• Ian Gordon

Salmon Fishery Owners Take Heed!


The end for the “Business” of salmon fishing in Scotland as we know it. Or is it??

The graph above shows he impact of Smolt releasing on what is one of the most desirable/sellable salmon fishing in Iceland. The page would not be high enough to show the catches of the last 15 years!

It’s my belief that this ‘needs’ to be trialed as a National Case Study here in the UK.

Back in the 1990s, I began to see the decline in salmon numbers having an impact on the people who fished for them here in Scotland. Other factors, such as the growth of Salmon fishing in unspoiled places like Russia, better managed fisheries in Iceland, greater disposable income, less holiday time, and cheaper travel began to have an impact too, so gradually, potential income began haemorrhaging from the economy of Scotland. Turn the clock forward to 2018, and, as the numbers of returning salmon hit an “all time” low, so the amount of money being spent by Salmon Anglers in Scotland will be at its lowest since commercial angling began here in the 1970s. There’s nothing to suggest this will change until the “business” finally dies. The banning of drift, sweep and stake netting, prawning, shrimping, worming, spinning, treble hooks, and finally, catch and release have all failed to arrest both the decline in numbers of fish, and save the “business” of salmon fishing as we know it. So it begs the question – Was the “business” as it is (expensive, employing full time Ghillies) ever really viable? Possibly only in times of plenty!? Whilst we all know that over the past 30 or more years, overall populations have shown a general decline. It’s also well known that during this period of decline, populations of Sea Trout (which we know don’t travel so far in the ocean), have declined in manner similar to that of salmon. The “fact” of the matter is, all their measures have failed the Atlantic Salmon and the”business” of salmon fishing in Scotland, which, for want of a better phrase, is about to go right down the pan! Thousands of anglers chasing a few salmon around our rivers, is this the model of a sustainable business? Asking anglers to keep putting their hands in their pockets to fund projects that never provide answers, and we know, won’t produce any more salmon, is this good for business? “Knowing” the decline would lead to this point and doing nothing “constructive”, is this good business? The bottom line is, the bubble has now burst and this business lies in tatters, those coming fishing here will not continue to pay top dollar for a one in fifty chance of catching a salmon. All the information we have, and have had for many years, points to the decline continuing, so, inevitably, the business, which was developed during a time of plenty, will change too. Most salmon will being caught, not by high spending visiting anglers, but local guys who can pick and choose their times to fish, when the few fish remaining actually turn up in the river.. Many now follow the fish on the internet, I.e. looking at where fish are being caught and following them to the most likely part of the river. Can anyone be blamed for this?? Well, not really, it’s simply about adapting to the decline and changing technology. For my personal fishing, this is actually perfect, as I can now access many beats I’d never have done in the past because no groups want to fish them anymore.. Finding fishing on beats such as Rothes, Gordon Castle and Arndilly here on the Spey, in the past, was impossible, dead man’s shoes, but now, more and more weeks are becoming available, and, It will not stop there! So if my personal fishing were my priority, then I say great, and for sure there will be many anglers, particularly local guys like me, who will take the positive out of this, “final” part of the decline and you better believe, there’s not some long term swing in a cycle coming to save the “business” of salmon fishing in Scotland. However, although this would appear to suit me personally, I don’t see this as good “business” for either the the community here on Speyside, or the economy of Scotland in general. Leaving the “Fishery” in a similar, or even better status than what we found it must be the “main” priority for all involved! A fishery that, for at least some part of the year, can attract high spending customers that keep jobs and the economy of the valley viable. Ensuring those running our rivers provide at least some “reasonably” priced fishing for others, including youngsters to enjoy too. The reasons for this decline are down to the activity of man, over fishing, change in land/water use, and his lack of action with regard protection of the species. This, along with “assumptions” made by, and depending on, incomplete data masquerading as “science”! Some will promote this as a great opportunity for everyone to fish for salmon, something that also fits very well “politically” in Scotland at this time. However, unfortunately, this will not keep Ghillies in jobs, hotels/B&Bs full, the tackle business buoyant, the petrol stations busy. All of those have already felt the financial squeeze of not having enough salmon and the change this brings. For anyone who thinks this modal works, look at salmon fishing in France!! Selling fishing on the internet has had a hand in changing, “cheapening”, or some would say, “redressing” the price of salmon fishing to something more reasonable, and, given the number of fish available to anglers at this time, This sounds about right, is natural progression during any decline and not before time. Some will say, yes, it’s about time, as young people can’t afford to fish for salmon, simply because it’s too expensive. Well, whilst there’s a good element of truth in this, the fact of the matter, and main reason for the lack of youngsters salmon fishing, quite simply, is the lack of fish. Unlike us, “mad” salmon fishermen, there’s no way on gods earth 21st century youngsters will be happy casting over stones, without seeing or touching a fish all day, every day and keep coming back for more. Remember how you were yourself at this age? Those guys have so much more to occupy their minds and time. For those who want to continue burying their head in the sand and think this is all part of a cycle and somehow it will all come back, I’d say, look at the “facts”. Look at all the “measures” (banning every legal but efficient form of fishing) put in place by those above. Similarly to what our government continue to do here in Scotland, those have caused nothing but massive division between anglers, those who liked to spin, worm, etc being ostracised (unfairly and for no good reason) by some traditionalists and politically manipulative managers, whilst all the time the same fate awaits the fly fisher further down the line. What’s that you say; you don’t believe this? Well, you know what, that day has come. On the west coast of Canada steelhead rivers are being closed through lack of fishing anglers beginning to fish “without a hook”, “the tug is the drug”. Closing rivers is being muted by some here too. Believe me, the antis and their supporters in the SNP Scottish Government will use this as yet another tool to undermine the currant “business model” of salmon fishing. They have their eye firmly on you!! 40 years of trying using one method has produced zero result, to try and save the business of salmon fishing and jobs depending on it we must now look at more drastic options.. There are many things that could be done that “definitely will” help. No more mights, could or possibly. Controversial yes, but It’s time Anglers, Ghillies and Business owners got their heads together and made their voices heard, leaving those failures/losers behind. The “them and us” attitude simply “must” end if we are to move forward here. People like myself, who for 30 years have seen this day coming, have been seen as an antagonist/defeatist, when all I’ve ever done is say it as, ask questions of the decision makers and point out their mistakes. Basically all across Scotland the present system has totally failed The business of salmon fishing, so it simply MUST change. People with egos need to be moved on, kicked into touch. We simply need to “question the science”, if it fails to provide answers then precautionary measures must be put in place. The Scottish Government love and play on the notion that Salmon Fishing is for rich people only. This is a huge barrier, but one that would be so easy to deal with if only people could see the big picture and not simply their own business. We must look at taking in fishery experts with a proven track record! To all those involved, I’d say to watch this space, for me, it’s make or break time in this business and we need to act now. If I were thinking about myself I wouldn’t be writing this, as the current Scottish Government model I know will lead to cheaper fishing and more opportunities for me personally, however, the big picture of the economy’s of rural Scotland and welfare of everyone involved is by far the most important thing here…..


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