Urgent action is required to save Scotland’s rapidly declining salmon population, according to some of the country’s fishermen and ecologists.
Rod catch figures have decreased, hitting a record low of 35,693 in 2021.
Ian Gordon is a Scottish ghillie who has been fishing in the River Spey near Inverness since childhood, and he now struggles to get as many bites as before. He thinks it’s because the herring population is getting overfished.
Gordon said if there are fewer herring, salmon have fewer food resources. Then, “the salmon themselves become prey”, he added.
“Herring used to be abundant around the coastline of the UK. That was a species that all species relied on around the UK. Since the herring got fished out, so did the salmon.”
“It’s that cycle that gets upset when one species is taken out of the ecosystem.”
Multiple factors are behind the decline, including the overfishing of herring and the effect of climate change on the salmon’s life cycle.
“Salmon need cool water in order to survive and thrive, and with tree cover and greater reasonable flows, water remains relatively cool and that is good for salmon,” says Andrew Graham-Stewart, the Director of Wildfish, a fish conservation charity.
“The other thing about trees is that they provide shading over the river and that shading keeps the water temperature down.
“So, we need urgent tree planting programmes across the headwaters of all rivers of Scotland.”
Agriculture and industry have greatly affected forests over the past centuries in the UK, with Scotland losing “probably about 95%” of its tree cover, according to Graham-Stewart.
Around 200,000 trees have already been planted along river banks by the River Dee Trust. Fisheries boards aim to plant a million trees by 2035.
In 2019, local groups removed a concrete weir from the River Carron to improve water flow and allow salmon to flow more freely.