Salmon fishing: proposed river gradings for 2023 season

Seeking your views on the proposed river gradings for the 2023 salmon fishing season.

Proposal on achieving higher catch and release rates 

The official statistics were published by the Scottish Government on 1 June 2022. 

In summary the reported rod catch of salmon (35,693) is the lowest since records began, and 75% of the previous five-year average.  

It is widely acknowledged that wild Atlantic salmon are in decline across their North Atlantic range. At the beginning of the year the Scottish Government published the Scottish Wild Salmon Strategy. This sets out the vision, objectives and priority themes to ensure the protection and recovery of Scottish Atlantic wild salmon populations. We are working with stakeholders to prepare a detailed strategy implementation plan for publication later this year, which will guide collective action for wild Atlantic salmon across government, business and charitable sectors.  

Catch statistics in recent years indicate that wild Atlantic salmon populations across Scotland have continued to decline since the introduction of the Conservation of Salmon Regulations in 2016. The number of salmon caught in 2021 was the lowest in Scotland since records began in 1952, with the years 2018 and 2019 also being within the bottom five annual catch figures on record.  

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 provided by Marine Scotland Science for the purposes of this consultation. 

Catch and release in 2021 accounted for 95% of the total rod catch of salmon and 99% of the rod-caught spring salmon (taken before 1 May). Catch and release rates have steadily increased since 1994, when such information was first recorded.  

Due to the current state of wild Atlantic salmon populations in Scotland, we are considering options with a view to improving salmon stocks. We are seeking your views on whether voluntary catch and release should be more widely encouraged for the whole of Scotland. This would mean that all rivers, regardless of their river assessment grading, would be recommended to practice voluntary catch and release. The aim of this would be to achieve 100% catch and release for the whole of Scotland in order to further protect and restore salmon populations.

We are also seeking views on the prospect of introducing mandatory measures, in future, should voluntary measures be unsuccessful in achieving 100% catch and release rates. Mandatory measures would potentially involve amending legislation to prohibit the retention of wild salmon on all rivers in Scotland, regardless of their river grading.   

Regardless of the voluntary or mandatory measures put in place, we would continue to annually assess river gradings and provide this information for river managers and others to help devise local management actions in their districts.  

Best practice for catch and release angling and improving survivability of catch and release salmon 

The chances of survival of a released fish depend on how it has been handled. If fish are handled properly then they will have the greatest chance of going on to spawn. Catch and release is one of the most effective ways in which anglers can contribute to the future of their sport. In 2016 Marine Scotland published guidance which provides practical information for anglers on catch and release best practice

A summary of catch and release best practice includes the following actions: 

  • use appropriate tackle, play fish quickly and use a knotless nylon net; 

  • keep the fish in the water as much as possible. 

  • handle the fish as carefully as possible.   

  • support the fish facing into the current until it has recovered, then let it go. 

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