The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3928, in the name of Maureen Macmillan, on the 21 st anniversary of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation.
That the Parliament recognises the importance to Scotland of wild salmon conservation; further recognises the vital work undertaken by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO), the only international treaty organisation based in Scotland, and welcomes the 21st anniversary of the establishment of NASCO.
I was just saying that the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation has an important role to play in sustaining the king of fish, the wild north Atlantic salmon, which brings such benefits to the economy of many parts of rural Scotland. We congratulate the organisation, albeit belatedly, on its 21 st anniversary. Without NASCO, the wild salmon would be a much rarer creature than it is now.
NASCO was established under the Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean, which was adopted at a diplomatic conference convened in Reykjavik in January 1982, ratified by the European Union in that year and registered in accordance with article 102 of the charter of the United Nations. NASCO is the only international treaty organisation that is based in Scotland—it has its headquarters here in Edinburgh. The parties to the convention include the USA, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the EU, representing those EU countries that have a salmon interest. Denmark represents Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
I am sure that members are aware of the challenges that the wild salmon fishery faced in the recent past, with salmon failing to return to their home rivers. In some rivers, it was possible to count the number of fish on one hand. Great efforts were made to grow smolts from rivers' brood stock—I have seen that on the Oykell in
A number of possible causes were highlighted. On the west coast, those included sea lice infestation and escapes from salmon farms. On the east coast, seals and fishing stations were blamed. Sometimes the cause was salmon fishermen who had refused to fish sustainably. Sometimes it was riparian owners, who had allowed the river habitat to degrade.
NASCO has worked at all levels to improve the environment for wild salmon. Using the precautionary approach, it addresses issues such as acid precipitation, freshwater habitat degradation, home water fisheries management and aquaculture management.
The aquaculture issue is being addressed. I was involved in the ministerial working group on aquaculture, which will reach its conclusion in producing the aquaculture bill and has resulted in the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation putting in place a new code of practice. My role as reporter on aquaculture for the Transport and the Environment Committee made me interested in what was happening to wild salmon.
NASCO's principal role is to regulate the salmon sea fisheries at Greenland and the Faroe Islands and to limit matters such as the number of fishing licences, season length and the total allowable catch. Since it became evident that the recent period of low returns to salmon rivers was caused by mortality at sea, NASCO—through the establishment of the International Atlantic Salmon Research Board and in other ways—has given a high priority to researching the bycatch of salmon in existing and new fisheries. Research projects are also being undertaken on the survival of salmon at sea in their first and second years; tagging and monitoring; catch sampling; and smolt tracking. The pioneering use of closed-circuit television in open-ended trawls for better observation is happening off Shetland and in the Minches.
Closer to home for me, three Scottish rivers have been monitored—the north Esk, part of the Dee and the Conon. Seal predation in the Cromarty firth has been examined. I hope that the seals there will not warrant the methods that were used in Maine to scare off double-crested cormorants in the estuary of the Narraguagus river. Under the heading "Research methods" in a document on that, shotguns with firecracker and screamer shells and lasers are listed. I hope that the peace of the Cromarty firth will not be so disturbed.
We are all grateful for all the work that goes on through NASCO to sustain our population of wild salmon. The wild salmon supports a small but
It is important that wild Atlantic salmon survive, not just because of the sport and the income that they bring, but because the salmon in our rivers—each with their own discrete genetic make-up, river by river—are part of our natural heritage. I commend NASCO's work to the Parliament.
I congratulate Maureen Macmillan on securing the debate. It is as if history were repeating itself: not only are we back in the Hub, but I recall that in my first speech on Atlantic salmon, back in 2000, my first comment was to welcome the new minister to her portfolio. The minister has been round the houses, but she is back in 2006, and we are discussing Atlantic salmon again.
I pay tribute to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation and to the Atlantic salmon, which is the king of fish and can be seen as part of Scotland's identity. That is why it is appropriate that NASCO is based in Scotland. When I visited Pictavia in Angus, I discovered that the Picts had carved salmon on 18 of their most important stones in Scotland. Of course, the salmon is also part of Glasgow's coat of arms.
The protection of salmon first appeared in legislation back in the 11th century and was first recorded by the previous Scottish Parliament in the 13th century. That is a tribute to Scotland's long association with the Atlantic salmon.
