There’s a catch: I have written previously how catch data published by Fisheries Management Scotland in their Annual Review is often very different to that published by Marine Scotland Science in the Scottish Government’s official statistics. Now, with the publication of the provisional catch data for 2022 this week, it appears that MSS’s data doesn’t even agree with their own previously published data.
On June 1st 2022, the Scottish Government published a summary of the salmon fishery catch statistics for the 2021 season – https://www.gov.scot/publications/salmon-fishery-statistics-2021/documents/ This states that the total reported rod catch of wild salmon for 2021 is 35,693 of which 34,074 were subsequently released and 1,619 killed and retained.
The official spreadsheet of catch data 1952-2021 which is currently available on the Scottish Government website confirms these numbers.
The latest provisional data for 2022 also includes the 2021 data, which rather oddly is described as ‘provisional’. The 2021 data adds up to 36,503 fish, a difference of 810. Of these 34,835 fish were released (+761) and 1,668 (+49) were caught and killed.
The obvious question is why is there this difference? The answer, no doubt, will be that details of these 810 extra fish arrived from the relevant fisheries proprietors after the statistics had been compiled. The fishing season ends by October for most fisheries so why does it take so long for the proprietors of these missing fish to submit their catch data? Could it because Marine Scotland Science have a very relaxed approach to the angling fraternity? We have seen this in their reluctance to impose mandatory catch and release or close rivers to fishing in order to protect salmon. After all, 810 fish is hardly any fish at all!
This week, MSS published provisional catch and to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that they have taken this approach. In the introduction, MSS say that the next update will be the final statistics for 2022 and this will be published in Summer 2023. Yet the Scottish Government’s guide to forthcoming statistical publications states May 2023. I hope that the publication of this provisional data is not an excuse for delaying the publication of the the full dataset. The provisional data is mildly interesting but it lacks the detail that a full analysis requires and for a variety of reasons, a full analysis is urgently required this year. It would be a serious matter if the publication of the full data set was delayed in any way.
Marine Scotland Science have published a topic sheet no 67 (last updated 2015). This details how wild fish statistics are collected. It begins ‘that for the purposes of these statistics, data are combined geographically into 109 districts, which are further aggregated into 11 regions.’ Yet this latest provisional data is does not followed this accepted format. Instead, it is divided into just two areas – East and West. Although the spreadsheet includes some notes, there is no explanation as to how the two areas are divided. This is found separately on the publications page that provides a link to the data. Why the information is not included on the spreadsheet with the data remains a mystery. https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-salmon-and-sea-trout-fisheries-provisional-statistics-2022/
The divide is Cape Wrath in the northwest corner of the main land so the northern rivers are included in the east as is Orkney and Shetland, whereas everything else is in the west. This divide is totally meaningless as it doesn’t compare with any of the historical data. In fact, MSS have had to recalculate the 2021 data to provide a point of comparison.
What this new data reveals is that the total salmon catch for 2022 was up by 16% overall (13% east coast and 34% west coast). By comparison, the number of salmon killed for sport has fallen overall by 12%. This is a fall of 16% on the east coast but interestingly retaining fish has increased in the west. It will be interesting to see which rivers have seen this increased retention, when the full data set is eventually made available.
Otherwise very little detail can be gleaned from this provisional data. The wild fisheries sector will be celebrating increased catches but improvements in catches does not mean that salmon numbers have stopped falling. There have always been annual variations in salmon catches.
I can now only wait for the full data set to be published (minus the fish that have not been included because the river proprietors have been too overdue in submitting their reports). Surely, it is time this archaic system of catch reporting was brought into the modern world.
This is science?: Last week, the Scottish Government published a new report ‘Regional and national assessment of the pressures acting on Atlantic salmon in Scotland 2021’. The report was published as Vol 14. No 4 of the series ‘Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science’.
The report states on page 3 that ‘This report presents the results of marine and freshwater scientific work carried out by Marine Scotland’.
Yet according to Fisheries Management Scotland, who partnered Marine Scotland Science in this pressures project, ‘this report tells us where local fisheries managers think there is an impact.’ I am not sure how ‘thinking’ can in anyway be construed as science. In fact, this report is effectively just a poll of what local fisheries managers think but masquerading as science.
The fact that this can be seen to not be science is the clear from the various summary graphs for all of Scotland, the North, the East, the West and the South West. The data is presented following the example used in Norway with the position of the pressure increasing in severity and trend from the bottom left of the graph to the top right. The size of the point used for each pressure is indicative of the confidence in the impact of the pressure.
Not surprisingly, given that the impact of these pressures has been provided by fisheries managers, angling is not considered to have a severe impact on wild fish and the level of confidence in this assumption is high. The most severe pressure for all of Scotland and also, the east, where most salmon fishing takes place, is bird predation. In the north, this is matched by predation by seals, but in the South West, upstream barriers appear to have most impact, whilst in the West, sea lice trump all.
If fisheries managers in Western Scotland weren’t already convinced that sea lice were the greatest threat then the step by step guidance provided by MSS, FMS and the Scottish Fisheries Co-ordination Centre should help persuade them. (Mapping Pressures on Wild Atlantic Salmon in Scotland – Step by Step Guidance for District Salmon Fishery Boards and Rivers/Fisheries Trusts).
For the pressure of rod and line angling, the advice was:
“This relates to the effect of killing fish within the rod and line fishery assessed at a whole catchment scale. Please take into account the Scottish Government conservation measures approach here.”
By comparison for sea lice:
“Effect of salmon marine survival at catchment scale. There has been a significant body of work developed in Norway and Ireland which suggest that, on average sea lice arising from aquaculture have a 20% impact on wild salmonid fish – range 0-40%. On that basis, unless you are able to supply good evidence to the contrary (e.g., sweep netting data) it is suggested that severity category B is used in areas adjacent to fish farming activity.”
