Holyrood plans £1.1M study into falling wild salmon

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A project to gauge the impact of environmental and climate change on Scotland’s iconic wild salmon population has begun.

The numbers of wild Atlantic salmon returning to Scotland have declined by around 40 per cent over the last four decades, impacting the conservation status of many rivers in the country.

A £550,000 fund, including £150,000 provided by Crown Estate Scotland, will support local Fisheries Trusts and boards to sample juvenile and adult salmon captured in rivers throughout the country.

The scheme will use the data to help target interventions to conserve the globally recognised species and increase the numbers and size of wild salmon leaving rivers.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: ‘We take the issue of our declining salmon stocks very seriously, with the reasons for it wide-ranging and complex.

‘The investment in monitoring will help us to better understand these pressures. We know that high river temperatures during the summer are a pressure on wild salmon and we are identifying priority stretches of waterways to target tree planting, providing living parasols to provide shade and encourage good survival and growth of salmon.

‘We are working with landowners and land managers to encourage them to take measures such as tree planting to support salmon conservation.

‘However, it is believed that salmon mortality at sea has increased in part due to the effect of climate change on ecosystems and shifts in locations where food is abundant.

‘That is why it is vital, especially as we head towards COP26 that we continue to address the double challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.’

Fiona Simpson, asset manager for Crown Estate Scotland, said: ‘This funding allows for valuable research to be carried out which will contribute evidence to hopefully lead to a better understanding of some of the reasons behind the decline in Atlantic salmon numbers in Scottish rivers and inform targeted action plans to address current problems.’

The Scottish Government later announced further funding of £650,000 to extend the salmon counter network. The move is part of its response to the Salmon Interactions Working Group, established to provide advice on a future approach to the interactions between wild and farmed salmon.

‘A comprehensive range of measures has been announced, including plans to make fish farm containment measures and regulation more robust, including the introduction of financial penalties for fish farm escapes,’ a spokesperson said.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will become the lead regulator responsible for managing the risk to wild fish from sea lice carried from fish farms.

Announcing the extra funding, Ms Gougeon said: ‘It underlines the importance of supporting a sector which provides a low-carbon source of protein enjoyed nationally and internationally, while sustaining well-paid jobs in some of our most fragile rural communities.’

The Wild Salmon Strategy which will tackle the range of pressures on wild salmon will be published by the end of the year.