Lomondside anglers banned from taking one for the pot
Deeply disappointed, Dick Dickson is one of 400 anglers who fish the Lomond System. Picture by Bill Heaney
By BILL HEANEY
For anglers, this was the one that got away. The 400-strong Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association failed to land a victory in the Scottish Parliament which would have won them the right to keep at least some of the salmon they catch.
They will no longer be allowed to take home one for the pot.
The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee decided by a single vote to block an attempt by the anglers, who were supported by MSP Jackie Baillie, to overturn what she called “draconian regulations on wild salmon fishing”.
The SNP and Green members of the committee voted 6 to 5 to impose a mandatory catch and release order on all salmon caught in the Lomond system, which includes the Rivers Endrick, Leven, Fruin and Loch Lomond.
Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said the fact that the Lomond system had been placed in the highest conservation category was the correct way to go since it was essential to save Scotland’s wild salmon stock.
She said: “Anglers will still be able to fish for salmon and even catch them – but they will not be allowed to kill them. Every fish they catch must be returned to the rivers and lochs.”
Jackie Baillie blasted the lack of evidence for the imposition of the regulations in the Loch Lomond area. Incomplete data had been used to judge salmon numbers in local rivers, she maintained.
And apart from everything else, the consequences of the decision for people with disabilities, who wanted to catch and keep the fish they caught, were not considered.
Last season the anglers were allowed to take home three fish. They were issued with tags to attach to these fish from a quota allocated by the Angling Association.
Jackie Baillie MSP and Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.
Jackie Baillie said: “It is very disappointing that the SNP and Greens have chosen to ignore common sense and push through these flawed regulations, despite the lack of evidence.
“The model and methodology used by the Scottish Government to justify the changes amounts to nothing more than guesswork.
“The three hand-drawn maps we have been given look as if they have been done by a five-year-old. I really struggle to believe that this is evidence-based.
“The Government said that an equality impact assessment was carried out in 2016, but they can’t find it. Now they say that one is not needed as no one will be adversely affected, but we know that is not true.
“I have been working with the Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association over the past few months and questioned ministers and civil servants at the Environment Committee twice in the past fortnight.
“I will continue to work with the anglers as they build a case for lifting the restrictions for next year’s season when hopefully a more sensible approach will be taken.”
One angry angler told me: “This decision suits the big men, the toffs in their tweeds and expensive weather gear fishing in rivers like the Tay and the Don.
“For us, the ordinary working-class guys fishing in places like the Leven and the Endrick it’s yet again a case of them that has gets.”
Jim Raeburn, who attended the Committee meeting on behalf of Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association, said: “This is a very frustrating situation made even more so by the fact that we told Marine Scotland in 2016 and again in 2017 that the catch return data used by them to assess the Lomond system was incomplete, but they still went ahead without it.
“Today’s anglers are very aware of conservation issues and the vast majority already practise voluntary catch and release. There are more serious threats to the survival of our salmon stocks than the angler who takes the occasional fish.
“To introduce mandatory catch and release on the basis of methodology which even Marine Scotland admit is flawed and doesn’t stand up to peer scrutiny is absolutely ludicrous. This grading is very likely to have a long term damaging effect on our 118-year-old Association.’’
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, told the committee that the first set of these Regulations were introduced in early 2016 “against a background of threatened infraction proceedings from the European Commission and more general concerns about the downward trend in salmon stocks in our rivers”.
She added that the regulations were introduced, alongside other conservation measures, following extensive discussions with a wide range of stakeholders. These included anglers, biologists, district salmon fishery boards and others.
The Minister said: “The impact of the regulations was not universally popular then, and I am very aware that it is not universally popular now.
“ But, as Richard Lochhead told the Rural Affairs Committee two years ago, we need to manage the exploitation of salmon not just because it is a protected species under the habitats directive, but because it is the right thing to do.
“Salmon is synonymous with Scotland …”
The Regulations, she added, are the third set of measures brought forward to Parliament, this time for the 2018 fishing season.
“They reflect a great deal of work, in consultation with stakeholders around the country, to develop and improve our scientific model, and the quality of data we use in that model,” said Ms Cunningham.
She added: “They also reflect the fact that the numbers of salmon returning to our rivers to spawn is still showing a downward trend year on year.
“The percentage of returning adults has reduced from around 25% to 5% and, while there is a clear need for additional research into the complex range of factors at play, we must take decisive action to protect our salmon population.
“In doing so, I believe it is imperative that we take a precautionary approach to determining whether and where stocks can be exploited.
“If we do not follow such an approach, there is a real danger that we may once again face infraction proceedings because we are failing to protect, and to demonstrate that we are protecting, our Special Areas of Conservation. Doing nothing is not an option.
“We will never have a perfect model, with which everyone agrees. Scientific modelling does not work that way. There will always be uncertainties.
“Our task is to minimise those uncertainties, improve the assessment process year on year where we can, and ensure that we are taking a sensible approach to protecting salmon.
“The responsible management approach we take is not unique to Scotland, and nor are we alone in being so concerned about the health of our salmon stocks.
“Earlier this month the Environment Agency launched a consultation on proposals to bring in mandatory catch and release on 32 of the 42 salmon rivers in England. Their proposal would bring in byelaws lasting for 10 years, and Ireland has taken the decision to close fishing entirely on a number of their salmon rivers.
“We have not taken that decision. The conservation measures we have in place allow rod and line fishing to continue in all of Scotland’s salmon rivers. What the regulations require is that any salmon caught should be returned to the water immediately. Anglers can continue to fish, they simply cannot kill the fish on 122 rivers in Scotland.
“I appreciate that for anglers and fisheries managers alike, particularly of grade 3 rivers [rivers where no fish are allowed to be taken}, this is a very challenging period.
“Nevertheless, we must protect fish ahead of fisheries. To do otherwise is counter-intuitive: it jeopardises anglers’ life blood – our iconic salmon.
“This approach simply gives our salmon the best chance whilst we urgently research and tackle the wide range of pressures which impact our stocks.”
Ms Cunningham added: “This is the right approach, it is the precautionary approach, and I believe it is absolutely the right thing to do – for the anglers of today and tomorrow.
“I cannot, in good conscience, follow the path of least resistance as some would like me to do.”
Nae fish, nae fisherfolk or boats on Loch Lomond. Picture by Bill Heaney