After reading this short paragraph, I am not surprised that neither MSS nor FMS refuse to discuss the science of sea lice. It wasn’t that long ago when MSS said that Scotland was very different to Norway and Ireland and that it was important to conduct research in Scotland but spent £600,000 on a sea lice project which failed to produce any results, it seems that the science from Norway and Ireland is good enough to show an impact from sea lice on Scottish wild fish. Yet, I can only repeat again that the observational evidence used by MSS does not show what they claim.
By comparison, I can prove, using MSS data, that the angling pressure in 2021 (2022 is still not available) resulted in the premature deaths of at least 1,619 mature salmon (more likely 1,668). As we have seen, sea lice are only considered a problem on the west coast and if we accept that rod catch is indicative of population size as MSS maintain then a 20% mortality on the 2021 catch amounts to 650 fish. Thus, according to MSS, in 2021, sea lice killed 650 salmon in Scotland and anglers killed 1619 fish. So, which is the biggest threat to wild salmon stocks? Answers on a postcard please.
However, I don’t accept the twenty percent figure. This is a new claim by MSS which Is not stated in their summary of science document, but it’s not difficult to work out how they arrived at it. It is simple maths to add 0% to 40% (actually 1% and 39%) and divide by 2 to provide an average even though the two papers providing these figures are very different. My own view is moulded by the fact that if I write to the authors of the lower impact paper, they will reply whereas the authors of the paper advocating a 39% mortality do not. You can draw your own conclusion. However, it should be mentioned that that at least one of the authors of the higher impact paper has a close association with a well-known anti-salmon farming activist.
The mortality of salmon from sea lice using the findings of the paper from the Marine Institute in Ireland would be about 33 fish compared to 64 fish killed by anglers from rivers in the west coast Aquaculture Zone and 1,619 (1,668) fish from across all of Scotland. The angling fraternity claim that their impact on wild fish is minimal so what does that make the impact of salmon farming. It does make me wonder why the Scottish Government are trying to impose a draconian sea lice risk assessed framework on the salmon farming industry whilst allowing anglers the free choice as to whether they kill a fish or not.
Regardless of MSS/FMS advice, it is to be expected that fisheries managers would rate sea lice as the biggest threat, yet the level of confidence is not as high as bird predation elsewhere. However, what is most interesting is that across Scotland, fisheries managers see sea lice as less of a threat than angling. Even crayfish rate higher than sea lice. Of course, there are no farms outside the west coast, so sea lice are not considered an issue in these areas. What is surprising is that given sea lice are not considered a threat outside the west coast, why so much publicity is given to sea lice, especially from the angling organisations. Fisheries managers seemingly think very differently to these organisations.
There are other inconsistencies too. The South West seems to think that farm escapes are a bigger threat than in the West where salmon farms are located. In their news release, FMS say that fisheries manager’s views were sought before the MSS report on genetic introgression was published. However, equally, the findings of the Carradale escape study where no evidence of impact were apparent had also been not been published.
It does seem from this project, even if it is just based on manager’s views, that salmon farming is not the big issue that it is made out to be. Put together with the results of the SPILLS project, the question must be asked as to why the Scottish Government are focussing so heavily on salmon farming when bird predation, sea predation and barriers are clearly perceived to be the greatest threats to wild salmon. Of course, there will be massive public resistance to the fisheries sector shooting birds and seals, so it is easier to focus efforts on salmon farming, especially having pursued an anti-salmon farming narrative for so many years.
Spring salmon: Wild spring salmon are considered to be the most threatened component of the Scottish salmon stock as recognised in the Wild Salmon Strategy. At the same time, the strategy recommends anglers take greater care handling fish they catch and release.
This week the Tay Salmon Fishery Board posted the following on Twitter:
Why is an angler from a fishing club posing such a valued salmon on the ground alongside the rod? And why is the Tay Salmon Fishery Bord tweeting a picture of this. This is not the way to handle salmon and what hope is there for salmon when those in charge endorse such actions, especially so soon after publication of the wild salmon strategy implementation plan.
Wild Fish: Wild Fish Conservation are holding an ‘Off the Table’ event in Stockbridge in the south of England. This is an evening hosted by WildFish with special guest Feargal Sharkey showcasing their Off the Table campaign. This is aimed at taking Scottish salmon off the table. The event is headlined as the ‘End of the line for Scottish farmed salmon.
Tickets for the event on March 14th cost £12 and can be bought at:
I suspect that as those attending have to pay to gain entry and that the location is next to one of the best fishing rivers in the south of England, that this event will attract mainly anglers and be one of preaching to the converted. It’s a shame that rather than attacking the salmon farming industry, WildFish don’t use the opportunity to invite someone from the salmon farming industry and actually debate the issues then just regurgitate their blinkered view.
What they say:
It’s the end of the line for farmed salmon
Salmon has become one of the most popular dishes in restaurants and at home, but its popularity has come at a cost for the environment, fish welfare and the health of the planet.
It’s time to take salmon off the menu.
Get the facts
Salmon farms have huge environmental, sustainability and welfare issues. The majority of salmon sold and served in the UK comes from Scotland. Fish are intensively farmed in submerged cages along the west coast and islands.
Impact on the environment
Open-net salmon farms are breeding grounds for parasites and disease; farms also discharge toxic chemicals and waste into the surrounding environment, impacting and killing a host of wildlife.
Unacceptably poor fish welfare
On average, 1 in 4 Scottish farmed salmon die in the cages along our shores – 11 million fish in 2020. Poorly managed disease, lice and water quality see fish eaten alive or suffocating before they reach our plates.