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River workers in the Highlands, Islands and Argyll are among those calling on the Scottish Government to draft an urgent ‘action and delivery plan’ for the iconic salmon fearing their jobs are next to be cut.
The SGA Fishing group, which represents workers such as ghillies, boatmen and bailiffs, believes there is now genuine on-ground concern over employment due to declining fish numbers.
Government reports have highlighted that wild fisheries support 2,800 jobs but it is acknowledged that losses of salaried positions would have a disproportionate local impact due to many of them being in remote locations.
Now the SGA fishing group feels that the government must convene a short-term priority group, to establish a timeline of supported actions to safeguard the sector.
There are around 1,000 active fisheries in Scotland but falling rod catches, competition and the lack of a central vision has seen assets and investment decline.
In the west of Scotland jobs have already been lost as previously prolific rivers have collapsed since the growth of coastal fish farms.
‘As workers in a rural industry ourselves, we appreciate the jobs salmon farming creates. We want to see ways of co-existence being developed but we do not want it to mean loss of employment in our own sector,’ said Bob White, a ghillie on the Tay and SGA Fishing Group member.
‘The inability to get on top of sea lice infestations and the impacts this has on wild fish cannot now be scientifically ignored. Our members are also seeing impacts from mass escapes from farms which affects the genetic purity of wild fish, lessening their ability to survive.
‘SEPA has been tasked to bring about change. They need to get on and do it.
‘Government should speak to river workers and other stakeholders and assess what has to be done now to stabilise the situation before we lose any more of what we have. Long-term improvements of habitat are very well, but tree-lined rivers are not going to stop salmon mortality tomorrow.
‘The SGA Fishing Group has a duty to protect its members when their employment is threatened. That time is now.’
Duncan Ferguson from SGA Fishing Group said this week: ‘It was heartening to see the recent Parliamentary debate on salmon. The BBC Panorama programme on salmon farming also highlighted an issue affecting our wild stocks in the west.
‘However, there is no longer time for piecemeal actions or awareness raising. Many of the problems facing salmon are at sea but we need to look to home first.
‘Years were spent on the abandoned reform of wild fisheries. During that time, investment halted and there is real fear now that what is left to strip is our employment and way of life.
‘We have an amazing product. Famous rivers, skilled ghillies who promote their river and sell Scotland. There are few places you can fish a great river at the prices now being charged.
‘But we need to save it now. A timeline of actions needs to be drawn up and followed through, with support. Government needs to involve all the stakeholders but, crucially, they need to listen to the men and women who have worked these rivers for years.’
Among the priorities that river workers feel need addressed quickly in our rivers are the impacts of predation, barriers to salmon passage, industrial water extraction and disease.
Today, from every 100 smolts heading to sea from Scottish rivers, only five adult salmon return.
The numbers of predatory seals and dolphins are also placing increasing pressure on salmon survival as is the activity of Goosanders and Cormorants.