The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which produces a seafood guide for consumers based on sustainability, has given wild Atlantic salmon a red “fish to avoid” rating.
MCS said the move came as a result of poor management in Scotland failing to prevent over-fishing in rivers where stocks were low.
Another concern was the current absence of internationally recognised conservation limits to preserve the species. The red rating has also been applied to salmon netted south of the Border after only 30 per cent of rivers in England and Wales met conservation targets last year. This was a substantial drop from 53 per cent in 2012.
MCS fisheries officer Bernadette Clarke said: “Scotland has almost no management regime in place to prevent an increase in coastal netting. Neither has it adequate mechanisms to limit catches, whether local salmon populations are strong or weak.”
The latest rating comes in a year when Scotland witnessed some of its lowest salmon runs.
Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of the Salmon and Trout Association, blamed a lack of regulation in the coastal netting industry and a rise in demand for wild fish driven by top chefs.
“The evidence of the last three years confirms conclusively that our wild salmon stocks are in marked decline,” he said.
“Runs across Scotland in 2014 are, in all probability, the worst on record. Recent Scottish Government pronouncements that all is well with our wild salmon are clearly nonsense.
“Given the parlous state of our wild salmon stocks, the Scottish Government’s failure to rein in unrestricted and indiscriminate killing by coastal nets is inexcusable. It is also worth emphasising demand for netted wild salmon is fuelled by hotels, restaurants and celebrity chefs.”
The Scottish Government launched a review of wild fisheries earlier this year, with a report due next month. Plans have been outlined for a consultation on introducing statutory conservation measures to protect spring salmon from next year.
Environment minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish Government places a high value on conservation of our wild Scottish salmon and other wild fish stocks, that is why we instigated an independent review of wild fisheries earlier this year.”
The MCS red label, which denotes the lowest level of sustainability on a five-point scale, applies to salmon caught in drift and fixed nets. Salmon net fisheries once employed around 3,000 people, but most have closed over the past 25 years.
Coastal netting is the only legal method of harvesting wild Scottish salmon for market. It is an offence to sell rod-caught salmon. Most anglers adopt a voluntary catch-and-release policy. The bulk of Scottish salmon is farmed, with annual production up from 36,000 tonnes in 1992 to 152,000 in 2013.
MCS has North Sea cod high up on its “fish to avoid” list, despite recent evidence apparently showing an abundance.