Wild salmon strategy implementation plan progress report: 2023-2024

A progress report setting out the progress towards delivering the actions in the wild salmon strategy implementation plan in 2023/24 to protect and restore wild salmon populations.

Progress on Actions

The strategy and plan identified five broad priority themes for action, supported by a strong evidence base underpinned by coordinated scientific research and monitoring. The actions are expected to be delivered throughout the five year timeline of the plan, with work on some actions starting in 2023 and others in subsequent years. It is important to recognise that while some actions can provide immediate benefit to wild salmon populations, the positive impact of other actions may be longer term.

An update on the actions that have progressed in 2023 is summarised below.

1. Improving the condition of rivers and giving salmon free access to cold, clean water.

This theme focuses on addressing the range of pressures acting on the freshwater environment. The actions identified aim to provide salmon with access to large areas of high quality habitat. Since publication of the plan;

  • Studies and projects to deliver improvements as required to wastewater treatment works are on track. Five wastewater treatment works have been assessed as requiring no action. [Action 1.1]
  • Studies and projects to deliver improvements as required to intermittent sewage discharges are on track. One additional intermittent sewage discharge has been identified as requiring action. [Action 1.2]
  • Work is ongoing in 46 catchments to address diffuse pollution. During 2023 SEPA completed 341 initial farm compliance visits in 6 new priority catchments and 243 revisits to non-compliant farms in other priority catchments. [Action 1.4]
  • SEPA continues to protect the water environment through application of the Controlled Activities Regulations and input to Land Use planning. [Action 1.5]
  • SEPA, working closely with partners, managed a significant water scarcity event across several catchments during the summer of 2023. [Action 1.6]
  • In 2023, priorities have been agreed and a timeline developed with operators to ensure the measures to improve flows and levels impacted by hydropower are delivered by 2027. Progress has been varied across Scotland. [Action 1.7]
  • Scottish Forestry developed target areas which has identified 175,000 hectares of riparian land for tree planting, now eligible for an increased grant rate, which will provide multiple benefits, including shading to keep rivers cool. [Action 1.8 and 1.9]
  • In 2023, work to restore 7,500ha of peatland across Scotland was undertaken by damming drains and revegetating eroded areas. [Action 1.10]
  • A sub-group of the Scottish Beaver Advisory Group has been established to focus on beaver and fish interactions. The group have identified initial actions which includes identifying knowledge gaps that need further research. Habitats Regulations Appraisals (HRAs) have been carried out to assess the effect of beaver translocations on the Endrick Water and River Spey Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) with monitoring and mitigation plans agreed for each prior to the releases taking place. [Action 1.11]
  • The draft framework for 30 by 30 (the commitment to protect at least 30% of our land and sea for nature by 2030), outlines the route forwards for protected and conserved areas in Scotland making it clear that sites should encourage natural processes and ecological complexity and function rather than focussing on creating a static environment. Through this broader approach, and looking to work more at a landscape scale, ecosystem services will be improved, including healthier river catchments that support wild salmon. [Action 1.12]
  • In 2023, 39 active barriers were scoped by SEPA. Twelve were screened out as requiring no action and 27 passed on to the design and licencing stage. Works to ease fish passage on two active barriers were completed. [Action 1.13]
  • In 2023, 38 historic barriers were scoped by SEPA. Fourteen were screened out as requiring no action and 24 passed on to the design and licencing stage. Works to ease fish passage on three historic barriers were completed. [Action 1.14]
  • In 2023, 28 asset barriers were scoped by SEPA. Ten were screened out as requiring no action and 18 passed on to the design and licencing stage. Works to ease fish passage on three asset barriers were completed. [Action 1.15]
  • A contractor has been appointed by Scottish Canals to undertake an optioneering study focussed on fish migration on the Scottish Canals network. [Action 1.17]
  • Approval has been granted for NatureScot to start the Species Licencing Review, including the procedures for the licencing of piscivorous birds. NatureScot are currently assessing options for considering bird population data in Scotland. [Action 1.19]
  • Support from the Marine Fund Scotland has been provided to fisheries managers to purchase acoustic deterrent devices for the management of specialist seals in rivers. [Action 1.21]
  • The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) has entered its second phase from 2023-2036, supported by Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund. NatureScot continues to lead the SISI on behalf of the project partnership (made up of ten fishery Trusts and Boards and the University of Aberdeen). The largest invasive non-native species control project in the British Isles, the project controls American mink and a suite of invasive non-native plant species over an area of some 29,500 km2 (approximately 1/3 of mainland Scotland). These actions help to support the restoration of riparian habitats in catchments supporting the Atlantic salmon and the removal of a semi-aquatic predator that has Atlantic salmon as part of its diet. [Action 1.22]
  • Scotland wide eDNA-based monitoring for invasive pink salmon was conducted in 2023 across 30 rivers. This work was coordinated through the Pink Salmon Task Group, water samples were collected by SEPA, NatureScot, Scottish Government, Fisheries Management Scotland and members of various fishery Boards and sample analysis has been carried out by Scottish Government. Pink salmon eDNA was consistently detected in 10 out of 32 rivers demonstrating presence of fish in these rivers, full findings will be published in due course. The FMS reporting tool allows sightings of pink salmon to be recorded. [Action 1.23]
  • A working group to develop a Scottish-specific Angling Pathway Action Plan has been established with representatives from Scottish Government, FMS, Crown Estate Scotland, SEPA, NatureScot, Scottish Water, Angling Scotland, Scottish Canals and National Parks. The plan will address pathways of introduction and the spread of non-native species. [Action 1.24]
  • Members of FMS are supporting a PhD at the University of Aberdeen entitled, “Detailed Analysis of Fish Pathogenic Oomycete Isolates from Scottish Rivers”. This project will investigate Saprolegnia with a view to providing clear guidance to fisheries managers. Any reports of Saprolegnia through FMS are automatically shared with the Fish Health Inspectorate prompting further investigation where appropriate. [Action 1.25]
  • In 2023, a review on risks and opportunities of stocking was published by Scottish Government. The Science and Evidence Board are considering the evidence on stocking with regard to the scope for intervention where salmon populations are at risk of extinction. [Action 1.27]

