Publication - Regulation/directive/order

Conservation of wild salmon

Published: 30 May 2019

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.

Conservation of wild salmon
High level pressures on Atlantic salmon

High level pressures on Atlantic salmon

More generally, the Scottish Government, along with Fisheries Management Scotland and other partners has identified 12 high level pressures impacting salmon in our waters and further afield. Further detail on these pressures, and on some of the key activities underway to address them, is available below.

In January 2019 the Scottish Government submitted a draft Implementation Plan for 2019‑24 to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) setting out our plans to conserve and protect Atlantic salmon over the five year period.  We are considering comments on the draft and, following further discussions, this will be finalised by November 2019.

This is the International Year of the Salmon. IYS2019 – “Salmon and People in a Changing World’ – is being led by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) and the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) and aims to raise awareness and understanding of the social and economic benefits that salmon provide, and to highlight the many issues facing salmon around the world.  In Scotland we are working with various partners to promote IYS2019 at events, festivals, conferences and elsewhere.

On 11 July 2019 the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre (SPICe) published a report on Wild Salmon and followed this with two associated blog articles.

High level pressures on wild Atlantic salmon




Key Current Activities as at May 2019

Overall assessment of the pressures

Local evaluation of each pressure

  • For the 2019 season’s assessment, the numbers of eggs required to produce sustainable Atlantic salmon stocks was estimated from an increased number of rivers (11), where information on stock-recruitment relationships and associated geographic co-variates were available.
  • We will now freeze the underlying methodology for two years, until the 2022 assessment, within which period it will fully and transparently peer-reviewed.
  • A paper outlining a method for assessing the status of juvenile Atlantic salmon from electrofishing data was discussed with  local biologists in early May.  We hope to publish the final outputs by end of July.  Marine Scotland (MS) will fund year 2 (2019 data collection) of NEPS 
  • We are developing an on-line mapping based pressures tool, which will enable individual DSFBs to illustrate the severity and status of each of the pressures across their catchment areas, so that Scotland has both a national and local picture, which in turn could inform future policy thinking.  It should allow us to identify the length and proportion of individual and/or collective rivers impacted by each pressure so that priorities can be established.  Following the pilot completion by a group of six volunteer Boards and Trusts in autumn 2018, we hope to roll out the final product by November 2019.


Illegal exploitation

Legal commercial (which includes coastal netting)

Rod and line

  • Annual conservation regulations continue to laid.
  • Scottish Ministers have agreed to the River Tweed Commission’s application to extend the Spring closure period from 1 April to 1 June.
  • Prohibition of the retention of salmon in coastal waters continues.
  • Illegal gill netting, very close to the shore, remains a recurrent issue, because the existing regulation allows illegal operators to claim that they are targeting species other than Atlantic salmon and sea trout.  Our aspiration is to introduce legislation to prohibit the deployment of gill nets within 0.5 miles of the shore, where the method of deployment and/or depth of water where deployed would result in a high risk of a salmon and/or sea trout bycatch.
  • A Marine Scotland funded, 3 yr Phd on rod & line catch and release mortality commenced in October 2018.



Predation / Competition

Piscivorous birds

Piscivorous fish



  • On-going tracking of smolts research work with the River Dee will continue during the 2019 smolt run to assess losses in relation to sawbill ducks. We have also procured expert bird stomach analysis services, from within an EMFF fund of £750k, for scientific bird kills, licensed by SNH, across 4 rivers in Scotland from March 2019 to February 2020.  Depending on the outputs of this research, we intend to use the majority of the remaining EMFF fund to enable field testing, over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, of new management options to reduce the predation impact, whilst continuing to protect bird populations
  • The current Seals and Salmon Interaction’s (SSI) work the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) will conclude their analysis of photo-id and behavioural observation data by March 2020.  This will address the number of seals using the Dee system and provide estimates of potential salmon removals from the Dee by seals.  MS also purchased surface cameras earlier this year, in order for SMRU to trial their ability to record seal movements both upstream and downstream in the River Dee, as a case study.  We hope that there will be an opportunity to deploy the cameras and conduct some testing by March 2020.  Within the next SSI, from April 2020, we will also explore the possibility of trialling a sensor triggered startle device to keep seals out of rivers. 
  • A joint research project between Marine Scotland, the Ness DSFB and Aberdeen University to identify the impact of dolphin predation on returning adult salmon in the Moray Firth, successfully acoustically tagged 109 adult grilse (MS funding to be finalised, but £20k forecast) in 2018. We aim to publish the results of the research later this year.
  • Marine Scotland policy and science colleagues met Hans Christian Holst on 6 November 2018 to discuss and debate his theory that an explosion in mackerel stocks is having a significant detrimental impact of the marine survival of wild salmon.  Conclusions on whether and what further research and/or management action should be taken by end of 2019.    

Fish health


Sea lice

Other parasites

• The SG’s response to the Rural Economy Committee’s inquiry, which considered the current state of salmon industry in Scotland, identified opportunities for its future development and explored how the various fish health and environmental challenges it currently faces can be addressed, is now available at:

  • Post-smolt, west coast sweep netting and a continued work programme at the Shieldaig site to provide data to investigate potential links between sea lice, farms and sea trout.

Genetic introgression



  • Marine Scotland initiated a national introgression project in July 2018 that seeks to quantify levels of introgression of genetic material from farm escapees into wild Scottish Atlantic salmon populations.
  • A review and potential consultation on changes to the current licensing process which permits salmon introductions (stocking) will be completed in advance of 2020 season.    

