Ministers launch project to calculate value of wild salmon in Scotland

The study aims to show what will be lost if salmon populations continue to decline

They are an iconic species in Scotland but have been in decline since the early 1970s.

Now ministers want to calculate the social, economic and environmental value of wild Atlantic salmon.

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The Scottish Government said the study will show “what will be lost” if salmon populations continue to decline.

Wild salmon are an iconic species in ScotlandWild salmon are an iconic species in Scotland
Wild salmon are an iconic species in Scotland

The Atlantic Salmon Trust, a charity that works to protect wild salmon, estimates there were between 8 and 10 million adult fish swimming around the Atlantic in the mid 1980s. That number has plummeted to between 2 and 3 million, and “shows no signs of levelling out”.

The Scottish Government’s marine directorate is now commissioning work to “provide robust estimates of the social, and economic contribution of salmon fishing, and the presence of salmon, in Scotland, as well as the ecosystem service benefits provided by these fish”.

“Wild Atlantic salmon are an iconic species, a key component of Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage, and are the foundation for globally renowned recreational fisheries,” it said in tender documents posted online. “However, the number of salmon returning to Scottish rivers has been in decline since the early 1970s; a trend that is repeated across the species’ North Atlantic distribution. Accordingly, they are now the focus of widespread, coordinated actions and interventions, to ensure their protection and recovery.”

Recent years have seen reported catches of both salmon and sea trout at their lowest since records began in 1952, the Scottish Government said. “The presence of salmon in rivers provides many environmental benefits including nutrient cycling, supporting populations of freshwater pearl mussel and supporting ecosystem functions,” it added.

Mairi Gougeon praised this year's winners and finalistsMairi Gougeon praised this year's winners and finalists
Mairi Gougeon praised this year's winners and finalists

According to tender documents, the new project – which has a budget of £80,000 – aims to “provide robust evidence to Scottish ministers of the value of having thriving salmon populations in Scotland”. They add: “Importantly, it will show what will be lost, in economic, environmental and social terms, if salmon populations continue to decline.”

The resulting evidence will be used to inform decisions on policy development, future management and funding strategies for salmon and salmon fisheries in Scotland.

The moves follows the publication of the Scottish Government’s wild salmon strategy last year, which seeks to “ensure the protection and recovery” of the species. Speaking at the time, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “There is now significant evidence showing that populations of Atlantic salmon are at crisis point and we must now reinvigorate our collective efforts to ensure a positive future for the species.”

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A 2017 study looking at the economic benefits of Scotland’s wild fisheries found they contributed around £79.9 million to the economy, and provided 4,300 full-time equivalent jobs.

A spokesman for the Atlantic Salmon Trust welcomed the project. He said: “We agree that the value of wild Atlantic salmon to Scotland cannot be measured in economic terms alone, and we are pleased therefore to see that this research also aims to recognise the species’ value in wider socio-cultural and environmental terms.

"Wild Atlantic salmon are the swimming ‘canary in the coalmine’ and the species is an indicator for the overall health of our rivers, coastal environment and seas. This particular feature will be of great national and international value when determining whether the Government’s long-term biodiversity and climate goals are met.”



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