Wild Scottish salmon is officially off the menu after the last netting station closed because there are so few fish left to catch.
The fishery owned by Kinnaber Ltd on the North Esk near Montrose, Angus, once caught around 1,700 salmon a year, most of which were sent to Billingsgate market, London, to be sold to restaurants and fishmongers.
It has now closed on conservation grounds because wild salmon numbers have fallen so low. Wild salmon can only be sold if it is caught and killed at strictly regulated netting stations.
The Esk District Salmon Fishery Board is now poised to buy the fishing rights from Kinnaber.
The deal will effectively end the sale of wild salmon for consumption as the board will no longer permit net fishing on the river.
Board director Dr Craig MacIntyre said: “For wild Scottish salmon this is pretty much it. This was the last salmon netting station in Scotland. It could end it for consumption as it’s illegal to sell rod-caught salmon.”
Dr MacIntyre added: “The reason we’re buying these netting rights is twofold. There’s one for conservation of salmon to protect future stocks and the board also has a policy that if a netting station comes up for sale then we will try to buy it, which is what we’ve done here.
“Also, the value of a rod-caught salmon is far in excess to the local economy and the river than one that’s caught in a net.
“Each salmon caught to the rod would be maybe worth £2,000 to the local economy.
“When you factor in rents and people coming to visit and staying in hotels and going out for meals then the multiplier really takes effect.”
Bob Ritchie, 73, who ran R&S Fisheries, which leased the Esk fishing rights from Kinnaber, said he was saddened by the demise of the netting industry.
He said: “It’s the end of an era. I don’t know where the customers will get wild salmon from now. We could have sold double what we were catching.”
A single netting operation will remain on the River Tweed which can sell wild Scottish salmon but its fish are caught in England. By law, wild salmon can only be caught and killed in rivers but it is illegal to sell rod-caught salmon. Fishermen have been banned from catching and killing salmon in coastal waters since 2016.