The Scottish Parliament has a responsibility to do what it can to protect our freshwater fisheries and the Atlantic salmon in our rivers and in the seas for which we are responsible, not only because of salmon's economic role—thousands of jobs depend on angling—but because of its environmental importance. Good healthy wild
In the near future, the Government will introduce the long-overdue and much-called-for aquaculture and fisheries bill, which will address the important issue of non-native species in Scottish rivers. Many people have been calling for action on that matter to ensure that we protect the integrity of native Scottish stocks, such as the Atlantic salmon. The bill will also address parasite eradication although, as Maureen Macmillan pointed out, it will not deal with the antiquated dog's breakfast that is wild-stock management in our rivers. That said, the Government's consultation paper contains important and welcome suggestions, such as our taking an holistic approach to fisheries management on our rivers—including, perhaps, the introduction of whole river-system management—and bringing together the management of coarse fishing and other fishing.
I agree with Maureen Macmillan that we must drop the elitist tag that attaches to salmon fishing and that we must increase access for the people of Scotland; after all, it is their heritage and should not be the preserve of rich people who either happen to be riparian owners or who can afford permits. That has to form part of our consideration of the new management system, which must be developed as soon as possible. Many people wanted the Scottish Parliament to modernise such things: we have been around for more than six years, so we must start getting to grips with those issues.
As for NASCO, we need to work internationally because the only way to protect wild salmon is to protect migration routes. At this point, I should mention the legendary Orri Vigfússon, who is associated with the very active North Atlantic Salmon Fund. I realise that the fund itself is controversial, because its work is based on a tradition of people with lots of money buying out nets.
We welcome the limited measures that have been taken around the Faroes, Greenland and other countries to cut down on mixed fisheries, because such activity damages the Atlantic salmon that is making its way to Scotland or other countries. We must also give more attention to research to get to the bottom of the migrating salmon's marine phase and find out what influences the state of stocks.
Like other members, I pay tribute to NASCO's work. It is great that the organisation is based in Scotland; indeed, as an SNP member, I hope that one day many international treaty organisations will be based here. At least we are making a start with the king of fish—the Atlantic salmon.
I congratulate Maureen Macmillan on securing a debate on one of Scotland's national treasures: the salmon. At this point, I declare an interest as the owner of a one-sixth share of a fishing syndicate on the River Awe.
When I joined the Scottish Parliament in 1999, there was a real fear that the Atlantic salmon was declining to the point of extinction or, at any rate, to such low numbers that wild river and loch fisheries would become unsustainable, which would have been a major disaster for rural Scotland. However, after 200 years and despite the huge catches that can be made on Russia's Kola peninsula, despite the exciting and rewarding fishing in the rivers of Iceland and despite the monstrous salmon that can sometimes be captured in Norwegian rivers, Scotland still holds the prize for being best for salmon fishing because of the quality of its expertise in practical fishing management, the romance of its beautiful scenery and the Highland hospitality that goes along with the sport. Some Scottish ghillies are the fifth generation in their families to be ghillies and have no equal in the fishing world. Their knowledge is simply huge.
Scotland and salmon are synonymous and now Scottish salmon fishing is improving once more. However, there is still much to be done. Before I say anything about NASCO, I want to pay tribute to the man who got it all going, Orri Vigfússon. This Icelander, who knew all about salmon and recognised the peril that the species was in, persuaded not only Governments to sign treaties and part with money; he also persuaded an endless list of private individuals—including me—to part with money to buy out netters and to do something practical to save the king of fish for future generations. This man has given so many hours of his life to, and done so much for, salmon. Quite frankly, he is a giant.
There have been other giants who have helped, including Lord Hunter and his colleagues, who wrote the extremely well-informed Hunter report in the 1960s, and Lord Nickson and his colleagues, who produced the salmon strategy task force report, which contained 69 sensible recommendations to help our wild stocks of salmon and sea trout. I do not know how many of those recommendations have been implemented by the Executive.
I hate to introduce a slightly sour note, but the only real blot on the landscape is Jack McConnell's refusal to add Scottish Executive money to the kitty that was used to buy out the east coast drift nets. That was a scandal, considering that most north Atlantic Governments involved—including the UK Government—and huge numbers of organisations and private individuals chipped in, and considering also that most of the fish that were saved were going to Scottish east coast rivers. I and many other Scots found it highly embarrassing that the Scottish Government failed to support that measure.
