New fishing byelaws are to be introduced in Wales next year after a Local Inquiry rejected complaints from anglers.
Rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths is backing recommendations made by planning inspector Declan Beggan, who concluded the proposed byelaws were “appropriate, reasonable and proportionate” given the declines in salmon and sea trout stocks.
Mandatory catch-and-release (CR), bait bans, slot limits and seasonal restrictions will now all come into force on January 1, 2020.
“We must work together to protect these magnificent fish before it becomes too late,” said Mrs Griffiths.
Giving evidence to the inspector, anglers and netsmen said fishing was not to blame for salmon and sea trout declines.
Commercial nets have been absent from the River Dee since 2008 but there has been no improvement in the numbers of returning salmon, the inquiry heard.
Neither had there been a recovery on the River Clwyd following the buy-out of nets 20 years ago.
The Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries, which represented 21 angling clubs and riparian owners at the inquiry, argued other factors played a bigger role, such as water abstraction, fish predation and in-river obstructions to migration.
It said enforced curbs would decimate the sector and cost the rural economy dearly.
Although anglers questioned the methodology used by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to assess fish stocks, Mr Beggan said he found the evidence “persuasive”.
He noted that the proposed byelaws would affect only about 15% of anglers, and they would not be prevented from fishing for salmon and sea trout.
And as many anglers already operate voluntary CR, the byelaws would have no impact on them, he said.
In backing the inspector’s conclusions, Mrs Griffiths said it was clear the issue aroused passions on both sides of the debate. But everyone agreed there was a problem, she added.
“Other issues, which stakeholders quite rightly raised at the inquiry, also need to be addressed,” she said.
“The effects of agricultural pollution have a significant impact on the mortality of these stocks.
“I intend to bring into force regulations to tackle agricultural pollution in January 2020, aligning with the introduction of the byelaws.”
To ensure anglers are made aware of NRW’s wider work to protect fisheries, Mrs Griffiths wants a Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action to be drawn up by January.
This would keep fishermen abreast of issues such as migratory barriers and fish predation by birds.
Ceri Davies, of NRW, said the minister’s decision was “the right thing” for salmon and sea trout populations.
NRW will now work closely with angling and rivers groups to implement the new byelaws and tackle other migratory issues such as pollution, bailiff shortages and artificial weirs.
“Unfortunately, there is no single ‘magic’ solution to protect and re-build vulnerable stocks,” she added.