Salmon and recreational fisheries

Policy actions  1 of 5

Conservation of wild salmon

Numbers of Atlantic salmon are declining across their North Atlantic range. For Scotland, in addition to the overall reduction in salmon returning to the coast, there is concern over the poor status of spring salmon.

These concerns have prompted a number of management actions, and led to the production of the Scottish wild salmon strategy in January 2022 and the accompanying Implementation plan in February 2023. This Plan has been developed with stakeholders and will guide collective action for wild Atlantic salmon across government, business and charitable sectors.

The Wild Salmon Strategy Implementation Group has been established, bringing together the organisations that will deliver the actions set out in the Implementation Plan. The group will oversee and direct delivery of the Strategy and Implementation Plan.

To protect vulnerable spring sub-stocks, statutory conservation measures were introduced in 2015 to ensure that no salmon is taken in Scotland before 1 April each year. This is achieved through The Conservation of Salmon (Annual Close Time and Catch and Release) (Scotland) Regulations 2014 and The Tweed Regulation Amendment Order 2015.

In 2016 the spring measures were supplemented by the Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016. Under these regulations, the killing of Atlantic salmon in inland waters during the rest of the year 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 that are deemed to be in poor conservation status

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.

The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2023 has the current, active regulations and a summary guide has also been produced showing the active river gradings for the 2024 season.

The proposed river gradings for 2024 season provided information on the latest annual assessment. An outcome report summarising the views received from the consultation was published on 13 December 2023.

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.

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 the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government. Further information on the detail of the scheme can be found in the guidance note. For more information, contact

District salmon fishery boards (DSFBs)

Scotland has 40 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.

The Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government 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.

More information

If you would like more information about the conservation of salmon email:

You can read our topic sheets on freshwater

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