Scottish angling and tourism bring in substantial money, and can extend the tourist season in areas such as the Tweed valley, Tayside, Deeside, Helmsdale and Strathnaver, and on rivers such as the Halladale, the Borgie, the Cassley, the Oykell, the Carron and the Shin, to name but a few. A survey in the Western Isles a few years ago showed that angling brings £5 million to £6 million into the economy of that area alone. Salmon and trout fishing can greatly extend the normal tourist season, which produces a huge return for hotels, clothes shops, tackle shops and petrol stations.
Angling produces considerable sustainable employment in remote areas, so I am glad that wild-angling interests and salmon-farming interests seem to be getting closer to living together in sustainable co-existence. Many of the meetings and talks that are currently taking place between organisations such as the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards and the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts Scotland have been instigated by fish farmers who have a responsible attitude. It is important that those talks be translated into practical measures. Work on the land and the waters will improve lochs, rivers and spawning areas and a code of good fish-farming practice will help to end the scourge of sea lice and discourage diseases and escapes of farmed stock, which can harm our wild fish and their gene pools.
The Scottish Executive failed to support NASCO over the east coast drift nets, but it is not too late: it could make up for that by putting pressure on the Irish Government to stop illegal drift-netting off the Irish coast and between Ireland and Scotland, which would help our west coast rivers. The Executive could also create a single regulating body for the fish-farming industry, so that fish farmers would no longer have to be entangled by the red tape that is produced by the nine different organisations that presently regulate them. Those are measures that the Executive could take to help NASCO and to help Scotland's wild fisheries. I commend the work that has been carried out by NASCO in the past, and I wish it more success in the future.
I thank Maureen Macmillan for bringing this important topic to the chamber for debate. Richard Lochhead has already reminded us of the good news that we read about in The Scotsman today: Tweed salmon-rod catches are at their third-highest level since records began. That is good news, but we have to contrast it with a story in Scotland on Sunday recently, in which we read:
"Wild Atlantic salmon stocks will be wiped out within decades because of interbreeding with escaped farmed stocks".
It can be difficult at times to make sense of the two different pictures, but they are just two facets of a highly complex issue that we need to understand better. NASCO has a key role to play in helping us to do that.
To be honest, it is quite amazing that there are any salmon left at all, because most salmon species are in rapid decline. This anadromous fish, which makes incredible journeys from oceans to rivers, has always had the odds stacked against it, primarily because of the length of its migrations and the huge and varied predation pressures that the fish face at all stages of their life cycle. Despite that, the salmon species are incredible and have survived for millions of years until now, when many of those populations face extinction. There are many possible reasons for the decline, but I suggest that all of them are man-made. They include overexploitation of fishing, loss of habitat and the agrochemical and aquaculture industries. New research has shown that a single exposure to a commonly used agricultural chemical during the juvenile freshwater phase of the Atlantic salmon damages their gills and reduces their survival at sea by 40 per cent. Those pressures are real—they are in the environment and are affecting our salmon stocks.
Despite that, there is evidence that on the east coast the salmon stock is fighting back and returns over the past few years have been good. However, on the west coast, the wild populations are declining at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, that decline correlates well with the relentless growth of sea-cage aquaculture, which is often sited on the migratory routes of wild fish. The most significant cause of the demise of the salmon on the west coast has been the growth of parasitic sea larvae that are released from farmed salmon. Juvenile post-smolt salmon and sea trout have to swim past farmed salmon to reach the ocean. Some fish have been found weakened, with more than 1,000 lice on their bodies. If we combine that with the danger that is posed by agrochemicals and other pressures that exist in the environment, such fish have very little chance.
We must continue to acknowledge that there are
"It is important that fin fish farming continues to operate within the capacity of the receiving environment and minimises interaction between farm stocks and wild fauna."
There are ecological limits, which we ignore at our peril.
NASCO is doing its best to protect and save the salmon, but it is powerless to make its voice heard above the intensive and powerful lobbying from the agrochemical and aquaculture industries. We call on the minister and the Executive to give NASCO the resources to fund the research to provide the evidence that we need if we are to continue to save the salmon.
I thank Maureen Macmillan for securing the debate, which is welcome, and I extend my congratulations to NASCO on the 21 st anniversary of its establishment. NASCO's work has been immensely important and I hope that the organisation goes from strength to strength in the future.
