Gradings: In reLAKSation no 1032, I wrote about the major concerns for wild Atlantic salmon expressed in the Scottish Government’s Marine Assessment 2020. I highlighted that there were discrepancies in the way that the conservation status of Scottish rivers had previously been counted. Marine Scotland Science (MSS) had listed a total of 173 graded areas, rivers, or districts, whereas I had identified that there were 174 plus a further eight for which no data was available but for which a grade had been awarded.
On August 11th, MSS sent out notification that they had now provisionally assessed the various areas and had issued proposed gradings for the 2022 season. The changes meant that Grade 1 areas fell by one to 35. Grade 2 had increased by two to 37 and that Grade 3 rivers had fallen by one to 101 although MSS did indicate that the number of Grade 3 rivers was in fact 102 as one area covered two fishery districts. This would make a total of 174 areas.
MSS also wrote in their email notification that the way the information was displayed on their website would look different this year to ensure that it would be more accessible. In real terms, the information is now broken down into various regions rather than a single alphabetical list.
Having examined the new listings, I am not sure that it is any more accessible than previous years, but what it is, is a lot more confusing. Having counted the total number of graded assessments, I was surprised to find that rather than the 174 areas stated by MSS or the 182 that I counted previously, there are in fact a total of 223 different assessments.
Before I explain these differences, I would mention that the reason for the notification of the proposed grades is that there is a 28-day consultation period to allow for representation or objections. The purpose of the gradings, as made clear in the notification, is to regulate the killing of salmon in Scotland and typically any objections occur when the conservation status is tightened, and anglers can no longer kill salmon on a particular river or fishery district.
When conservation limits were first introduced in 2015, they related to the 109 fishery districts. However, this led to objections from anglers who claimed that their bit of river had a much better conservation status than other rivers in the same district and thus should be assessed separately. Consequently, we have now ended up with 223 different assessments simply so that anglers can continue to kill fish. At a time, when stocks are under threat, this makes no sense and given that 93% of fish are now returned, all this effort is simply being directed towards allowing 7% of the catch to be killed. As S&TC want salmon to be red-listed and FMS want it to be made a national priority, why not make all Scottish rivers Grade 3 with mandatory catch and release?
The current gradings make no sense anyway so a single unified system would be more appropriate. It would also re-enforce the threatened status of the fish and increase awareness amongst anglers of the fragile status of this threatened resource.
The reason why the current system makes no sense and also why there are now 223 different assessments can be illustrated by two of the original fishery districts – Tweed and Clayburn. The map shows the location of the two and their comparative size.
The Tweed is assigned a Grade 1 listing for the whole of the fishery district. By comparison, for this year (2021) Clayburn has three different listings for nine separate rivers and lochs. These are:
East Harris – (Abhainn Leac á Li, Abhainn na Ciste, Loch Creavat System, Loch Flodabay system, Loch Huamavat System, Loch Manias System) – assigned Grade 3.
Laxadale Lochs – assigned Grade 2.
Scaladale and Vigadale (River Scaladale, River Vigadale) – assigned Grade 3.
For 2022, each one of these 9 rivers and lochs has been assigned its own Grade so East Harris changes from one Grade 3 into 6 different Grade 3 areas. This is why there are now a total of 223 areas compared to the 173 (174) proposed by MSS. It is this attempt by MSS to improve accessibility that has resulted in this widespread expansion of the assigned grades beyond the original 109 fishery districts.
What is interesting is that in the nine years between peak catches in 2010 and 2018 when MSS changed the reporting system, 61 fish were killed from rivers in the nine assessed areas of the Clayburn fishery district whilst, the single assessed Tweed district saw 27,061 fish killed, a small difference of 27,000 fish.
It is clear that wild Atlantic salmon are under threat so is it not time that killing wild salmon is now stopped. Killing fish by nets was banned to protect wild fish, so is it not time for the same principle be applied to rod catches too. I know that a blanket ban is not welcomed by some river managers as they argue that if the local stocks allow, then exploitation is acceptable. However, my view is that the time has come to put out the message that all wild salmon are precious and killing them for sport is no longer acceptable. Why should it be undesirable to kill a fish in Clayburn, but acceptable in the Tweed?
