Salmon and recreational fisheries

Policy actions  1 of 5

Conservation of wild salmon

The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016 outlined for the first time a system, under which, the killing of Atlantic salmon in inland waters is managed on an annual basis by categorising the conservation status of their stocks.

In general terms, the regulations:

  • prohibit the retention of salmon caught in coastal waters
  • permit the killing of salmon within inland waters where stocks are above a defined conservation limit
  • require mandatory catch and release of salmon in areas which fall below their defined conservation limit following the assessment of salmon stocks

The conservation of stocks is re-assessed each year and we consult annually on proposals for the following fishing season. After the consultation has concluded and evidence has been reviewed, the regulations are amended accordingly.

For the currently active regulations, see The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021.

The proposed river gradings for 2023 season provides information on the latest annual assessment and an outcome report summarising the views received from the consultation was published on 16 December 2022.

On this page:

Background to assessment process

The conservation status of stocks is assessed on a river-by-river basis, except for those areas where fishery catch cannot be assigned to individual rivers. In such cases, rivers are combined to form assessment groups. The annual assessment is explained in the conservation of our salmon video.

Guide to river gradings

The conservation status of each stock is defined by the probability of the stock meeting its conservation limit (CL) over a five-year period. The status is assessed for 173 separate inland water assessment areas. Rather than a simple pass or fail in the assessment, stocks are allocated to one of three grades, each with its own recommended management actions:

Category 1

At least 80% probability of meeting the CL. Exploitation is sustainable therefore no additional management action is currently required. This recognises the effectiveness of existing non-statutory local management interventions.

Category 2

Between 60-80% probability of meeting the CL. Management action is necessary to reduce exploitation. Catch and release should be promoted strongly in the first instance. The need for mandatory catch and release will be reviewed annually.

Category 3

Less than 60% probability of meeting the CL. Exploitation is unsustainable therefore management action, including mandatory catch and release (for all methods), is required to reduce exploitation.

Wild salmon strategy

We published the Scottish wild salmon strategy in January 2022 and the accompanying Implementation plan on 1 February 2023. This Plan has been developed with stakeholders and will guide collective action for wild Atlantic salmon across government, business and charitable sectors.

Atlantic salmon in coastal waters

The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016 introduced legislation to protect declining wild Atlantic salmon stocks by, amongst other things, prohibiting the retention of Atlantic salmon caught in coastal waters. In 2016, ministers committed to reviewing the position after three years. In 2019 the position was reviewed and ministers decided to uphold the prohibition.

Ban on sale of rod caught salmon

The Conservation of Salmon (Prohibition of Sale) (Scotland) Regulations 2002 made it illegal to sell any Atlantic salmon that has been taken by rod and line. This prohibition has been in place since October 2002.

Salmon carcass tagging

The Salmon Carcass Tagging (Scotland) Regulations 2016 require that any Atlantic salmon caught by nets and retained must be properly tagged. Similar legislation applies to the River Tweed under the Tweed Regulation (Salmon Carcass Tagging) Order 2016 to report numbers of fish caught and to tag these individuals as described.

Carcass tags are provided free of charge by Marine Scotland. Further information on the detail of the scheme can be found in the guidance note. For more information, contact

Annual close time

The Conservation of Salmon (Annual Close Time and Catch and Release) (Scotland) Regulations 2014 sets out the annual close times for fishing for Atlantic salmon across salmon fishery districts.

District salmon fishery boards (DSFBs)

Scotland has 41 District Salmon Fishery Boards (DSFBs), including the River Tweed Commission. DSFBs are constituted and governed under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 (‘the 2003 Act’), whereas the River Tweed Commission operates under The Scotland Act 1998 (River Tweed) Order 2006.

There are also 25 charitable rivers and fisheries trusts in Scotland. The rivers and fisheries trusts across Scotland are increasingly working at catchment-scale to deliver vital habitat improvement and restoration works. Trusts often work in partnerships with the DSFBs which cover the same catchment(s) to manage and conserve Scotland’s fisheries resources.

Good governance

Good governance obligations are defined in law at section 46A(3) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 (“the 2003 Act”). They comprise the original obligations placed on boards by the 2003 Act and those introduced through amendment of the 2003 Act by the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2013 (“the 2013 Act”) which came into force on 16 September 2013.

The purpose of the obligations is to enhance openness, transparency and accountability of the management of salmon fisheries by DSFBs. The obligations seek to standardise existing best practice by DSFBs to ensure that all boards act in a manner consistent with bodies operating in the public sphere. It is not the intention that the obligations seek to micromanage the business of boards. The provisions provide flexibility in terms of delivery in acknowledgement of the range in size and resources.

Marine Scotland set out detailed guidance on the good governance obligations placed on DSFBs as explanatory notes for the 2013 Act. The guidance does not constitute legal advice but is intended to aid understanding of and compliance with the obligations. Boards or individuals wishing to seek legal advice on the effect of the good governance obligations may obtain legal opinion as normal.

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