ANGLERS should be banned from catching salmon in conservation areas during spring because authorities are breaching key legislation to protect the fish, Scottish experts have claimed.
Fisheries and salmon farming consultants Callander McDowell have submitted a complaint to the European Commission alleging that the Scottish Government and the fishery boards have failed to meet EU laws on preserving Atlantic salmon stocks.
More than 46,000 wild spring salmon have been caught and killed in the 11 rivers designated as Special Areas of Conservation since the EU Habitats Directive came into force in 1992.
Although the directive does not outlaw the sport, it states that such “exploitation” of stocks must be within conservation limits.
Dr Martin Jaffa, of Callander McDowell, said: “Threatened stocks of wild salmon are being slaughtered in the name of sport and this is happening in specified conservation areas.
“The Scottish Government has abrogated its conservation responsibilities by passing them on to the district salmon fishery boards, who have in turn abused them by not restricting catches of a vulnerable spring stock.”
The alleged breaches listed include failing to restrict the length of the angling season and not encouraging greater consumption of farmed salmon “to negate the need to kill wild fish”.
The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation said the complaint echoed the views of other respected scientific experts.
Chief executive Scott Landsburgh said: “Dr Jaffa raises a number of important points regarding the range of impacts on wild salmon, the high levels of natural mortality at sea and the need for statutory conservation limits on vulnerable stocks.”
But anglers and authorities rejected the “extraordinary” criticisms which they claimed were motivated by the consultancy’s links with the salmon farming industry.
Hugh Campbell Adamson, chairman of the Salmon and Trout Association Scotland, said: “It is extraordinary that Callander McDowell, a cheerleader for the salmon farming industry, is now advocating that salmon angling should be curtailed. This complaint is no more than a smokescreen to divert attention away from the damage done to wild salmon stocks in the salmon farming areas of the west Highlands and Islands.”
Dr Alan Wells, policy and planning director for the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, said authorities took conservation “very seriously”. He added: “Callander McDowell are consultants to the salmon aquaculture industry and we can only assume that this complaint and its timing [whilst the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill is being considered by the Scottish Parliament] is part of a concerted effort to deflect criticism of salmon farming.”