The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust believes in ‘conservation through wise use’: the incentive of a sustainably harvestable resource be it deer, grouse or trout as a way of producing more wildlife in general. Our research over the last 25 years highlights this approach can work very well.
Salmon netting has been a traditional use of the once-plentiful fish that come to our rivers to breed. Netting has been undertaken around the coast of Scotland in a number of different ways, from fixed ‘engines’ to the ‘haaf’ netting of the Solway coast. Recognising the challenges facing salmon stocks that the GWCT also sees in our fishery records from our River Frome research, netsman began a voluntary moratorium in 2000 on netting during the critical spring salmon run, continuing their business through the remainder of the season.
We support the voluntary moratorium on spring net fishing. It feels wise for a relatively limited number of people to restrict their take of a declining fish species when that exploitation cannot be demonstrated to be sustainable. This is something that is, of course, very difficult to show given that there is little positive contribution to salmon conservation at sea or in the river, and the nets take fish returning to a multiplicity of rivers, not just one where conservation can then be focused.
Rod fishing, undertaken by a large number of people and businesses, also results in the killing of some salmon and there is an active debate between years and rivers as to whether rod or net takes a greater proportion of fish. However, rod fishing for salmon is increasingly associated with three activities that suggest sustainable management.
- Firstly, the monitoring efforts in place on most major rivers allow assessment of the balance of production against take in a particular system.
- The increase in catch and release, particularly during the spring run. Catch and release is important as it allows anglers to continue to fish even when the salmon population in a particular river drops below that which can sustain lethal exploitation. It’s not perfect, as some caught fish destined for release do die, but the majority don’t and the ongoing activity on the bank ensures that the large sums of money spent by salmon anglers on conservation continue to flow into areas of need.
- Finally, the angling community’s personal and financial investment in a salmon river’s conservation plan can be shown to improve the conservation of the species.
Rod fishing appears to fulfil many of the criteria of wise use and would therefore be supported by the GWCT. But for these reasons we feel it would be wise for the voluntary moratorium on spring netting operations to be continued until a collective agreement can be reached with the many other bodies associated with the mixed stock fishery. We believe taking a harvest of any species should demand a positive contribution to sustainable management.