Nith District Salmon Fishery Board
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Nith District Salmon Fishery Board Hatchery Operations, 2023-24

As can be seen elsewhere on the Board’s website, the Board has for many years operated a hatchery for salmon and sea trout ova. There are currently 30,000 fertilised ova located in the Board’s hatchery.

Hatcheries and the Law

The Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government and Fishery Biologists now take the informed scientific view that hatchery operations are biologically unsound and potentially damaging in that they could corrupt the indigenous genetic strain of wild breeding salmon in Scottish rivers.

The Marine Directorate controls rigorously the ability of anybody to stock fish into any river or loch throughout Scotland. (see Introduction of freshwater fish and ova: forms and guidance – (

It is now illegal to stock hatchery reared salmon into a river system without licences issued by The Marine Directorate. These are issued to suitably qualified persons or bodies (usually the local District Salmon Fishery Board or Fishery Trust), but only in certain very limited circumstances and only if rigorous controls and monitoring criteria are applied.

Currently, the Nith Board must apply to The Marine Directorate for and have issued to it what might be described as a “Capture” of broodstock licence and a “Planting Out” licence for the resulting alevins and fry. The application process is detailed and complex and must have produced with it mapping with grid references for both capture of brood stock and planting of resulting juvenile salmon.  

Current Hatchery Operations.

Regarding the current hatchery operations operated by the Board, the licences that the Board has obtained from The Marine Directorate to run the hatchery relate to compensatory stocking of juvenile salmon as a consequence of the loss of spawning watercourses resulting from open cast coal mine working in the upper reaches of the Nith catchment. The alevins/fry are restocked into depleted areas (the mining sites) as close to the source from where captured brood stock was taken to supply the ova ultimately resulting in the alevins/fry. The licences have a limited life and are due to expire in 2025.

The Nith hatchery is already populated with approximately 30,000 fertilised ova obtained from captured broodstock this autumn and the resulting alevins will be planted out in the appropriate areas in spring 2024.

The position on Atlantic salmon stocks nationally and internationally.

It has been recognised both nationally and internationally that salmon numbers returning to their native rivers have been reducing in numbers.

In January 2022 the Scottish Government announced its Wild Salmon Strategy. Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon stated that “there is significant evidence showing that populations of Atlantic salmon are at crisis point and we must invigorate our collective efforts to ensure a positive future for the species”.

On 11 December 2023 the International Union for Conservation of Nature  (IUCN) released a listing statement to the effect that Atlantic salmon have been reclassified from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Endangered’ in Great Britain (as a result of a 30-50% decline in British populations since 2006 and 50-80% projected between 2010-2025), and from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near Threatened’ in terms of global populations (as a result of global populations declines of 23% since 2006)

The Board, its Functions and Duties

The Board performs its duties under Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 and related legislation to the best of its abilities. It employs fully qualified staff who continually update themselves on and put into practice best practice for the management of the salmon fishery.

Freshwater Fisheries Management is currently undergoing development and change at the direction of Scottish Government, through the Marine Directorate.

Under the present salmon fisheries legislation, the Board is empowered to deal only with salmon and sea trout, although in line with evolving modern best fisheries management practice, the Nith Board and the Nith Fishery Trust embrace a “whole of river all species approach” to fisheries management.

This is a management approach that both Board and Trust have adopted and evolved over a number of years, but it has recently become necessary for the Board and the Trust to develop a more cohesive integrated strategy for all species management arising from the recent publication of Scottish Government’s Salmon Strategy and Biodiversity Initiatives. The Board and Trust (in common with other Boards and Trusts throughout Scotland) are currently developing a Fishery Management Plan on a Scottish Government approved template, to cover the whole of the Nith Catchment. This plan will include provision for future consideration of the Board’s salmon hatchery operations, if it is considered necessary and permissible to continue to operate the Board’s hatchery.

Summary and Conclusions

  • The Board operates a hatchery for the hatching of salmon ova under Licenses issued by The Marine Directorate for the specific purpose of compensatory stocking of juvenile salmon into watercourses near to the sites of former open cast coal mining sites due to recognised depletion of breeding success because of Open Cast Coal Operations. It currently has 30,000 fertilised ova being cared for in its hatchery.
  • The informed scientific view currently is that hatchery operations are biologically unsound and potentially damaging in that they could corrupt the indigenous genetic strain of wild breeding salmon in Scottish rivers. This position is endorsed by The Marine Directorate of Scottish Government. Fishery Boards and Trusts have no choice but to accept the position.
  • By reason of The Marine Directorate Licencing system for hatcheries and the belief of many qualified fisheries scientists that the stocking of salmon into watercourses is damaging, the days of operating a salmon hatchery on any river simply to try to boost numbers of returning salmon are gone.
  • Any hatchery that operates in Scotland now must operate for a specific environmental purpose and carry a licence issued by The Marine Directorate. In fact, there are very few hatcheries that now operate in Scotland as a result of the requirement to hold a licence to stock fish into rivers and lochs.
  • Salmon as a species are now recognised by Governments and IUCN as being in crisis and‘Endangered’ and Near Threatened’ in terms of global populations (as a result of global populations declines of 23% since 2006).
  • The Board members are elected representatives of salmon angling fishery owners and anglers and commercial salmon net owners and tenant haaf netters. As such, Board members have a vested interest in doing all that can legally be done to preserve, protect and enhance the salmon and sea trout fisheries that they are elected to protect. Salmon and sea trout are a critical component of the ecology of the Nith river system.
  • The revenue generated from legal methods of salmon fishing both directly from the issue of fishing permits and to the local economy and the value of the salmon fisheries are adversely affected by the decline in the numbers of salmon and sea trout.
  • Consequently there is no benefit to anybody who has an interest in owning or exercising the right to fish for and take salmon (including all Board members) in failing to practice or exercise the best possible means of trying to ensure that salmon and sea trout numbers in the river are maximised.

The Board is fully conscious of the concerns about salmon being in crisis and endangered. The Board will continue to adopt best informed practice in striving to achieve its statutory duties to 

“do such acts, execute such works and incur such expenses as may appear to them expedient for—

(a) the protection or improvement of the fisheries within their district;

(b) the increase of salmon; or

(c) the stocking of the waters of the district with salmon.”

per s. 45 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003

This includes the carefully managed legally permitted operation of salmon hatcheries, if there is sound scientific justification for hatchery operations.

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