5. Priority themes for action
Considering the pressures on salmon described above together with our international obligations and legal requirements, we have identified five broad prioritythemes for action supported by a strong evidence base underpinned by coordinated scientific research and monitoring. These areas for action will form the framework for co-ordination of Government and stakeholder action and partnership working over the next decade. For each priority area for action, we have included some illustrative examples below. However, it is important to emphasise that this section does not set out an exhaustive list of actions – the actions to be covered under Scotland’s Wild Salmon Strategy will be set out in full in the subsequent Implementation Plan.
Mortality at sea appears to be a major factor in the widespread decline of salmon across its North Atlantic range. Although the exact underlying mechanisms are unclear, it is likely that climate change driven alterations in oceanic processes and the effect on prey availability are key factors. While the Scottish Government is committed to end our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 as part of global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, our immediate management approach needs to focus on building resilience in salmon populations to widespread climate-induced effects.
Relative to the wider marine environment our understanding of pressures and ability to take action is greater in freshwater and coastal environments. Therefore, we are clear that optimising the number and quality of healthy, naturally produced salmon smolts leaving Scotland’s rivers and coastal areas is of principal importance to achieving our objectives. Nevertheless, we will work with international partners through NASCO and other fora to alleviate pressures on the High Seas, for example, due to illegal fisheries, should opportunities arise.
Improving the condition of rivers and giving salmon free access to cold, clean water
The focus on this priority action is to address a range of pressures acting on the freshwater environment. By ensuring that salmon have free access to suitable habitat, and by maximising the quality and availability of habitat, there is considerable scope to increase smolt output from our rivers. It is vital that focussed management actions which increase the resilience of our rivers to climate change are prioritised. Many of the pressures on our water environment arise from the way that we use and manage activities on land. A coordinated catchment-scale approach will therefore be required to protect and restore natural river processes. With its existing responsibilities for delivering many of the objectives set out in Scotland’s River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs), SEPA has a key role to play in ensuring that no further deterioration in our water environment occurs, and in requiring or indeed taking action to improve the water environment. We also have an opportunity to build on the extensive expertise of fisheries and land managers to support improvements being delivered at greater pace and scale. As part of the Implementation Plan, we will identify opportunities for public and private sector interests to work in close collaboration to deliver this vital work. Whilst this priority area for action will benefit salmon populations through improvements to aquatic habitat, it is important to recognise that this package of work will have wide-ranging benefits for Scottish biodiversity.
- Meeting or exceeding all WFD targets/actions on water quality, quantity, in-river habitat and barrier easement. This requirement will include SEPA carrying out a review of existing CAR licences to improve fish passage at a range of active operations including distilleries, public water supply and hydropower; scheduled programme of barrier removal at historic/redundant sites to be completed by 2027.
- Following a consultation in 2021, SEPA will take a new approach to addressing water scarcity, with greater management of water abstraction which will address or minimise impacts of drought conditions on salmon.
- Undertaking assessments and assemble case studies to determine possible gaps where achievement of RBMP targets may not provide adequate protection for salmon at local and/or national scale.
- Improving climate resilience of rivers, for example through supporting targeted riparian tree planting and natural regeneration and peatland restoration.
- Incentivising habitat improvement projects, such as sustainable riverbank protection, installation of large woody structures and re-connecting natural flood plains.
- Preventing and mitigating the introduction, establishment and spread of invasive non-native species.
- Undertaking a review of fish-eating bird policy with a view to ensuring balanced consideration of the conservation status of predator and prey species and informing the proposed wider review of the species licensing system.
Managing exploitation through effective regulation, deterrents, and enforcement.