Before I proceed, I record my recent appointment as president of Kelso Angling Association. I assure members that that is a non-pecuniary appointment that cements a long-term relationship with the association. It has been mentioned that there has been a welcome increase in the number of rod catches on the Tweed—I must record that I was not responsible for any of that increase.
Angling adds value to the economy of the Scottish Borders. Other members have referred to other parts of the country, but according to the most recent estimate that I have seen, angling brings £14 million annually to the Scottish Borders' economy and is responsible for about 350 full-time equivalent jobs. That demonstrates the scale and importance of the activity, which we wish to ensure will continue in the future.
I have three specific points about salmon conservation. I understand that the fish in each river system have distinctive genetic characteristics. The work of the Tweed Foundation has shown peradventure that there is a distinctive gene pool for the salmon that enter the Tweed.
Salmon's genes allow them to find their way back to specific rivers—their gene pool is what enables salmon to understand where they must run. If we degrade the gene pool in any way, the homing instinct that is associated with a particular river will not continue in its present form. It is therefore important that we limit the number of escapees from fish farms because such fish interbreed with wild fish and degrade the gene pool.
However, we must also be extremely careful about where we locate fish farms. Not long ago, there was a proposal to locate a smolt-rearing facility in the Ettrick valley: Norwegian fish-farmed salmon smolt were to be brought over and reared in a facility adjacent to the river Tweed. The deputy minister needs to take very careful note of that proposal, although—thankfully—the development has not proceeded. The point was, and remains, that such developments adjacent to river banks bring the risk of direct escapes into the river system.
I have no doubt that the deputy minister will take away from tonight's debate all the points that members have raised. In addition to the considerations that were raised on the location of sea cages, I ask her to consider whether the Executive or local authorities need new powers to restrict the siting of smolt-rearing facilities or fish farms on land adjacent to river systems.
My second point concerns the potential threat to salmon from the parasite Gyrodactylus salaries—those present who are anglers may be familiar with it. We need to take more measures to combat Gyrodactylus salaries. Thankfully, it has not yet been found in Scottish rivers, but we need nevertheless continuously to remind anglers and all those who are associated with our river systems about the danger of its reaching Scotland. If that were to happen, there would be very little that could be done to eradicate it other than to neutralise the whole river system in which it was found. It is essential that preventive work be undertaken to ensure that Gyrodactylus salaries never reaches these shores.
My third point concerns the important issue of investment in research. Clearly, NASCO has contributed in that regard. I commend to the chamber the work of organisations such as the Tweed Foundation, which has over a number of years studied how fish enter the Tweed river system and what they do once they are there. I commend in particular the experiments in which fish were tracked through the river system by means of radio transmitters that were inserted into them. A considerable amount was learned from that study; for example, it was found that the spring run of fish was predominantly into the Ettrick tributary. As a result, the Tweed commissioners introduced a voluntary catch-and-
Richard Lochhead mentioned the "dog's breakfast" that is the existing river-management system. He was right in saying that the approach to river management should be based not on part of a river but on the whole river system. However, he was not correct to say that Scotland does not have any good models of river management; indeed, I am sure that he did not mean either to say or infer that. One of those good models is the management of the River Tweed with its distinctive cross-border history. The River Tweed Commissioners is an effective organisation that could provide a model for use elsewhere in Scotland. The commission's membership is taken from the voluntary angling associations and proprietors. People often do not appreciate that local angling associations outnumber proprietors on the membership of the commission.
I extend my best wishes to NASCO for the next 25 years of its work. As I said at the outset, I hope that it goes from strength to strength. NASCO's contribution is immense. It aims to do something that all of us wish to achieve, which is the conservation of salmon and, in turn, the enjoyment of the salmon for future generations.
Like my colleagues, I am grateful to Maureen Macmillan for lodging the motion, which I take great pleasure in supporting. We should celebrate the work of NASCO, which, as members said, is the only international treaty organisation that is based in Scotland and has its headquarters in Edinburgh.
As members said, the Atlantic salmon is very important to Scotland. Not only do we appreciate the economic importance of salmon, given that salmon anglers spend more than £70 million every year, which benefits our rural economy, but we have a well-deserved, world-wide reputation for looking after our salmon resource.
In Scotland we have had a close association with salmon, salmon fishing, and salmon conservation for many centuries, as Richard Lochhead said. The first piece of legislation on the matter for which we have documentary evidence dates from 1424. The legislation concerns the need to observe the weekly close time—it is interesting to note that some things never change.
