Anglers who have experienced “disastrous” catches on one of the world’s best-known salmon rivers say drastic action must be taken to protect stocks.
The Spey Fishery Board had committed to a plan to produce one million eggs at its Glenlivet hatchery by collecting 350 fish from the River Spey.
That total has, however, been opposed by ministers whose own fears for the river led them to raise concerns that removing more than 200 fish was too drastic a measure.
Ian Gordon, a gillie on the Spey for nearly 40 years, said: “Very often following a season with low, warm water there is an upturn the following year. I would expect that again but if we don’t get it then it could very well be the death of the Spey.”
Mr Gordon, who runs trips for overseas visitors, says this year’s season may have been the “worst ever”.
He said: “There’s no doubt this year has been disastrous. Hatcheries have been proven to work in Iceland. We’re at the stage now where we need a national case study to see if it would work here.
“We shouldn’t have let it get to this point where we are arguing about the situation – we should have had the answer by now.”
Studies on the Spey have estimated angling is worth nearly £12 million to the local economy.
However, in recent years fewer salmon have returned, an issue attributed to numerous factors such as fish farming, forestry, predators, illegal poaching and physical barriers.
A £500,000 project has been funded by the Scottish Government this year to examine the reasons.
However, the exceptionally warm and dry summer resulted in water levels dropping to levels last seen in 1976 and made matters worse.
Spey Fishery Board chairman Brian Doran said the board was “fully committed” to its hatchery at Sandbank in Glenlivet despite being told to curb its efforts by the Scottish Government.
He said: “It’s been a particularly difficult salmon fishing season.
“The Scottish Government’s licensing authorities have raised concerns about the low salmon catches.
“This, in turn, raised concern that the removal of more broodstock fish than have been taken in the recent past may constitute a greater threat to the viability of the population as a whole.”