Anglers hit out at salmon fishing ‘kill licence’

Anglers on Scotland's sporting rivers would have to use government-issued tags on salmon carcasses under an as yet uncosted new scheme. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Anglers on Scotland's sporting rivers would have to use government-issued tags on salmon carcasses under an as yet uncosted new scheme. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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ANGLERS are angered by Scottish Government plans to impose a “kill licence” on those who fish for salmon in Scotland’s sporting rivers.

Fishing clubs, river owners and those who maintain salmon beats have criticised the proposal to ban the killing of wild salmon except under licence, claiming it amounts to a centralised fishing tax that wrests control over angling from local boards.

Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Ministers propose to introduce the “kill licence” in time for next year’s fishing season, claiming the move will help to conserve salmon stocks.

But a host of fishing bodies are objecting to the proposals on the grounds that there is an existing voluntary system of “catch and release”, which already ensures that the vast majority of salmon caught are thrown back into the river.

The plan, outlined in the document “Wild Fisheries Reform”, also proposes enforcing the licence by tagging salmon carcasses. That would see anglers issued with a limited number of tags, which would be fixed on to rod-caught fish that are taken for the pot. Any fish without a tag could be recognised by bailiffs or police as being unlicensed. The Scottish Government has yet to decide a cost for the licences or a 
quota for the number of carcass tags that would be issued.

While all with an interest in angling recognise the need to protect wild salmon, critics of the initiative fear it will push up the cost of fishing and deter anglers from taking part in the pastime, thereby reducing the amount of money available to maintain rivers and the salmon population.

How on earth does an angling association issue these tags in a fair way?

Andrew Douglas-Home, a river owner who is on the board of the River Tweed Commission – the body that manages salmon and trout on the famous river in the Borders – warned the move would cost the salmon fishing community money.

“We have a very cynical view of why they are doing this,” said Douglas-Home. “They want to control the way that we run these rivers. Management of the Tweed is done by raising a rate on the salmon fishing proprietors. That money goes to the Tweed commissioners who then employ the bailiffs, the biologists to run the river. The government do not like that and they don’t like us raising our own money and doing our own thing. They now want the money to be raised by taxing us and they might give it back or they might not. It is part of a wider agenda to control us. What about the bureaucracy of this?

“There are 167 beats on the Tweed and I can have up to 30 people a week fishing with us. How are we going to split tags? They are trying to fix a problem that does not exist. We think it is all being done in the name of central control.”

Killing salmon is banned on the Tweed before 30 June. After that, only around one in five salmon are kept during the remainder of the season. On the Spey, 92 per cent of salmon were released last year.

The Spey Fishery Board has written to the Government to say that a rod-and-line licensing system is “unnecessary, inappropriate and unworkable”.

Ronnie Glass, chairman of Kelso Angling Association, said: “If they are going to have this licence to kill and issue tags, how on earth do an 80 or 90-strong angling association issue these tags in a fair way? We only killed 11 fish last year when we caught 119. Because of the conscientious feelings fishermen have, we know perfectly well we don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg. We are selective in what we take.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The kill licence is vital to help us meet our international obligations to protect natural habitats, address continuing concerns around Scotland’s salmon stocks and supplement the existing spring conservation methods.”