Wild Fisheries Review

As many will know in January this year the Scottish Government announced that there would be a review of the management of Scotland’s wild freshwater fisheries. Andrew Thin, ex-chair of SNH, was appointed to lead the review and he has been a busy man since. Over 50 meetings have been held since the review started in March with a number of regional meetings including one for the Moray coast area this week in Elgin. This review has the potential for delivering significant change to the freshwater fisheries management in Scotland so about time for a brief update on what I have heard about progress so far.

Firstly it is looking very likely that District Salmon Fishery Boards will soon be consigned to history. At the moment salmon fishery management in Scotland is almost entirely undertaken by the Boards in conjunction with or alongside the Fishery Trusts/Foundation etc., with limited input from the governemnt or their public agencies. It is clear that the government think that the current is not appropriate with the review featuring in the last SNP election manifesto. In place of the Salmon Fishery Boards new organisations will evolve. Possibly to be known as FMOs (Fishery Managment Organisation) they will be locally or regionally based with staff and a management board. The review panel is even discussing training for managment board members!

The FMOs will deliver most of the functions of the current fishery boards and trusts but with an all-species remit. The FMOs will have to demonstrate that they have the capacity to deliver all that is expected if they are to receive funding. The much maligned salmon assessment system looks as if it might get a reprieve, although it will be collected centrally rather than by the boards. Rod licences (pole tax) have been mooted although that will be a hard sell in Scotland!

It also looks as if the old title of “Commissioner” ( Salmon King is a snappier title ) is going to get a dusting down with the establishment of a top team housed within government to ensure that its policy is delivered. No doubt the great and good are already jostling for position but with the right person appointed this could be a good development. A central top tier will inevitably mean some central control of various aspects which might not be a bad thing but without a great deal of devolution (dare I say independence) for the FMOs the system will not work. This will be the tricky part; balancing the inevitable central influence with the committment that can only come from locally empowered people.

The end of the proprietorial dominance of the fishery boards looks certain with the promise of more diverse representation on the FMO management boards. There is talk about the tourism sector, angling clubs, community groups, local authorities, SEPA etc, all having a seat on the board. Of course some of the more inclusive boards already have broad representation (including our own) but for others this will be a revolution.

When this all started I did wonder if this review was just politically driven but it is actually starting to look quite promising. I work for a Fishery Board/Foundation so there are obviously uncertainties to consider but 150 years on maybe it is time for a radical review of how we manage what should be one of our most important national assets.

Of course this is all just based on what I have read or heard and it is a pretty dynamic process albeit with a clear direction of travel now. If accepted by the government the review report will still have to get through parliament where it could be subject to change. If not taken forward by the government the “Thin report” could just end up like other similar reviews in the past; collecting dust on the library shelf.

The review team have communicated very well and there is a lot of information of the Scottish government website (see here). For the latest monthly newsletter click here. It is well worth keeping up to speed with the review progress.

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