ANGLERS landed a record number of salmon in Scotland last year, new research has shown.
Figures published yesterday show rod catches of salmon in 2010 were likely to comfortably top the 100,000 mark for the first time.
The provisional catch information shows the highest number since consistent records began in 1952 - and beats the previous record of 96,488, set in 1988.
The total compares with 72,595 in 2009 and a ten-year average for 2000-9 of 76,431.
More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of the salmon caught by anglers last year were released back into the water to spawn.
The figures were compiled for the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) and Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) annual review.
ASFB chairman Alan Williams said: "The 2010 season will almost certainly be the highest rod catch ever recorded in Scotland."
He said the record was despite another poor year for spring salmon. "However, from July onwards last year, most of Scotland experienced robust runs of grilse (salmon that have returned to fresh water after a single winter at sea] and summer salmon," he said.
"The main exception was the southern part of the West Highlands, which has the greatest density of salmon farms.
"With another moderate start to the spring season this year, we believe that efforts must continue to ensure that exploitation by both rods and nets of these early-running fish is kept to a minimum."
The angling bodies said the River Tweed had an "astonishing" rod catch of 23,219 last year, beating its previous best of 16,151 in 2007.
Many rivers on the east and north coast also broke their records. These included the Dee, where its catch of 8,391 in 2010 was its highest for 30 years.
The 3,505 rod-caught salmon was the highest total on the River Thurso since records began in 1896 and over 1,000 better than its previous high, in 1965.
On the Halladale, last year's 1,320 salmon eclipsed the previous record of 910 set in 2007, while the 1,122 at Wick was a record and compared to a ten-year average of 622.
However, the bodies urged caution about future stocks.
RAFTS chairman Andrew Wallace said: "In 2010 the Scottish declared catch by nets will have been between 15,000 and 20,000 - all killed.
"The clear message here is that despite strong grilse and summer salmon runs in many parts of Scotland in 2010, salmon are still nowhere near as abundant as they were 50 years ago."The organisations said the challenge was to ensure as much of the salmon-producing habitat was accessible to fish, that water was of the highest quality and that exploitation was kept low.
Mr Wallace added: "When marine conditions favour salmon, as they clearly did for some stocks in 2009-10, then our fisheries will reap the reward.
"But given the dynamic, complex and extremely unpredictable nature of our marine environment, particularly in these days of shifts in climate, a cautious approach - even against a background of record catches - is the only sensible position to adopt."
The great majority of salmon caught by anglers in Scotland are released. The 2009 catch-and- release figure for the Scottish rod catch was 67 per cent, while the release rate for spring fish was 82 per cent.