Police wildlife officers are encouraging the public to be aware of fish poaching as new figures reveal reducing numbers of Atlantic salmon have reached a critical level.
According to Scottish Government catch statistics, 35,693 Atlantic salmon and 12,636 sea trout were caught in 2021 – the lowest catches since records began in 1952.
This follows years of sustained declines in salmon numbers, affecting rivers across the country.
Brian Davidson, director of communications and administration at Fisheries Management Scotland explained fish poaching is “widespread and highly damaging”.
He said: “It is clear that populations of Atlantic salmon are now at crisis point. The latest figures underline just how grave the situation has become. Fish poaching is a widespread and highly damaging wildlife crime activity.
“Returning adult salmon have already successfully negotiated a range of challenges at sea, and any loss of these precious wild fish to illegal activity is tragic and reduces the chances of sustaining Scotland’s salmon populations into the future.”
Mr Davidson added that member fishery boards enforcement teams are working closely with officers to address the issue of poaching.
‘Perception fish poaching is not a serious crime’
Wildlife and environmental crime officer, Detective Constable Ben Pacholek, stressed that fish poaching is a criminal offence and officers are working to deter poachers.
He said: “There is a perception that fish poaching is not a serious crime and that ‘taking one for the pot’ does no harm. However, fish poaching is a criminal offence and stocks are protected by law.
“As well as carrying out joint patrols with water bailiffs to deter fish poaching and other offences in and around rivers, lochs and the coastline, officers work closely with Fisheries Management Scotland and other partners, including the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Priority Delivery Group for Poaching in Scotland.”
DC Pacholek added the public has a vital role in assisting with their work. He is urging the public to report anything suspicious or any information about fish poaching to the police by calling 101.