Scotland’s District Salmon Fishery Boards have applied under existing Salmon Conservation legislation to Scottish Ministers for compulsory carcass tagging of all wild net-caught salmon and sea trout. The proposal is for a mandatory, uniquely numbered scheme for all wild salmon offered for sale. A carcass tagging scheme has been in operation in England and Wales since January 2009. This compulsory scheme ensures that all salmon and sea trout caught legally by means other than angling are tagged with uniquely numbered Environment Agency carcass tags. They must be attached immediately after capture and remain attached until the fish are processed. Details of the fish and the tag reference numbers must be recorded in an annual log-book and returned to the Environment Agency at the end of the year. Similar schemes have been in operation in the Republic of Ireland since 2001 and Northern Ireland since 2002.
An analysis of the first year of the Environment Agency scheme showed that the scheme had been a major success. Feedback from netsmen was generally positive – they can sell fish to a premium market where the buyer can be confident about the source of the fish – with the tags viewed as a sign of quality. In combination with the ban on sale of rod-caught fish across the UK, any untagged fish would be made unmarketable and clearly identifiable as illegally taken. It is of note that the Environment Agency has identified the absence of a mandatory carcass tagging system in Scotland as being a significant loophole in their system, which allows fish illegally caught in England, Wales and elsewhere to reach the market masquerading as Scottish produce.
Dr Alan Wells, Policy and Planning Director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB), said: “Critically carcass tagging is important in reducing the number of illegally caught fish reaching markets or dealers. There is a continuing, significant problem with the illegal taking of salmon at sea and within rivers and estuaries. During 2010, bailiffs employed by District Salmon Boards across Scotland seized 166 illegal nets which are used for what is nothing less than a wildlife crime. Illegally caught fish represent a significant threat to the conservation and management of Atlantic salmon and sea trout.”
Dr Wells continued: “In 2010 the Report of the Scottish Mixed Stock Fisheries Working Group was unequivocal in recommending that a carcass tagging scheme for all wild net-caught salmon offered for sale should be introduced. The report also recommended that the Scottish Government should urgently work with all stakeholders to develop such a scheme.”