GOOD friends occasionally mock me gently for voting SNP at every opportunity. And it is indeed fact that - apart from one tactical vote and another for the marvellous late Alick Buchanan-Smith when he helped secure an October extension to our local angling season - I have never wavered from supporting the nationalist cause through thick and thin. But goodness how things can change, and within a matter of weeks at that.
Firstly there was the Usan Ness fishing scandal. For as many years as I care to remember (and I have been fishing for 56 of them) recreational game angling and commercial salmon fishing have enjoyed a fairly cool relationship, particularly in the past few decades when anglers have increasingly seen salmon and seatrout as a fragile resource which deserves conservation, while the netsmen have been perceived as playing a different game.
Don’t get me wrong here.. I have long admired the skill and fortitude of the commercial salmon netters, whose business in many cases has spanned many continuous generations. But allied to the angling fraternity’s determination to preserve what was left, economics played their part and the diminishing wild salmonid stocks gave rod-and-line interests the opportunity to contribute to the closure of both local and international salmon commercial fisheries via buyouts and cessation agreements negotiated by that marvellous Icelander Orri Vigfussen.
A particular menace to these at-risk stocks, is the type of coastal netting operation which indiscriminately intercepts fish from a variety of rivers, as distinct from those which target fish within a particular estuary and which probably belong to that specific river.
The Usan Ness netting station immediately south of Montrose (and a salmon’s stone-throw from the likes of the River Cowie) is one of those “mixed stock fisheries” which does harm to a wide cross-section of individual river stocks and counters the good work being done elsewhere.
It therefore came as a huge blow to all true salmon conservation interests, when Usan Salmon Fisheries (USF) were quite incredulously awarded a £100,000 European grant to sustain their anachronistic operations there.
This dismay soon changed to anger when it was realised that the funding application had required initial endorsement by the Scottish Government’s fisheries department at Marine Scotland.
What were Alex Salmond and Co thinking about? Do they believe that USF represents the working man whilst salmon angling only serves the toffs? Which century are they living in?
BUT worse was to follow. A recent press release by the Salmon and Trout Association has revealed that the primarily Scandinavian-owned Scottish West Coast salmon farming industry (unquestionably the prime factor behind the massive collapse in wild seatrout and salmon stocks in what were once world-class fishing locations) actually threatened litigation against the Scottish Government for having the temerity to consider publicising data on sea lice infestations and fish escapes there.
To add insult to injury, the SG then capitulated and performed a policy U-turn which only became public knowledge via a FOI request by the S&TA. So now we know.....barbarian Vikings are once again ruling the Scottish west coast!
One thing is sure in the wake of these two episodes.. it will take a lot of work by our seemingly spineless Scottish Government to stave off a mass loss of support from the ranks of tens of thousands of ordinary hardworking native salmon anglers.
ON the subject of honest hard work, I am about to join another angling club colleague to brave an ongoing Tuesday snowstorm to check for and hopefully remove timber debris obstructions from the lower part of a main Cowie tributary. I really would not expect any MSPs or salmon netsmen to join us in maintaining those critical spawning grounds which actually produce wild mature salmon at the end of the day.