The Scottish Government has been accused of performing a U-turn over fishing rights on the River Earn following a “disaster” year for anglers which will see the river downgraded.
Last year the Earn was upgraded to a Category 2 river, allowing anglers to retain and kill some of their catch for the first time in years following complaints from fishing groups that there was “a perception the river was not worth fishing”.
The Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board also believed the model used by government was miscalculating salmon stocks on the river and backed the upgrade.
However, less than 12 months later, the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland have put forward their annual consultation which looks to downgrade the Earn back to a Category 3 and force anglers to catch and release.
Jim Henderson, an angler from Auchterarder, wrote a letter to the Scottish Government complaining about the fishing on the river this season.
Jim said: “There’s been next to no fish caught on the River Earn this year.
“It’s been a disaster. So the Scottish Government has done a U-turn and turned it back to a Category 3 so there can be no killing on in it.
“But what has changed in these months?”
Gordon Taylor, secretary at Crieff Angling Club, admitted the regrading would be bad for the group but said salmon stocks were “dire”.
Mr Taylor said: “Most people are in two minds as they don’t want the club to fail but they understand the situation.
“We recognise that the stocks of salmon in Scotland are pretty dire and we have to live with it.
“The river has been very quiet. We’re not getting many stories of big catches.
“Usually if you do get big catches then word goes round and the river gets a bit busier but we haven’t heard of the river getting that much busier.”
Dr David Summers, fisheries director at Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, explained that a poor 2018 for fishing has effected the five year average of salmon caught on the Earn and forced the drop back down to Category 3 level.
Dr Summers said: “The poorer catches on the Earn so far this year is not unique but is part of a wider pattern in this part of the world and has nothing to do with its categorisation, but poor returns from sea.
“The Tay is a Category 1 yet it hasn’t had a brilliant season either.
“The Earn became a Category 2 last year because of changes to Marine Scotland’s methodology, which had previously, I believe, underestimated the Earn.
“It cannot be a mistake to try to make a scientific process more accurate.
“Indeed, I think there are still issues with the model that particularly downgrades lowland rivers like the Earn.
“However, if we continue to get years like the present then obviously it will fall further into the Category 3 territory.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Marine Scotland assesses the status of wild salmon stocks annually and we have recently consulted on river categories for the 2020 fishing season.
“Marine Scotland uses all the latest appropriate local data provided by local managers which, in the case of the River Earn, is through liaison with the Tay District Salmon Fishery Board.”