NEW MEASURES to regulate the killing of wild salmon in Scotland, effectively banning catches outwith river estuaries, were announced this week by environment minister Aileen McLeod.

"Our salmon is a valuable and important asset which we must protect and balance conserving stocks with the interests of those who fish for salmon," said Dr McLeod.

However, the Scottish Conservatives have described the new restrictions as 'draconian' and vowed to oppose them when they are put before the Scottish Parliament.

The key aspect of the regulations, which are scheduled to come into force on April 1, is the prohibition on killing salmon outwith estuary limits for three years. But at the same time, the killing of Atlantic salmon in inland waters will be managed on an annual basis by categorising fishery districts by their conservation status. However, there will be the requirement for a Conservation

Plan irrespective of that conservation status.

"It is absolutely right that we take action now to protect our salmon stocks for the future," said the minister. "The changes have been subject to extensive consultation and we have listened and made some changes to the district classifications as a result of all the feedback we have received.

"I am confident we now have the right package of measures, including prohibitions on killing outwith estuary limits, inland waters being managed by conservation status and mandatory conservation plans, to ensure wild salmon have a sustainable future in our waters."

River Annan Trust and District Salmon Fishery Board chairman Alister Jack commented: "I welcome this announcement from the Minister, which offers confidence that the Scottish

Government is truly committed to preserving our wild salmon populations and are prepared to make what are necessary but difficult decisions. This is the right thing to do.

"What is now important is that we come together as a sector, both angler and netsmen alike, to respond to the challenges that the new measures bring and use the opportunity afforded by the forthcoming consultation on a draft Wild Fisheries Bill, to ensure a prosperous and brighter future for our fisheries."

Speaking on behalf of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, chairman Alasdair Laing added: "Most river systems already have voluntary conservation measures in place which would need only modest adjustment to comply with the new regulation. The conservation status principle will help identify areas where specific management challenges existed while offering the flexibility for improvements to be recognised."

But Scottish Conservative rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson described the new measures as nothing more than 'draconian'.

"No-one in their right minds is against salmon conservation, but any conservation measures need to be based on sound science and introduced within a timescale that allows angling clubs, fishing proprietors and fishing related businesses time to adapt to them," said Mr Fergusson.

"The Scottish Government proposals will introduce a complete ban on catching salmon outwith river estuaries and a 100% catch-and-release only policy for the majority of Scottish rivers, including almost all west coast 'spate' rivers, which have been allocated arbitrary 'conservation limits'.

"It is however, becoming clearer by the day that the figures used to calculate these limits are badly flawed, in that they are not based on correct or current local scientific data and use rod-catch return figures on 'spate' rivers - figures which simply do not give an accurate picture of the health or otherwise of salmon stocks," he claimed.

"To compound these matters, the Scottish Government has given a mere ten weeks' notice of the implementation of these regulations. Angling Clubs, proprietors and fishing related businesses will have already organised their activities for the coming season - activities that will have to be reviewed in their entirety if the Scottish Government goes ahead with its plans, as seems likely.

"Even if these measures are the right ones, they must be given more time to allow stakeholders to adjust accordingly. Ten weeks' notice does not fulfil that requirement and I will be lodging a motion to annul the legislative instrument when it comes before the Scottish Parliament in an effort to get the SNP government to see sense on this issue."