For me, the fundamental rationale for any fishing is to harvest a natural resource for food. That implies you should be able to take what you catch, and you should only catch what you can reasonably eat. However, it also requires that there are sufficient fish to allow a sustainable harvest without threatening the overall health of the fish population.
For some years now, it has been clear in every Scottish river, and certainly in our own, that we cannot be certain there is a sufficient population to allow a sustainable harvest. Fish numbers have been threatened by modern agricultural practices, by intensive forestry close to river banks, by closing or damaging of spawning grounds, by intensive netting and fishing and by fishing practices at sea. I’m pleased to say that over the past 20 years, much has been done to correct past failures. Environmental understanding and policies have improved and our rivers are in much better condition than they were. Netting, particularly in estuaries, has also reduced, usually through netting rights being bought ought be angling interests. In this area, the Kyle of Sutherland Salmon Fishing Board has just committed over £400,000 of fishing proprietors’ money to buy out some important nets. All this will help to ensure a health salmon population, but it is not enough. We do not know exactly what happens to fish at sea, but we do know that the numbers of salmon returning to our rivers is declining, as a percentage of those who leave.
Given this, practically every river in Scotland has embraced some form of catch and release (c&r) policy to encourage anglers to return fish they catch so that they continue their journey upstream and spawn. I know c&r policies are not that popular but they are clearly essential until we have some firm evidence that salmon populations are increasing and a sustainable harvest can be taken.
The Kyle of Sutherland rivers, of which we form part, have had such a policy for a few years now. It is largely accepted by anglers across the various rivers and is making a significant contribution. on the River Carron over 90% of fish were returned last year. We have recently discussed whether we should seek to further toughen our current guidelines and introduce a 100% c&r target. In the end we decided not too because there are reasons, such as an angler’s first salmon where we continue to feel it is appropriate to let someone keep their fish if they so wish. We are therefore continuing with the current policy which is set out below and which applies to all those fishing with us for salmon and sea trout.
Our aim is to review this policy periodically, to review at the same time the evidence of whether fish numbers are increasing or not and to adjust the policy as required. It is our dearest wish that at some stage in the future we shall conclude that a tight catch and release policy is no longer required and that a sustainable harvest may be taken.
KYLE OF SUTHERLAND SALMON AND SEA TROUT CONSERVATION POLICY
The Kyle of Sutherland District Salmon Fishery Board and the River Carron Proprietors have for some years advocated that proprietors, anglers and ghillies should exercise restraint in the numbers of fish killed on the Kyle Rivers, as a positive contribution towards salmon conservation.
1. Method: Anglers should fish using fly only, using single or double hooked flies, preferably barbless hooks – never trebles. We recommend barbless hooks because they are infinitely easier when releasing fish.
2. Catch & Release: To assist our conservation programme, we request that all anglers adhere to the following rules:
– Return all fish prior to 15 June.
– After 15 June, a fishing party may keep a maximum of one fish per week of less than 65cm provided that the party have already returned two salmon on the same week and the same beat.
– Any salmon kept outside these rules become the property of the estate.
– ALL fish throughout the season of over 76cm – 30 inches (approx 10lbs) should be returned.
This limit applies throughout the fishing season and anglers are reminded that all gravid fish (both male and female) caught towards the end of the season should be returned. Advice on releasing fish is available from the ghillie.
3. Equipment: The Carron Proprietors recommend that all Anglers carry a knotless salmon net, a salmon rod (not a trout rod), strong nylon and artery forceps at all times.
4. Ban on the Sale of Rod Caught Fish: A ban on the sale of salmon and sea trout caught by rod and line has been introduced by the Scottish Executive. The ban applies across Scotland, irrespective of where the fish have been caught.
5. Sea trout. Anglers are asked to apply the same catch and release programme to sea trout, ie return their first sea trout and retain only their second sea trout per week.
CATCH & RELEASE GUIDELINES
Catching Fish for Releasing: Always carry a knotless salmon net, artery forceps and fish within shouting distance of another person. Releasing a fish is much easier with a second pair of hands. Play your fish as quickly as possible, strong leader nylon helps fisher’s confidence in their ability to undertake this. A salmon rod also aids this (the flexibility of a trout rod prolongs landing time, exhausts the fish and may lead to death). The quicker you play the fish, the less energy it loses.
Releasing fish: To assist our conservation programme, anglers are requested to adhere to the catch and release policy in force, as set out above.
If a fish is to be released, familiarise yourself with the procedure beforehand. Any of the ghillies will explain the procedure to you. Keep the fish in the water in your landing net away from rough stones and rocks, then use the artery forceps to get the fly out of the fish’s mouth – if it struggles, let it settle – do not grip the fish around the gills. Avoid handling the fish more than is necessary.
If you want to photograph your fish, never hold it up by the tail – always hold it round the wrist of the tail with the thumb and forefinger, with the second hand supporting the fish underneath the belly.
When you put the fish back, support it gently resting the belly on your hand with the head facing into the current in the normal swimming position. Give the fish time to recover – this may take several minutes – and allow it to swim away when it has revived. Please – never beach the fish on rough stones as this damages the scales and can cause disease and never ‘throw’ the fish back into the water.
We hope that you enjoy your fishing. We thank you for your support in our conservation policy and wish you TIGHT LINES.