We have not been idle in the Scottish Parliament. In the short time since devolution, we
Richard Lochhead, Maureen Macmillan and others mentioned access. I am aware that there is concern that access and fisheries management will not be dealt with in the forthcoming bill. However, when I spoke to members of the freshwater fisheries forum, which represents the vast majority of anglers in Scotland, I noted a clear view among them that more work needs to be done. That is absolutely not to say that an integrated fisheries management system will not be forthcoming; it will be. Such a system simply would not be ready in time to be included in the bill. I assure members that work is on-going and the freshwater fisheries forum will continue after the bill has been introduced.
Jamie McGrigor and others talked about regulation. The regulation of the fish farming industry will be essential if the public are to have confidence in the industry, but of course we must ensure that regulation is proportionate and does not overburden the industry. We must strike the right balance.
Mark Ruskell and others referred to escapes. There is evidence that escaped farmed salmon spawn with other farmed salmon and with wild fish and there is concern about the genetic implications of that. However, it is also acknowledged that spawning success in such circumstances is low and that the survival rates of offspring might be lower than those of wild fish. The fact that the overall effect remains a little unclear means that we must listen to the science. Several members mentioned the importance of securing accurate, up-to-date scientific evidence and the Executive has commissioned work to examine the effects of location and relocation of fish farms, to assess the impact of escapes on wild stocks.
I agree that land managers play an important role in conserving and improving riparian habitats. We will discuss such matters as we develop work on land management contracts. I acknowledge the importance of maintaining
Euan Robson—I nearly said Ewan McGregor—mentioned the location and relocation of fish farms. We must closely consider that issue and assess the impact of escapes on wild stocks. NASCO, in collaboration with the Scottish and international salmon farming industries, has held workshops and symposia at which location and other issues have been addressed.
Euan Robson talked about the Tweed and several members mentioned the good figures from the Tweed and rivers in the east of Scotland. We welcome those figures, while accepting that a lot of work remains to be done. I pay tribute to the work of bodies such as the River Tweed Commissioners, which plays a hugely valuable role in conserving salmon in the Tweed. Euan Robson also mentioned gyrodactylus salaris, which is an ever-present threat. The forthcoming bill on aquaculture and fisheries will deal with some of the issues, but a task force has been set up specifically to consider gyrodactylus salaris and will report at the end of March.
There is a limit to what any one country can do. We must remember that salmon have a fantastic life history, involving migrations of epic proportions to places such as the west coast of Greenland. Scientists from around the north Atlantic agree that the survival rate of salmon at sea is much too low. We cannot legislate for that on our own in the Scottish Parliament, or even in the UK or EU contexts. The issue is truly one—there are others—in which international co-operation is necessary. For that, an international approach by a strong international organisation is needed.
Thankfully, such an organisation exists. I am delighted that several key players in the NASCO family are in the public gallery to listen to the debate and hear the tributes. The organisation not only exists, but is based in Edinburgh. NASCO exists as a result of the Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean, an international treaty that was made under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Scotland is not a signatory to the convention, but it participates fully in the organisation's work.
NASCO has an enviable reputation among fisheries organisations for getting things done. Fishing for salmon in international waters is now a thing of the past. The Greenland fishery has been restricted to a subsistence fishery for internal use and there has been no Faroe Islands fishery for several years. NASCO's contracting parties have agreed to adopt the precautionary approach to fisheries management. NASCO has developed agreements, protocols, guidelines and resolutions to address issues such as fishery management,
NASCO has a strong working relationship with the fish farming industry in Scotland and internationally in exploring ways of ensuring sustainable wild salmon stocks and aquaculture. NASCO's international Atlantic salmon research board, in which contracting parties and non-governmental organisations work together, aims to develop research programmes that involve international co-operation. NASCO works towards international collaboration in addressing the threat to salmon by the parasite gyrodactylus salaris, which has been responsible for the extinction of salmon in more than 40 Norwegian rivers. Obviously, we do not want it here.
NASCO has achieved a great deal. I take this opportunity to say how pleased we are—I am sure that members agree—that NASCO chose Scotland and Edinburgh as its home. We congratulate NASCO on the fine work that it has done during its childhood and adolescence and, now that it has come of age, we wish it every success for the future.
Meeting closed at 17:48.