Mungo Ingleby from our Sporting Lets team provides an update on the Wild Fisheries Review.
As we approach the end of the Wild Fisheries Review process the latest proposals see mixed stock netting banned for three years and in-river measures based around a Conservation Limit that has/will be determined by five year rod catch averages. Rivers have already been provisionally categorised as either 1, 2 or 3 and by the time that this goes to print the date for further submissions will have past. Simply put Category 1 rivers have met their conservation limits and consequently the current levels of exploitation is deemed to be sustainable and no additional management action is currently required. Cat 2 rivers will have to reduce their exploitation rates and produce a conservation plan in consultation with Marine Scotland and Cat 3 rivers are those that have not met their Conservation Limits and mandatory catch and release will be required for at least one year. Amongst other things there is a clear geographic split between the East and the West. The West is predominantly Cat 3 whilst the North and East are largely Cat 1 and 2 which does raise the question, again, as to why the aquaculture industry was specifically excluded from the Wild Fisheries Review?
It has been generally accepted, if not universally condoned, that there will be changes as a result of the review process. Taking this stance into account and the fact that at this stage it is important to look forwards and not back the proposals have been largely welcomed. Not by all, and most certainly not by all those designated Cat 3, but in general there is feeling that the review process listened to concerns raised in connection with a licencing system and that the current proposals are a workable solution.
The aims of the review were to develop an evidence based management system fit for purpose in the 21st century and to manage, conserve and develop wild fisheries to maximise the sustainable benefit of Scotland's wild fish resources to the country as a whole and in particular to rural areas. Will these proposals meet the objectives of the review and the aspirations of Scotland's fisherman and salmon stakeholders and most importantly the fish themselves (because they are, of course, the major player)?
The proposals also raise a number of wider questions; will demand for fishing and the associated add on benefits that visiting fisherman bring change, will fishing effort ebb away on Cat 3 rivers perpetuating a cycle of poor catches, will there be changes in the capital value of fishing, will Cat 1 and 2 rivers see a surge in demand, will volunteers still give their time freely to salmon conversation, will compulsory catch and release make a negligible difference to fishing effort, will we get a better understanding of the number of fish that run our rivers etc. We can make an educated guess in many of these instances based on historical patterns but only time will tell the full story.