Climate change has brought wild salmon to brink of extinction in places, but fish farms can help save them – Jon Gibb

The internet provides those of us who live through winter in the West Highlands a vital lifeline to the outside world. But sometimes it can bring the most depressing news.

A fellow salmon river manager recently alerted me to an advert on social media by a high-end London retailer for ‘Wild River Tweed Smoked Salmon’. The price? A staggering £400 per kilo. For context, a kilo side of premium farmed Scottish smoked salmon costs around £35. If ever there was an example that our wild Atlantic salmon are in deep trouble, then this is it: their extreme rarity now giving them a ludicrous price tag.

Similarly, it also gives us a stark reminder that a healthy and thriving salmon farming industry is vital if we are to save the last few wild salmon in our rivers. And not only because this is now the only way that future diners will continue to enjoy salmon on their plates. Some people don’t seem to get that. But, believe me, wild salmon are in deep, deep crisis and the aquaculture sector can play a vital role in stemming the worst of their precipitous decline.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That’s why I was delighted and proud when Salmon Scotland announced its £1.5 million wild fisheries fund and asked me to coordinate it for them. I have worked on Scotland’s salmon rivers for more years than I care to remember. There have always been good and bad years, but what we are seeing these last few seasons is a species on the brink of extinction in some places. It’s that simple.

I’m aware there are a few vocal critics (usually living far away from the West Highlands) who try to blame that decline on the salmon farming industry. As a manager of some key salmon rivers in the heart of the aquaculture zone, I can categorically say it really is not that simple. Perhaps I even wish it was.

While any man-made activity can, of course, pose a degree of risk to the natural environment (hydro, forestry or fish farms for instance), in truth, there are a multitude of factors that are affecting the salmon’s survival, both in their home rivers and at sea, and most of them are connected to a rapidly changing climate. The salmon is a classic ‘indicator species’, travelling vast distances during its epic oceanic migration. And the message it is bringing home is deeply troubling.

Salmon Scotland’s wild fisheries fund opened for applications from fishery boards and trusts as well as local angling clubs this month; £145,000 is available this year and applications are sought by the end of March. Money is available for all aspects of fishery management such as habitat improvements, hatchery restocking and migration barrier removals. Fishing clubs can also apply for improvements to facilities for local anglers, recognising that fishing for salmon is at the very cultural heart of so many West Highland villages.

The Scottish farmed salmon sector has reached out with the offer of help to the wild fishing community. It is my sincere wish that both managers and anglers up and down the west coast rise to the challenge and use this welcome and timely funding to save the future of the King of Fish.

Wild salmon are becoming increasingly rare in many rivers in Scotland
Wild salmon are becoming increasingly rare in many rivers in Scotland
Wild salmon are becoming increasingly rare in many rivers in Scotland

Jon Gibb is co-ordinator of the Salmon Scotland wild fisheries fund



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.