1.1. River gradings
Since 2016 annual stock assessments have informed the Conservation of Salmon Regulations, which aim to protect wild Atlantic salmon populations in rivers where they are most at risk. This is achieved through annually assessing the conservation status of Atlantic salmon stocks across 173 separate inland water assessment areas. These assessments are then used to inform the proposed river gradings for each of these areas in the upcoming salmon fishing season. The Scottish Government seeks views on these proposals annually through public consultation.
The conservation status of each stock is defined by the probability of the stock meeting its conservation limit (CL) over a five-year period. Stocks are allocated to one of three grades, each with its own recommended management actions:
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.
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.
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.
1.2. The status of Atlantic salmon populations in Scotland
The total reported rod catch of wild salmon for Scotland in 2021 was 35,693, the lowest on record and 75% of the previous five-year average. Moreover, in the proposed river gradings for the 2023 season 113 out of 173 stocks have been assessed to be in poor conservation status (65%). These figures form part of a long-term trend in the decline of salmon populations over the past few decades. An overview of this trend and further information on the stock status of wild Atlantic salmon in Scotland has been included in a report provided by Marine Scotland for the purposes of this consultation. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that wild Atlantic salmon are in decline across their North Atlantic range. In response to this situation the Scottish Government has published the Scottish Wild Salmon Strategy. This sets out the vision, objectives and priority themes to ensure the protection and recovery of Scottish wild Atlantic salmon populations. We are working with stakeholders to prepare a detailed strategy implementation plan, which will guide collective action for wild Atlantic salmon across government, business and charitable sectors.
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