Fishing, and particularly angling for salmon, is an iconic image that many associate with Scotland. Much of the original Victorian era salmon fishing legislation was brought together in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003, but there have been significant changes in the years since, aimed at protecting salmon in our coastal and inland waters. These actions include a ban on the sale of rod-caught salmon, changes to extend the annual close times to protect spring stocks of salmon, and the 2016 salmon conservation regulations which prohibited the retention of salmon caught in coastal waters and inland waters where conservation status is low. Local management of rivers and fishing by District Salmon Fishery Boards (DSFBs) and Rivers and Fisheries Trusts remains a key component of Scottish salmon fishing, with enforcement of national and local regulations by water bailiffs, appointed by DSFBs and Ministers.
In addition to delivering extremely high levels of catch and release, anglers are often the ‘eyes and ears’ on our riverbanks, reporting illegal activities and pollution incidents and actively working with others to improve habitats and protect our aquatic environment. We want to build on this expertise and enthusiasm and ensure that anglers are fully engaged in the delivery of this Strategy.
- Continuing to revise and apply the annual salmon conservation regulations.
- Maintaining the prohibition of the retention of salmon in coastal waters until such time as the conservation status of salmon allows for the consideration of removing the measure.
- Reviewing the annual close times across Scotland.
- Undertaking a review of enforcement powers, the offences and penalty regime for salmon poaching and other offences, aiming to increase penalties if necessary.
- Supporting the training of water bailiffs and raising awareness of wildlife crime, in partnership with Fisheries Management Scotland, Police Scotland, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
Understanding and mitigating pressures in the marine and coastal environment.
A number of activities and pressures in the marine environment may impact on populations of salmon. Scotland’s National Marine Plan sets out the strategic policies for managing Scotland’s seas to achieve the vision of Clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas; managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people. Through the National Marine Plan (and where relevant Regional and Sectoral Marine Plans), the impact of development and use of the marine environment on salmon is considered in marine planning and decision-making processes. Alongside this, the National Planning Framework includes planning policies for sustainable aquaculture designed to safeguard migratory fish species including salmon.
There have been significant efforts aimed at improving our understanding and mitigating the negative interactions between farmed and wild salmon. The Scottish Government’s response to the recommendations of the Salmon Interactions Working Group sets out a programme of work to ensure that the impacts and risks presented by fish farming to wild salmonids are minimised. Further, the Shared Policy Programme agreed as part of the ground-breaking agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party includes an ambitious aquaculture agreement and commits to a step change in how we manage the marine environment.
In addition, a suite of ongoing and new national initiatives including the UK Marine Strategy, Scotland’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy, and the further development of Scotland’s Marine Protected Area network aim to build and support healthy, robust marine ecosystems that will in turn benefit salmon in Scottish waters.
- Implementing the programme set out in the Scottish Government’s response to the Salmon Interactions Working Group.
- Maintaining the presumption against further marine fish farm developments on the north and east coasts.
- Safeguarding salmon through National, Regional and Sectoral Marine Plan policies, and licensing of marine activity and development, recognising its status as a Priority Marine Feature.
- Protecting and enhancing marine biodiversity, including salmon and the habitats they depend on, through a well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas, proposed Highly Protected Marine Areas and other conservation measures.
- Implementing the UK Marine Strategy to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status.
Making a positive contribution through international collaborations
In parallel to our actions close to home we must also support international efforts to ensure the survival of salmon beyond our jurisdiction. The Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean is a multilateral agreement which came into force in 1983. Its aim is to promote the conservation, restoration, enhancement, and rational management of salmon stocks in the North Atlantic through international co-operation. NASCO, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, is the international organisation established by the Convention and is responsible for devising regulatory measures in distant-water fisheries at West Greenland and the Faroe Islands (ocean feeding grounds for salmon of Scottish origin). Following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union the UK is now a full party to the Convention, having previously been represented through the EU. The Scottish Government therefore has obligations to, and contributes to the work of, NASCO and we report annually on the implementation of NASCO’s Resolutions, Agreements and Guidelines under our jurisdiction.
