Salmon Fisheries Concerns

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Serious concerns expressed in the North Highlands about the future of salmon fishings have been recognised by Highland Councillors, who accept there may be a threat to jobs and future development of salmon fishing enterprises in rural communities because of a flaw in the Draft Land Reform Bill.

The Crofter Counties Fishing Rights Group says that, unless the Bill is amended, existing owners of fishings may be vulnerable to a crofting community group making a purchase bid. They say the uncertainty of security of the title to the fishings is already affecting their ability to borrow monies to further invest in an industry important to the rural Highland economy. 

Members of the Councils Land and Environment Select Committee accepted that there were concerns and agreed to promote an amendment to the Bill in relation to salmon fishings to stipulate that a purchase should only be permitted where it resulted in the most beneficial use of the fishings, taking into account conservation interests, the continued use and management of the fishings and any impact it might have on the local economy.

This would ensure that in the event of an owner of salmon fishings resisting purchase by a crofting community body, the Land Court would be able to have regard to the case for preserving the status quo, particularly where it could be shown that fragmentation of ownership of salmon fishings would be detrimental to the interests of the local economy. 

The Committees Land Reform Group would also offer to meet the campaign group representing the salmon fishing community, the Crofter Counties Fishing Rights Group, to discuss their concerns.  Sutherland councillors, Ian Ross and Duncan Allan, said the Bill was flawed because it offered no protection to existing landowners against a crofter community bid. It left a shadow over the development of an important industry in rural areas. 

Councillor Ross said: "We recognise there are people with very real concerns and we must support their position." Councillor Jim Paterson, Tain, said: "There are a lot of angry people out there. The Bill is flawed and we must do everything we can to rectify the situation and protect this important industry."

Select Committee Chairman, Councillor Michael Foxley, said: "The amendment would allow for local issues to be fully discussed at the Land Court. As a Council, we are committed to the better management and more local ownership of resources. In reality, a well managed fishery, employing local people, would not be the subject of a community buy out. However, in places with neglected or mismanaged fishings, the local community would manage that resource far better,
obtaining expert advice and funding as required."