Fair game? Fishing in a swirling current

24 August 2016

Fishery reform continues apace, most anglers will notice little change this season, says Robert Rattray.

The ongoing wild fisheries reform process is of critical importance to sporting estates.

The review has been staged in two phases, with the first phase - conservation regulations - now in place for the 2016 season. Rivers have been categorised according to their deemed conservation status, and there is a three-year ban on mixed stock netting.

Assessing rivers' conservation status is an evolving process, with the next consultation taking place in September for the 2017 season.

The second phase, the reorganisation of the management structure from District Salmon Fishery Boards into Fishery Management Areas (FMAs) managed by Fishery Management Organisation (FMOs), with a responsibility for all wild fish interests and not just salmon, has been subject to consultation. This includes the key issue of finance and the suggestion to impose a 'management and development' levy raised from persons who fish in wild fisheries, in addition to the current levy paid by salmon fishing proprietors. 

For fishermen, for the 2016 season, there is little change, although if you fish a category three river, you will now be required to release 100% of what you catch. For some angling clubs there is real concern that this will have an impact on their membership and therefore future viability. As a result, the government has already proposed a compensation package of £100,000. Whether the categorisation has any implication on the value or letting potential of fishings remains to be seen.

Although it is recognised that the methodology for the categorisation of the river does need a degree of refinement, we welcome that there is now a degree of consistency and will for a Scotland-wide conservation policy. It has also highlighted the east/west divide with most west coast rivers deemed at risk with currently unsustainable salmon populations. It will be interesting to see how Marine Scotland rationalises this situation.

The very positive news must be the cessation of all out-of-river mixed stock commercial netting, initially for a three-year period. We are only disappointed that sea trout, such an iconic Scottish game fish, have not been included in the current review.

The resultant Wild Fisheries Bill is likely to be presented to Parliament in spring 2017.

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