Large increase in Scottish salmon numbers reported

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Fisheries boards and anglers throughout Scotland are reporting huge increases in the number of young salmon returning this year to the country's rivers, just two months after official reports warned that the king of fish could be heading for extinction.

Fisheries boards and anglers throughout Scotland are reporting huge increases in the number of young salmon returning this year to the country's rivers, just two months after official reports warned that the king of fish could be heading for extinction.

However, Rebecca Wills, spokeswoman for the Scottish branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature, warned against over-optimism. "It seems to be true that unexpectedly large numbers of grilse [young salmon that have been at sea for only one year] began returning last month from the Atlantic to Scotland's rivers," she said. "We would caution, however, that this year's good runs need to be seen against the background of a steady and serious decline in salmon numbers."

WWF Scotland said in a report published in June that the number of salmon caught by anglers in Scottish rivers last year was only 12 per cent of the figure of 30 years ago. "Wild salmon stocks have plunged to their lowest ever levels," claimed the report. "The wild Atlantic salmon, which spawns in freshwater but spends much of its life at sea, could be bound for extinction." Similar reports were issued by the Association of Salmon Fisheries Boards and the Atlantic Salmon Trust.

Ms Wills and other experts said it was impossible to identify the cause of this year's healthy salmon runs.

"All we can say is that it is probably due to something happening in the conditions at sea," said Dr Colin Adams, of Glasgow University's Department of Biology. "And as a scientist I would have to argue that there remains fairly good evidence of a long-term decline. Therefore, one good month does not represent a change in the long-term pattern."

While most of the evidence for this year's increase in numbers is based on anecdotes of salmon catches and sightings, dramatic proof comes from an electronic salmon counter in a tributary of the river Tay, the Ericht, at Blairgowrie. "In the whole of last year there were less than 4,000 grilse through the counter. Already this year there have been 7,500," said Dr David Summers, manager of the Tay Salmon Fisheries Board.

Dr Summers also emphasised that this year's numbers compared badly with those of more than 30 years ago. "But I'm an optimist," he said. "Already we've certainly got a much better spawning stock than last year."

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