2. Managing exploitation through effective regulation, deterrents and enforcement

Salmon angling is important to Scotland’s rural economy, and this theme aims to ensure adequate protection is provided to salmon through the management of exploitation. Since publication of the plan;

  • The annual salmon stock assessment informed the revisions to the Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016 which will come into effect from 1 April 2024, specifying where salmon are subject to mandatory catch and release practices for the 2024 season. [Action 2.1]
  • The prohibition of the retention of salmon in coastal waters was maintained. [Action 2.2]
  • FMS are leading on preparatory work to undertake a review of enforcement powers, the offences and penalty regime for salmon poaching (a wildlife crime) and other offences through the FMS Enforcement Committee. Steps were taken to raise the awareness of wildlife crime through stakeholder engagements. [Action 2.4]
  • In areas without a functioning District Salmon Fishery Board, Scottish Government appointed water bailiffs who successfully completed Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) exams. [Action 2.5]
  • During a prolonged period of warm weather in summer 2023, advice was issued by Scottish Government on angling in warm weather to protect fish welfare. FMS will work in partnership with Angling Scotland and The Missing Salmon Alliance on refreshing the best practice catch and release guidelines. [Action 2.6]

3. Understanding and mitigating pressures in the marine and coastal environment

Salmon are a migratory species, that spend a significant proportion of their life in marine and coastal waters. This theme focusses on protecting salmon from the pressures they face in these areas. Since publication of the plan;

  • Preparation continued on a new National Marine Plan for Scotland’s seas (NMP2) to address the global climate and nature crises by carefully managing increased competition for space and resources in the marine environment. This included stakeholder participation through the NMP2 steering group and the launch of a new National Marine Planning Forum. [Action 3.1]
  • The third year of data collection of the West Coast Tracking Project (a partnership between Atlantic Salmon Trust, Fisheries Management Scotland and Marine Directorate) tracking smolts through sea lochs, took place in 2023. The ScotMER programme funded the deployment of additional equipment to further understand the marine migration patterns of salmon post-smolts. The data collected across the multi-year project is now being collated and analysed. [Action 3.2]
  • The ScotMER programme has funded a review of current knowledge and future research of offshore wind impacts on diadromous fish which will inform future research projects. In addition, the ScotMER programme has funded two smolt tracking projects in the Moray firth (2023-2024 and 2024-2025) investigating potential impacts on salmon and sea trout at constructed offshore windfarms. [Action 3.3]
  • SEPA has developed and consulted on a sea lice risk assessment framework which will support sustainable development of fish farming by protecting the environment, with implementation in phases from 1 February 2024. [Action 3.5 and 3.6]
  • Following a public consultation, Scottish Government announced that fishing for sandeel in Scottish waters will be prohibited from 26 March 2024 [Action 3.8]
  • National Planning Framework 4 has been adopted which includes Policy 32(a) stating that to safeguard migratory fish species, further salmon and trout open pen fish farm developments on the North and East coasts of mainland Scotland will not be supported [Action 3.9]

4. Making a positive contribution through international collaborations

Salmon spend a large amount of time in the marine environment and it is important that we support international efforts to protect salmon beyond our jurisdiction. Since publication of the plan;

  • Scottish Government officials contributed to the 40th Annual Meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) in New Brunswick, Canada where distant water fisheries measures at West Greenland were maintained and important agreements were reached on the future direction and priorities of the organisation in the context of the twin global crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. Scottish Government scientists showcased the pioneering work of Scotland’s River Temperature Monitoring Network (SRTMN) at a NASCO special session on climate change. Annual reporting requirements were fulfilled. [Action 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3]
  • A Scottish Government scientist participated in the long-running sampling programme at West Greenland to aid international stocks assessment efforts. [Action 4.4]
  • Scottish Government scientists contributed data and undertook analysis on the 2023 stock assessment and provision of advice on Atlantic salmon by the ICES Working Group on North Atlantic Salmon. [Action 4.6]
  • Updates on the actions taken in Scotland under the Gyrodactylus salaris Road Map NEA2307_UK-G-salaris-Road-Map-Update.pdf (nasco.int) and efforts to monitor the invasive non-native pink salmon CNL2361_Pink-Salmon-Update-2023-United-Kingdom.pdf (nasco.int) were presented to NASCO at its annual meeting. [Action 4.7]
  • Programmes and measures included in OSPAR Recommendation 2016/3 on furthering the protection and conservation of the Atlantic salmon in the OSPAR maritime area have been incorporated into the implementation plan. A report to OSPAR on implementation will be completed before the end of 2025. [Action 4.8]

5. Developing a modernised and fit for purpose policy framework

A task and finish group has been established, coordinated by FMS to provide recommendations to Scottish Government on how the policy framework governing freshwater fisheries management can be modernised.

A critical aspect of this work is to consider funding for the fisheries management sector. FMS and NatureScot have secured Facility for Investment Ready Nature in Scotland (FIRNS) funding to develop a sustainable Scottish source to sea, nature finance model. This will build on the creation of the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund (SMEEF) to explore options for its longer-term structure and explore options to create a new fund for river catchment restoration. [Action 5.1]


Email: SalmonandRecreationalFisheries@gov.scot

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