulation. All Scottish rivers/districts have been allocated to one of the following three grades each with their own recommended management actions.

Grade 1 - in these rivers, exploitation is considered sustainable and not additional management action is required.

Grade 2 – management action is necessary to reduce exploitation; mandatory catch and release is not required in the first instance, but this will be reviewed annually.

Grade 3 – exploitation is unsustainable and mandatory catch and release for one year is required.


The River Alness and Conon have been designated as Grade 2, so all Alness salmon fishery owners/clubs have a responsibility to reduce exploitation throughout the river.

Conservation Status
The idea behind the Conservation Status is to determine whether the number of salmon spawning is above a critical threshold level. This approach seeks to compare actual levels of spawning with the minimum acceptable (target) levels of spawning. The target level is called the ‘conservation limit’. Actual spawning levels are expressed in terms of egg deposition and rely on estimation of numbers of returning adult salmon from counters and catches. The conservation status is then defined by estimating the probability of meeting the egg target.

Although the architects of the Wild Fisheries Review have stated their desire for sustainable management and conservation of wild salmon and salmon fishery resources based on good science, the designated conservation status seems to have been derived entirely from catch data, with no regard to other data available or external factors.

Conservation Status & the River Alness
While we whole heartedly support salmon conservation and the aims of the Wild Fisheries Reform, we believe the conservation status based solely on catch returns is inherently flawed and unscientific, failing to take into account other available evidence such as parr/smolt counts, fish counter data, assessment of stocks by fishery scientists and managers, and external factors such as weather/river conditions, timing of salmon runs, fishing effort etc. Nevertheless, it seems that despite other evidence, our conservation status for the foreseeable future will be determined entirely by our catch returns.

From 2017 there will be a requirement for a Conservation Plan produced by the District Salmon Fishery Board in consultation with Marine Scotland. In the interim we have been given permission for this season to continue with regulations based on the Cromarty Firth Fishery Board Conservation Policy.

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