The collapse of wild salmon stocks in Galloway’s rivers is a “tragedy of epic proportions”, it was claimed this week.
And Dalbeattie Angling Association chairman Will Marshall warned the lack of fish means the club – which celebrates its centenary next year – could fold.
Mr Marshall spoke out after new Scottish Government figures showed salmon catches were the lowest since records began in 1952.
He said: “The angling club for the first time in living memory lost money last year. Contrary to popular belief it not just a sport for the rich.
“We have joiners, plumbers, doctors and nurse and membership is only £100 a year.
“But people won’t buy a ticket if they don’t catch a fish.
“The club is on the brink of collapse.”
Mr Marshall said the association’s three beats of Craignair, Firthhead and East Logan saw between 150 and 300 salmon caught annually until 2012.
“That’s when the River Urr collapsed and it has never really recovered,” he said. “Since 2013 we have been bumping along about 50.
“All the west coast salmon fisheries collapsed after 2012.
“Now, when returns show that wealthy east coast rivers collapsed last year – it suddenly becomes big news.
“It is a tragegy of epic proportions.
“There have been other periods of very low returns. It may not be an irrecoverable position.
“But it is very hard to pinpoint where the fish have gone.”
Mr Marshall, who represents the club on the Urr District Salmon Fishery Board, believes several factors are behind the decline.
He said: “Studies show the number of smolts returning as mature salmon has dropped.
“In most rivers it’s down from 15 per cent to between just two and five per cent.
“These juvenile fish leaving the rivers are just not coming back.
“The west coast of Scotland is plagued by salmon farms which have a massivley damaging effect on salmon runs.
“Young smolts follow the coastal routes up the west coast to Iceland and Greenland and pass a lot of salmon farms on the way.
“Ten to 15 sea lice on a young smolt will kill it stone dead.”
Mr Marshall sees predation of smolts by birds, seals and otters as a possible issue.
He said: “A new study is looking at whether a higher percentage of smolts are dying in the estuary environment.
“If that is a significant factor that becomes within our control.
“At least then we can say we have a problem and can look at ways of helping the smolts get out to sea.”
Mr Marshall said the River Dee’s low returns – 17 salmon and no sea trout caught in 2018 – was caused by the hydro-electric scheme.
“The first two or three dams have fish ladders but the top dams don’t,” he said.
“That means there has been a huge loss of spawning habitat.
“The Dee has their own hatchery to try and compensate for that.