Catastrophic failure of salmon run in Argyll’s largest and most closely monitored river confirmed. Annual count is by far the lowest on record.
Plea for Scottish Government to intervene now to halt precipitous decline of wild salmon in main intensive aquaculture production areas
This year’s run of salmon in the most closely monitored and biggest river in Argyll is by far the lowest since records began in 1964. The annual salmon count on the River Awe has now been confirmed as only 480. The figure compares to 807 in 2016 and a five-year average of 1400. The previous lowest total was 781 in 1998.
The Awe is a short river, draining Scotland’s longest loch (Loch Awe), with a hydro-electric dam at its head. There is a fish lift and a counter in the dam. The flow regime is such that fish can run the river any day of the year; almost all the fish are destined for the headwaters and thus there is a full river count which is almost unaffected by the weather. The count runs from April 1 to November 30.
Roger Brook, Chairman of the Argyll District Salmon Fishery Board, said:
“This year’s salmon count on the River Awe is incontrovertible evidence that the decline in wild fish in salmon farming’s southern heartland has become critical. We call upon the Scottish Government to take action on all issues within its regulatory control. Specifically, we ask for a review of the policy to facilitate the continued expansion of the salmon aquaculture industry without first addressing the negative impacts. Expansion of aquaculture without greater regulatory control is sounding the death knell for viable wild salmon populations in most of the West Highlands and Islands.”
Mr Brook continued:
“We plead with the Scottish Government to take this issue seriously and act decisively to protect and improve our iconic west Highland salmon and the important west coast tourist industry associated with recreational fishing. Scotland has the opportunity to create a world-leading regulatory and planning system which protects wild migratory fish and proactively seeks to address any local negative impacts.”
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TC Scotland), said:
“If the crisis in wild salmon numbers in the West Highlands and Islands is to be halted, Scottish Ministers must now be given a duty, and granted the necessary powers, to intervene to protect wild fish and to implement measures to prevent further damage and provide the conditions to reverse the decline in wild salmon and sea trout populations. This means ensuring proper control on the siting of farms and the levels of sea lice on the farms. We call upon Scottish Government and its agencies to insist that future farms are sited away from the probable migration routes. Most importantly, the worst-performing existing farms, both in terms of location and lice control, should now be closed.”
Mr Graham-Stewart added:
“When in August we highlighted the low Awe salmon count, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation claimed the announcement had been ‘premature and over simplistic’, as ‘the majority of grilse don’t return to the Awe until the autumn’. There has never been a significant autumn grilse run on the Awe and our forewarning has proven to be entirely accurate.”
Juvenile salmon migrating from rivers in the South-West Highlands, such as the River Awe, must pass close to lice-producing salmon farms (and rainbow trout farms), not only in the immediate area but also the whole way up the west coast, before they reach open ocean, free of aquaculture. Throughout this coastal migration they are vulnerable to infestation by deadly sea lice. It is logical that, the more sea lice-producing farms that outgoing juvenile salmon have to negotiate their way past on their migration to the North Atlantic feeding grounds, the less likely they are to survive.
In June, the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, in response to a formal Petition lodged in the Scottish Parliament in February 2016 by S&TC Scotland seeking protection for wild salmonids from sea lice from Scottish salmon farms, agreed to launch an Inquiry (scheduled for early 2018) into salmon farming in Scotland and the issues raised by S&TC Scotland.