Rachael Hamilton is Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Forget the Sturgeon – we need to save our salmon

The beautiful river Tweed that slowly winds its way through the idyllic countryside is the real jewel in the Borders' crown. It is home to some of the best salmon beats anywhere in the UK and we’re lucky to have this fantastic natural asset on our doorsteps.

Angling in Scotland is said to support around 2,800 jobs and contributes £100 million to the economy. However, over the past decade, we have seen salmon stocks in our rivers fall dramatically. It’s not just on the Tweed, but right across Scotland, from the Spey in the north to the Nith in the south.

Given the gravity of the situation we are currently facing, I decided to host a debate in the Scottish Parliament to highlight this issue and encourage debate in order to find a way forward. One of the guests to my debate, Ian Farr, a ghillie on the Bemersyde Estate, said that he had witnessed a "serious decline" on the River Tweed over more than 30 years working in the area. In fact, on the Tweed, rod catches have fallen from 23,219 in 2012 to 6,577 in 2017. This is worrying news indeed, and good reason for the Scottish Government to take action.

There is a range of issues causing the decline in stocks, ranging from climate change, intensive aquaculture and predatory piscivorous birds. On the east coast, for years, we saw drift netting on the Northumberland coast, which affected the salmon returning to Berwick. Thankfully, the Environment Agency is proposing to stop the taking of salmon from the majority of net fisheries by 2019, although the damage has already been done sadly.

I called on the Rural Minister, Mairi Gougeon MSP, to reconsider the Wild Fisheries Review conducted several years ago. A one-size fits all approach to the conservation of salmon across the whole of Scotland does not work, and we need to be turning our attention to local management plans that are flexible, regularly reviewed and subject to scrutiny. Across the parties, it was acknowledged there must be a balance between behavioural change and Government regulation.

On the ground, we need to look at the whole ecosystem and the course of the river. The effective management of predatory birds and mammals could help salmon numbers recover, by giving smolts a chance to leave the river.

Salmon stocks are the freshwater equivalent of the ‘canary in the coalmine’. It is an early warning system for something being wrong across the board. We need a ‘healthy’ environment in order to see stocks restored, and the sooner we tackle the issue head on, the better.