Long-term scientific work underway to address the causes of salmon decline

The first annual report of the Scottish Government’s Wild Salmon Strategy and Implementation Plan has been published, describing the long-term scientific work underway to address the causes of salmon decline. But some actions – and inaction – will frustrate anglers. 

On the hot topic of seals that eat salmon in rivers, the plan says, “Support from the Marine Fund Scotland has been provided to fisheries managers to purchase acoustic deterrent devices for the management of specialist seals in rivers.” Acoustic devices have been used before, the supply is limited, and critics say they had little effect on rivers such as the Aberdeenshire Dee. 

The plan also states that NatureScot is reviewing its permits to kill fish-eating birds. Using vague language, it says the agency is “currently assessing options for considering bird population data in Scotland”. 

A group has been formed to study beaver-fish interactions, while a study in 2023 “consistently detected” pink salmon in 10 of 32 rivers using advanced eDNA technology. A report on their risk to Atlantic salmon is due soon. 

Other measures include continuing assessments of more than 100 barriers to salmon migration, a project to plant trees on 175,000 hectares of riverside land to cool water and increase insect life, work to improve the flow of water affected by hydropower by 2027, more than 500 farm visits to help prevent agricultural pollution, and ongoing “studies and projects to deliver improvements as required to intermittent sewage discharges”. 

On the stocking of salmon, the report states “The Science and Evidence Board are considering the evidence … for intervention where salmon populations are at risk of extinction.” Salmon across almost all the UK are newly classified by the IUCN as Endangered, beyond which is only one more category, Critically Endangered, before Extinction. 

In coastal waters, Scottish Government says “SEPA has developed and consulted on a sea lice risk assessment framework which will support sustainable development of fish farming by protecting the environment, with implementation in phases from 1 February 2024.” 

However, in apparent contradiction, it later states that “to safeguard migratory fish species, further salmon and trout open pen fish farm developments on the North and East coasts of mainland Scotland will not be supported.” Anglers have long contrasted the fate of Scotland’s West coast with that of the North and East.