Salmon fishing: proposed river gradings for 2021 season

Consultation on proposed river gradings for the 2021 salmon fishing season.


The Scottish Government invites representations or objections to the proposed river gradings for the 2021 season, and on the proposed regulations.  These should be submitted by 25 September 2020.

Conservation of salmon – Assessment and river gradings for the 2020 season

The Scottish Government has undertaken an assessment of the conservation status of salmon in inland waters in Scotland for the 2021 fishing season. Details of the assessment and of the proposed river gradings are set out in the documents below. We have prepared a short video explaining the annual assessment.

As a result of the latest assessment, it is proposed that the grading of a number of rivers or groups of rivers will change for the coming year.

Under the terms of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003, Ministers are required to publish notice of the proposals and to invite representations or objections on them.

This consultation period begins on 27 August 2020 and representations or objections in respect of them should be submitted by no later than 25 September 2020 using the contact details below.

You may also check the proposed 2020 grading for individual rivers.

Conservation of salmon - assessment for the 2021 season 


The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016 outlined for the first time a system whereby the killing of Atlantic salmon in inland waters is managed on an annual basis by categorising the conservation status of their stocks.  The Scottish Government is now consulting on proposals for the 2021 fishing season.   

  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 conservation status of each stock is defined by the probability of the stock meeting its conservation limit over a five-year period.  Rather than a simple pass or fail, stocks are allocated to one of three grades, each with its own recommended management actions:



Probability of Meeting

Conservation Limit  


At least 80% 


Exploitation is sustainable therefore no additional management action is currently required. This recognises the effectiveness of existing non-statutory local management interventions. 


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% 

Exploitation is unsustainable therefore management action, including mandatory catch and release (all methods), is required to reduce exploitation. .  

 Changes from the 2020 assessment

The assessment for the 2021 season has followed the methodology developed in previous years. No new rivers or groups have been added for this year’s assessment.  Ministers have given a commitment to the Scottish Parliament and to stakeholders that we would not make any further significant changes to the methodology until the 2022 assessment at the earliest.

It is important to emphasise that, while the methodology has not changed for the 2021 season, the assessment has been made using the most up to date data available from fish counters and catch returns from the 2019 fishing season.  This ensures that the outcomes of the assessment are based on the best available information.

Overall outcomes

As noted above, the 2021 assessment takes account of the most recently available catch return statistics and data from fish counters.  Calculations are therefore based on the average of the returns submitted for the five years 2015 to 2019 inclusive.  The assessment therefore includes data for both 2018, when catch return figures were at their lowest ever level, and 2019 which had the fourth lowest figures on record.  As a result, while the conservation status of salmon in 2019 shows a slight improvement on the 2018 position, the continuing trend remains down overall.

The detailed changes for the coming year:

Ten rivers or groups rise one grade from the previous year.  Of these, five systems will no longer require catch and release.  These are:

    • River Bladnoch SAC
    • Laggan and Sorn
    • Horisary River
    • Lealt River
    • Ullapool River

​​​​Eleven systems fall one grade, including six rivers which will become mandatory catch and release fisheries in 2021.  These are: 

    • Balgy River
    • River Clyde
    • River Dee (Kirkcudbrightshire)
    • Loch Steisavat system
    • North Harris SAC (both Fincastle and Resort Districts)
    • Lussa River (Jura)


  • As in previous years, we propose that one river assessed at grade 1 (Leven (Dunbartonshire) should be awarded grade 2 status to reflect the lower grading of the Endrick Water Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in the catchment; and
  • The River Teith SAC is assessed at grade 1 while the River Forth is a grade 2. However, the situation is complicated by the overlap between the areas (the Teith SAC extends into the River Forth) and we propose that we should once again use the lower of the 2 grades for both areas. 

The overall position, and the net effect of the various changes is summarised in the table below:




2017 (Rivers)









































Proposed regulations

The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016, as amended, set out the regime for the regulation of salmon fishing in Scotland.  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 - ie those rivers accorded category 1 or 2 status for the fishing season; and
    • require mandatory catch and release of salmon in areas which are below their defined conservation limit following the assessment of salmon stocks – ie those rivers accorded category 3 status for the season.    

For the 2021 season, the Scottish Government will bring forward amending regulations which will replace the current Schedule 2.  This schedule details the specific inland waters which are subject to the prohibition on retaining salmon. 

No other changes are currently proposed for the 2021 season.

River Tweed

Separate legislation and arrangements are in place for the management of salmon and freshwater fisheries in the River Tweed district.  The Tweed Regulation (Salmon Conservation) (No. 2) Order 2016 (“the Tweed No. 2 Order”) came into force on 1 April 2017 and made provision to regulate the taking of salmon in the district.  In effect the Order:   

    • prohibits the retention of salmon caught in coastal waters in the Tweed district; and 
    • allows the retention of salmon caught in the Tweed and all inland waters in the district as defined in article 2(1)(a) of the Order. 

The outcome of the conservation assessment for the Tweed for the 2021 season again accords the river Category 1 status.  In the light of this, the Scottish Government does not propose to amend the legislation as a result of the latest assessment and the Tweed No. 2 Order will remain in force. 


Clyde Coast

East Region

Moray Firth Region

North East Region

North Region

NW Cape Wrath to Kyle of Lochalsh

NW Kyle of Lochalsh to Ardnamurchan

Outer Hebrides Region


Solway Region

West Region

Summary of conservation regulation methods 2021

Estimating abundance of adult salmon

Transportation of egg requirements

Conservation of salmon 2021: proposed gradings



Or by post to:

Marine Scotland

Salmon and Recreational Fisheries Team

Area 1B North

Victoria Quay

Edinburgh EH6 6QQ

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