Selfies: The Daily Telegraph reported that the Missing Salmon Alliance (Atlantic Salmon Trust, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Angling Trust, Fisheries Management Scotland, The Rivers Trust) has warned that taking pictures (selfies) of rod caught salmon could cause severe injuries and potentially be fatal.
Stuart Singleton-White, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust told the newspaper that anglers can be unaware that the act of photography could render lasting damage on the fish and the number of these pictures has increased with the increase in popularity of social media in recent years.
Salmon & Trout Conservation (not part of the Missing Salmon Alliance) say that salmon enthusiasts who want to preserve the species but still take a good picture should take note of the best and safest way. They say that fish should not be lifted from the water by any means and certainly not by the tail or gill cover. Also, they say avoid taking the fish to the bank or dragging them across stones or gravel.
John Macaskill, a head ghillie from the River Conon told Country Life that anglers should net their catch with a rubber knotless net and use forceps to remove the hook. He said that ideally anglers shouldn’t touch the fish as positioning the fish in the net in the water is the best way to take a picture. The salmon should not be out of the water for more than 10 seconds.
I recently wrote about one ghillie’s recommendation for no-touch landing and photography of salmon, but it seems such messages continue to fall on deaf ears. Now unable to take a salmon home, most anglers seem to resort to the next best thing which is getting a good selfie of angler with the fish. Such photographs appear regularly on social media, even retweeted by some of the Fisheries Boards. This is not surprising since photographs of recently caught salmon send out the message that the river is still producing good fish and therefore open for business.
My view is that the need to take a photograph no matter what will never change and certainly not just through information leaflets and newspaper articles. Interestingly, none of the five member organisations of the Missing Salmon Alliance appear to have posted links to this article on their website. On the same day, Fisheries Management Scotland posted a news story from the Scottish Farmer about the use of less disruptive practices for tree planting to protect peatland.
I have written previously that perhaps the way forward is that every angler fishing for salmon should attend a fish handling course and without certification, should not be allowed to fish. This could be linked to a fishing licence. Unlicenced drivers are not allowed on the road as they are a danger to others which might suggest that unlicensed anglers may be a danger to wild salmon. Certainly, it seems that catch and release alone may not be enough to safeguard the future of Scotland’s wild salmon.
In the Pink: Salmon Business reports that 70,000 pink salmon have now been caught from Norwegian rivers this year. Despite attempts by the Norwegian Environment Agency to get rid of these fish from local rivers, there seem to be more than ever this year. The majority of the fish were caught close to the Russian border, from where they were originally introduced to help boost Russian fisheries. The numbers are described by Norwegian researchers as dramatic.
According to Salmon Business, the Environment Agency recently warned anglers to be vigilant in looking out for examples found in English waters. They have been previously found in rivers from the Tyne in the north to Cornwall in the south.
In Scotland, the Press and Journal report that pink salmon have been caught from the River Dee and River Don. Others have been caught from the Spey and the Thurso. Many more are expected to find their way into Scottish rivers this year as 2021 is the second year of the two-year pink salmon lifecycle but after large numbers were seen in 2017, the expectation was that more would be seen in 2019 but that did not quite happen so it is possible that pinks may not be as dominant as they have become in Northern Norway. Pink salmon like cold water and it may be that whilst some specimens do find their way into Scottish rivers, it may not be cold enough to see the population explosions seen in Northern Norway.
Meanwhile, it is surprising that whilst anglers catching pink salmon need to report them, anglers are not being encouraged to actually target them. I understand that pink salmon respond well to egg pattern flies, a type of fly that is not so well-known here. Targeting pink salmon would also fulfil the need of those anglers who prefer to kill the fish they catch, whilst having the added bonus of taking one home for the pot.