Scotland’s fishermen are desperate as salmon disappear

In the middle of the rapids of the River Spey, in Scotland, Ian Gordon waits for a fish to take the bait, but like other fishermen he observes that Scottish rivers are running out of their famous wild salmon.

Fishermen and environmental associations are warning about the effects of climate change, deforestation and the proliferation of parasites.

“I started fishing here in the 1970s when I was a kid,” explains Ian Gordon to the AFP. “And back then we didn’t need to wait that long to get some really beautiful salmon!” he adds.

The number of “fish started to decline between the mid-1980s and the late 1990s,” he says. “Today there is only 20% of the fish left” that existed at that time.

fishermen salmon scotland

In the past, hundreds of thousands of young Atlantic salmon traveled up Scottish rivers each year to reach the ocean. A quarter of them later returned to spawn in their home waters, but today only 4% do so, according to the River Spey Fisheries Committee.

In Scotland, where anglers are forced to release their preyby virtue of an environmental protection regulation, in 2021 35,693 dams were counted, the lowest figure since those sad records began to be recorded.

A balance “consistent with the general decline in the number of salmon returning to Scotland”, considered a Scottish government report in June.

fishermen salmon scotland

herring and trees

For anglers like Ian Gordon, this is due in part to the overfishing of herring, a species on which “an entire ecosystem” rests in the UK. Since there are no herring, the salmon that reach the ocean have become the prey of other predators larger than themselves.

“We have a real problem in the ocean. Y climate change is clearly the first factor”, adds Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of the Wildfish Scotland association. “We can’t do much,” he says, sighing, plumbing the depths of the Spey as it passes Bonar Bridge in northern Scotland.

When the fish reach the sea, it is clear that they do not find any food“, Explain. And this, according to him, is the result from the lack of trees upstreamsince Scotland “perhaps” has lost “95%” of its forests in recent centuries due to wars, industrialization and agriculture.

Forests provide shade for marine species and reduce mountain water runoff, ensuring a more constant flow throughout the year. All this allows the water to remain “relatively cold, and the salmon need freshness to survive and develop,” says Graham-Stewart.

fishermen salmon scotland

Liability of hatcheries

Some organizations have decided to act. The River Dee Foundation and the Dee District Fisheries Committee have planted more than 200,000 trees along the river since 2013, and hope to have planted a million by 2035.

In 2016, several local groups removed a concrete dam from the Carron River, so that the water could flow and facilitate the passage of salmon.

But this does not solve everything, warns Andrew Graham-Stewart, who accuses the intensive fish farming of the Scottish islands and the Highlands (the highlands) of playing a “huge” role in the disappearance of wild salmon, for example, by spreading sea ​​lice.

The concentration of millions of fish in small spaces favors the development of parasites, comment. The sea lice then spread to wild salmon, which are then eaten by the parasite.

The fish farming companies deny these accusations and assure that they protect the environment and ensure the health of the fish.

After a long day baiting the Spey, Ian Gordon returns home with his tail between his legs. He takes off his boots and hooks his fishing pole to the hood of his car. Salmon, he says, “are a good indicator of whether the sea is in good condition or not.” “Now, they’re telling us, ‘Wait a minute, guys…here! there is something wrong!’” he says, resigned.

(With information from AFP / by Stuart Graham)


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