RIVER WORKERS in Scotland are calling on the Scottish Government to draft an urgent ‘action and delivery plan’ to deal with declining salmon numbers.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Alliance fishing group, which represents workers such as ghillies, boatmen and bailiffs, believes that there is now a genuine threat of job losses due to declining fish numbers. There are around 1000 active fisheries in Scotland but the SAGA warned that falling rod catches, competition and the 'lack of a central vision' has seen assets and investment decline.

Government reports have highlighted that wild fisheries support around 2800 jobs, but it is acknowledged that losses of salaried positions would have a disproportionate local impact due to many of them being in remote locations. The SGA now wants ScotGov to convene a 'short term priority group' to establish a timeline of supported actions to safeguard the sector.

“It was heartening to see the recent Parliamentary debate on salmon," said Duncan Ferguson of the SGA fishing group. "The BBC Panorama programme on salmon farming also highlighted an issue affecting our wild stocks in the west.

“However, there is no longer time for piecemeal actions or awareness raising. Many of the problems facing salmon are at sea but we need to look to home first. Years were spent on the abandoned reform of wild fisheries. During that time, investment halted and there is real fear now that what is left to strip is our employment and way of life.

“We have an amazing product. Famous rivers, skilled ghillies who promote their river and sell Scotland. There are few places you can fish a great river at the prices now being charged," said Mr Ferguson. "But we need to save it now. A timeline of actions needs to be drawn up and followed through, with support. Government needs to involve all the stakeholders but, crucially, they need to listen to the men and women who have worked these rivers for years.”

Amongst the priorities river workers feel need to be addressed quickly are the impacts of predation, barriers to salmon passage, industrial water extraction and disease. Today, from every 100 smolts heading to sea from Scottish rivers, only five adult salmon return, the gamekeepers claimed, as the numbers of predatory seals and dolphins was placing increasing pressure on survival, as was the activity of Goosanders and Cormorants. Meanwhile, in the west of Scotland, jobs have already been lost as previously prolific rivers have collapsed since the growth of coastal fish farms.

“As workers in a rural industry ourselves, we appreciate the jobs salmon farming creates," said Bob White, a ghillie on the Tay and SGA Fishing Group member. "We want to see ways of co-existence being developed but we do not want it to mean loss of employment in our own sector. The inability to get on top of sea lice infestations and the impacts this has on wild fish cannot now be scientifically ignored. Our members are also seeing impacts from mass escapes from farms which affects the genetic purity of wild fish, lessening their ability to survive.

“SEPA has been tasked to bring about change. They need to get on and do it," said Mr White. “Government should speak to river workers and other stakeholders and assess what has to be done now to stabilise the situation before we lose any more of what we have. Long term improvements of habitat are very well, but tree-lined rivers are not going to stop salmon mortality tomorrow.

“The SGA Fishing Group has a duty to protect its members when their employment is threatened. That time is now.”