Invasive non-native species


Fish – including pink salmon


  •  Pink salmon: experiments by MSS in 2018 using eggs deposited in Scottish rivers indicate that the young fish can survive initially, but will emerge and leave the river in winter rather than spring (which is the normal season in the native range) and are unlikely then to survive.  MS intends to issue new pink salmon guidance, via a topic sheet, by mid-June.   
  •  The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative is a priority project in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy’s route map to 2020. The route map sets out the major steps needed to improve the state of nature in Scotland and halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020. It highlights the spread of invasive species as one of the key pressures on biodiversity.

Habitat - Water quality


Point-source pollution

Diffuse pollution

Other pollution

Changing rainfall patterns



  • DSFBs are working closely with SEPA to address acidification and diffuse pollution.  SEPA’s work to ensure compliance with ‘General Binding Rules’ requirements to reduce diffuse pollution from agriculture is being scaled up, with visits to more catchments to be undertaken. 
  • MSS has undertaken significant research to improve understanding of the effects of flow regime on Atlantic salmon.
  • We have an on-going collaboration with Glasgow University, Cromarty Fisheries Trust and the US Forest Service regarding the potential for nutrient enrichment to improve the size and therefore marine survival of smolts. Early research in this area is in peer review, but indicates benefit from adding nutrients to upland streams to counteract reduced numbers of spawning salmon and simulate the presence of adult carcasses.  Work to date indicates that this leads to faster growth of juveniles and earlier migration to sea.  Further research will seek to confirm this and assess benefits or otherwise over the entire life cycle.  

Habitat - Water quantity


Flow regulation

Upland / agriculture land-use and drainage

Changing rainfall patterns

Forestry drainage

  • SEPA has put in place a programme of work to ensure that fish passage is provided by major operators such as Scottish and Southern Energy and Scottish Water.
  • Scottish Water is investing, in the current investment programme 2015-21, to improve abstraction regimes in nine water resource zones to ensure that there is sufficient water remaining in the water bodies during periods of low rainfall.

Habitat - Thermal

Loss of shading


Changing temperature patterns

Thermal discharge

Impoundment modification


  • MSS established the Scotland River Temperature Monitoring Network in collaboration with FMS members and University of Birmingham.
  • Data collected from SRTMN has been used to produce models that can map the regions of rivers that are most vulnerable to further temperature change. These can be used by local managers to plan tree planting and have been made available as online tools through the National Marine Plan Interactive (NMPi) website.
  • A number of DSFBs and Trusts have undertaken extensive tree planting, particularly in head waters, to provide shade and reduce water temperatures



Habitat - Instream


Loss of sediment transfer

Lack of, or excessive, large woody debris

Canalisation / dredging/boulder removal

  • Reductions in morphological impacts will be achieved through the controlled activity regulations (CAR) and associated “General Binding Rules” and adherence to other guidelines such as the forest and water guidelines. GBRs include requirements for buffer strips to reduce fine sediment and nutrient delivery and encourage the growth of riparian vegetation
  • DSFBs and Trusts survey their rivers for sedimentation issues leading, in some cases, to gravel being introduced upstream to produce better spawning areas.


Habitat - Riparian

Loss of natural riparian vegetation

Conifer afforestation

  • The UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) and its supporting Forests and Water Guidelines require that: ‘Where new planting or restocking is proposed within the catchments of water bodies at risk of acidification, an assessment of the contribution of forestry to acidification and the recovery process should be carried out; details of the assessment procedure should be agreed with the water regulatory authority’.

Barriers to migration

Upstream passage (consider cumulative impacts)

Downstream passage


  •  Scotland’s River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs), published in 2015, set objectives for the protection and improvement of our water environment, with the aim of 87% of water bodies achieving a classification of ‘good ecological status’ by 2027. Fish passage is recognised as one of the three main priorities of RBMP2, including the challenges faced by smolts in their downstream migration, particularly in relation to hydro schemes.
  • SEPA is leading on work to remove or ease redundant barriers in rivers, utilising circa £5m annual funding from the Scottish Government. For example, work to install fish passes on barriers on the Lugton Water, North Ayrshire was completed in February this year. These passes enable fish species passage at redundant, post-industrial structures on Garden Weir Eglington country park, a popular recreation destination for the local community and Sevenacres weir, east of Kilwinning. The Lugton Water rises in Loch Libo and flows into the River Garnock.  The Lugton and its tributaries extend 82 km with approximately 69km of habitat inaccessible to fish species.
  • In 2018, Marine Scotland published work to prioritise removal based on the expected impact of barriers on salmon production. The work was completed as part of a PhD project with the University of Aberdeen and makes use of the most recent Juvenile Salmon density modelling.

Coastal and Marine

Inshore commercial fisheries

Developments – including wind/wave/

energy projects


  •  MS renewables colleagues are working with AST regarding the latter’s delivery of a circa £1m smolt acoustic tagging project across 7 rivers in the Moray Firth in 2019 which will contribute to the objectives of the salmon renewables strategy.
  • Marine Scotland is part of the expert consortium examining factors impacting variation in marine survival of Atlantic salmon over time and in different geographical areas, in a research programme entitled ‘SeaSalar’.





Marine Scotland
Salmon and Recreational Fisheries Team
Area 1B North
Victoria Quay