OSPAR is the mechanism by which 15 Governments and the EU cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. It has complementary competences to NASCO in the protection of marine ecosystems in the North-East Atlantic and ensures the protection of priority species and habitats through its own programmes and measures or through cooperation with other international authorities. We also contribute to the work of ICES the body responsible for coordinating marine science and marine scientific advice on salmon fishing in the North Atlantic.
- Playing an active role in the effective functioning of NASCO and the development and implementation of NASCO resolutions, agreements and guidelines.
- Working as part of the UK delegation to NASCO to support evidence-based regulation of distant-water marine fisheries at West Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
- Contributing to improved scientific understanding through participation in the ICES Working Group on North Atlantic Salmon.
- Contributing to monitoring and surveillance activities, information exchange and development of recommendations to prevent parasite spread (e.g. as part of NASCO North East Atlantic Commission Gyrodactylus salaris working group).
- Implementing OSPAR Recommendation 2016/3 on furthering the protection and conservation of the Atlantic salmon.
Developing a modernised and fit for purpose policy framework
Scotland has 41 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.
DSFBs have statutory powers and duties to protect and improve salmon fisheries within their legally-defined salmon fishery districts, and have powers to raise money to fund fisheries management (through a levy system) and to appoint water bailiffs. Water bailiffs operate under the powers conferred by the 2003 Act to prevent the illegal taking of salmon or trout.
There are also 25 charitable Rivers and Fisheries Trusts in Scotland. Trusts (and some DSFBs) monitor young fish and returning adults to help understand how important local pressures impact the aquatic environment. In other cases, fisheries managers work to collect information which is then applied at local, national and international levels. 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 District Salmon Fishery Board(s) which cover the same catchment(s) to manage and conserve Scotland’s fisheries resources.
At the heart of the existing policy framework lies a balance between local management by DSFBs and Trusts and national leadership by the Scottish Government. Some aspects of this framework date back to legislation from the 1860s, and have their roots in an approach that revolves around the management of salmon fishing rights as opposed to the stewardship of the fish and their habitats. Legislation has been consolidated, amended and expanded many times over the years and there is a complex system of regulation and compliance that has evolved over time, including for example seasonal restrictions (annual close times) and weekly close times.
In developing a modern framework that supports local managers in conserving wild salmon we will consider the rights of fisheries, the role of DSFBs as well as the requirement to protect the species. At the same time we also will aim to preserve flexibility so that changing policy priorities and unforeseen impacts can be promptly and successfully dealt with in the future.
We recognise the importance of local management, and we want to build on the effective links that have been developed between central Government and local management in recent years. Government has international obligations relating to salmon conservation, develops national policy and funds and coordinates large scale scientific research & monitoring networks. Local management sets and delivers local priorities, including protection of salmon populations, undertaking local research and contributing to coordinate national research and monitoring as well as contributing to national policy development.
We will examine ways in which we can better support local management. Currently, DSFBs are funded through the fishery assessment, which is a form of non-domestic rate. At the request of the DSFB, local authority district assessors value the salmon and sea trout fisheries within that district. This valuation is largely based on the declared catches within each fishery. The fishery assessment currently raises around £4m each year but declining catches have placed significant pressure on this source of income. These issues have been exacerbated by the effects of Covid-19.
Stable and consistent income streams are a significant challenge for rivers and fisheries trusts, which raise funds through a variety of means. Often core funding is provided by DSFBs from the fishery assessment, but public funds from a range of sources generally aimed towards habitat improvement work, third sector charitable funding and private sector contributions are a vital component of the funding of trusts.
Working with stakeholders we will consider a broad review of the policy framework with the aim of improving the protection of salmon and ensuring enhanced environmental, economic, and social benefits arising from it. As part of the review we will explore new means to improve investment in Scotland's rivers. We will use experience from other countries to inform a reformed funding mechanism for salmon conservation and fisheries management in Scotland. This will also include investigating private sector contributions, and the willingness by firms to dedicate funds as part of their corporate, social and environmental responsibility.
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