FIRST MINISTER Alex Salmond today announced plans for a major review of Scotland’s wild fisheries as he was given the honour of casting the first fly to open the salmon fishing season on the River Tay .
He revealed that he had commissioned Andrew Thin, the outgoing chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, to chair an independent review of the management of salmon and freshwater fisheries to ensure they are “robust, sustainable and fit for purpose in the 21st Century.”
The aim of the review will be to manage, conserve and develop salmon fisheries on Scotland’s rivers and costal netting stations to maximise the sustainable benefit for Scotland as a whole, particularly in boosting the economy of rural areas.
The review will also be charged with developing and promoting a “modern, evidence-based management system” for wild fisheries, capable of responding to a changing environment.
Mr Salmond said: “We are committed to supporting and protecting Scotland’s famous and valuable salmon and freshwater fisheries. Game and coarse angling is worth £134m in expenditure to Scottish economy, supporting 2,800 jobs across the country. Wild Scottish salmon is a premium food product which has PGI status.
“However, management of wild fisheries is complex and emotive area which has been the subject of multiple reports and investigations over the last 50 years, but, until recently, has seen little meaningful change.
“The Aquaculture and Fisheries Act has modernised governance and management of salmon fisheries, but as Scottish Ministers acknowledged during the passage of the Act we must do more to ensure the system for all our wild fisheries is robust, sustainable and fit for purpose in the 21st century, as well as being able to respond to the changing environment.”
He continued: “I am happy to announce the next stage is to undertake an independent review of the management of wild fisheries in Scotland. This review is about looking forwards, not backwards and will be founded on what is required to ensure a sustainable wild fishery in Scotland. I am sure everyone with an interest in salmon and freshwater fisheries and their sustainable future will want to engage with Andrew Thin and the review process in a productive and co-operative way, and I would encourage them to do so.”
Mr Thin said he was “delighted” to be asked to head the review. He said: “This is an important time for a sector that is of huge importance to Scotland. Those who work in it are some of the most committed and dedicated that I know, and I am very much looking forward to working with them.”
Dr Alan Wells, policy and planning director for the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, welcomed the announcement. He said: “In Scotland, we are in a very fortunate position of having salmon entering our rivers in nearly every month of the year.
“During the Parliamentary passage of the Aquaculture and Fisheries Act a number of questions relating to funding, salmon conservation, exploitation and management were identified as being key issues to be covered by the review, and we look forward to engaging with this process in a positive and constructive manner.”
Mr Salmond cast the first fly at a ceremony at the Hilton Dunkeld House in Dunkeld. The first cast was followed by the traditional blessing in which fishing boats were doused with a quaich of whisky.
A small protest by pro-union campaigners took place outside the hotel during speeches and continued down at the waterside.
Mike Metcalfe, general manager at Hilton Dunkeld House said, “We are delighted to host this fantastic annual celebration which involves so many local organisations. Perthshire is one of the country’s premier fishing locations and the River Tay is famous across the world for being Scotland’s biggest river. The River Tay is a huge attraction for guests coming to stay at the hotel and it is a privilege to be involved in supporting this event.”
Provisional figures released today have revealed that the total salmon catch on the Tay last year was 10,241, slightly above the average for the previous ten years. The catches between February and June were above average with the February catch the highest since 1995, the March catch the highest since 2006 and the May catch the highest ever since records began in 1952.
A spokesman for the Tay fisheries board explained: “The summer months of July and August saw a notable decrease but that reflected the very hot weather experienced during that period, which was not conducive to fishing. September catches were also below average overall, though they were very good on some lower Tay beats, because upper reaches and tributaries did very poorly under continuing drought conditions. October catches were complicated by the trial season extension.
“The greatly improved spring catches may have partly been a consequence of favourable fishing conditions – low water levels and low temperatures which prevailed in February to April, but not in January – but that was not the sole reason. Spring salmon counts at SSE’s fish counter at Pitlochry Dam on the River Tummel, for example, turned out to be the highest since the late 1970s.”
River Tay chairman, Bill Jack said: “Our great hope for 2014 would be that the European Water Framework Directive is finally implemented and that the River Garry - by any measure the most important river affected by abstraction in the whole of Scotland - is restored at last. This would be the most significant event affecting the Tay system since the building of the major hydro schemes in the late 1950s.”
In a second opening ceremony, further upriver at the Kenmore Hotel, Scotland’s oldest inn, Councillor Liz Grant, the Provost of Perth and Kinross, was joined by Mark Stephen, presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s “Out of Doors” series as she made the first cast.