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Learn about the Atlantic Salmon and what their presence means for our domestic waters.

Atlantic Salmon

Aptly named the King of Fish by English writer Izaak Walton, salmon have the ability to navigate the ocean, return to its natal stream, to leap over seemingly impassible obstacles, and to detect through its olfactory senses the very gravel of its origin. They are an anadromous species, meaning they hatch in freshwater, migrate to the ocean where they spend 1-3 years at sea, before returning to fresh water to reproduce. Having a sustainable salmon population is a reliable indication to the overall health of an eco system because of their tolerances with water quality and habitat, thus benefiting other animals like pearl mussels, otters, birds and plant life. This amazing animal has chosen the most pristine river systems as its habitat and is the centrepiece for thriving ecosystems, making them an umbrella and keystone species.

Salmon Life Cycle.jpg

Atlantic Salmon Life Cycle by Robin Ade for Atlantic Salmon Trust

The sustainability for salmon is campaigned for by the Prince of Wales himself, with government legislation and fishing regulations in place to better help the species. However, after two centuries of slow and steady decline that coincided with the human industrial development, wild Atlantic Salmon populations have plummeted precipitously over the past three decades. Though listed as a "Low Risk/Least Concern" on the endangered species list published in 1996, today salmon levels stand at the lowest in history, with wild Atlantic salmon completely extirpated from much of their original range, and hanging by a thread in many other locations. The rate of decline in salmon numbers could see things change for the worst if something is not done now.  


Atlantic Salmon face numerous pressures during their life cycle. These include but are not limited to; predation, invasive species, poor water quality, diseases and parasites, aquaculture industry, barriers to migration, poor physical habitat quality, food availability and factors affecting survival issues while at sea such as global warming. The Scottish Government has introduced a range of measures to improve conservation status of salmon by managing the pressures of exploitation through fishing within Scotland's domestic waters. They are designed to compliment other management activities being undertaken at local, national and international level in the interest of conservation. The objective of the measures is to ensure harvesting in Scottish domestic waters is sustainable and that fishing does not damage vulnerable stocks or cause damage to the network of Special Areas of Conservation in place across Scotland. As salmon as listed as an Annex II Species and an Umbrella & Keystone Species, their presence in Hebridean and Scottish freshwater is a sign of a healthy ecosystem which must be maintained.

OHFT are dedicated to improving salmon habitat, removing barriers, continuing our investigative studies, promoting catch and release and ensuring the protection of the species. You can find ways to help through our Support page.

Salmon parr caught and being measured as part of the National Electrofishing programme

A healthy adult male salmon


Conservation Limits

Scottish Government Conservation Limits came into effect in 2016 as part of the ongoing Wild Fisheries Review. These conservation measures are aimed at protecting and enhancing Scotland's wild Atlantic salmon populations by assigning a numbered category to each catchment as part of a grading system, dependant on the health of its fish stocks. The conservation status of each stock is defined by the probability of the stock meeting its conservation limit over a 5-year period. Rather than a simple pass or fail, stocks have been allocated to one of the following three grades, each with its own recommended actions. Each local fishery and angling club can have their own guidelines on catch and release, however they do not supersede government rules.

Marine Scotland - Catch and Release: A Guide to Best Practice

Annex II

An Annex II Species

Salmon are listed in Annex II in the Habitats Directive. The Habitats Directive was introduced in 1992 for the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna. It sets the standard of nature conservation across the EU and and enables all 27 Member States to work together within the same strong legislative framework to protect the most vulnerable species and habitat types across their entire natural range within the EU. This law is currently also being adopted by UK and Scottish government. For further information on this legislation, regulations and guidance, you can go to the SNH website here.

The Habitats Directive protects around 1200 European species which are considered to be endangered, vulnerable, rare and/or endemic. Salmon are listed as one of those species. The protection provisions of these species and many others, are designed to ensure that the species listed in the directive reach favourable conservation status within the EU. For the 900 species listed as Annex II of the directive, core areas of their habitat - designated as sites of community importance - must be protected under the Natura 2000 Network and the sites are manged in accordance with the ecological requirements of the species. The Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world.


Keystone & Umbrella Species

Keystone Species

"A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in how an ecosystem functions. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. All species in an ecosystem, or habitat, rely on each other" - National Geographic

Umbrella Species

"Umbrella species are species selected for making conservation-related decisions, typically because protecting these species indirectly protects the many other species that make up the ecological community of its habitat. Species conservation can be subjective as it is hard to determine the status of many species" - Wikipedia


What Fishing Means to the Economy

Scotland is home of salmon fishing and is still a premier country for catching Atlantic Salmon as well as some excellent sea Trout fishing. Without the stock, there simply wouldn't be the fishing or angling opportunities. Another reason to help ensure sustainability. In the Hebrides alone to date, tourism is worth over £50m. Along with sightseeing of all the historic landmarks, world class beaches, hill walking, photography opportunities, and bird watching to name a few activities, there is also fantastic fishing in the Outer Hebrides.

*In 1999, there were an estimated 7,500 game anglers visiting the Outer Hebrides (4.6% of all visitors)

*Spend was calculated at £3.98m (12% of all visitor expenditure).

*Indirect and direct impacts on the value of angling to the Western Isles economy were estimated at £5.6m

*The capital value of the fishery was estimated at £17m pa.

*The Scottish Executive commissioned an economic analysis of game and course angling in Scotland in 2004. This estimated that freshwater angling in Scotland supported around 2,800 FTE jobs and increased the Scottish economy by over £100m.

21,000 non-angling visitors in 1999 expressed interest in angling if facilities and information were improved. So, comes another task for OHFT, who act as the focal point for angling tourism in the Hebrides and the Catch & Release Competition. In 2009, 12% of all visiting tourists were visiting anglers, showing a rise in numbers to more than 2.6 times what there was ten years previous.

For more on Angling in the Hebrides you can visit our Angling page

A class of local school pupils enjoying the angling section of Salmon in the Classroom

A first ever salmon, weighing 4lbs, caught by a young angler.

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