The last remaining active salmon netting station in Angus has been bought out in a historic deal river bosses hope will help reverse the decline in fish numbers.
The purchase of the station close to the mouth of the River North Esk near Montrose is expected to save up to 5,000 fish from nets each year, increasing their chances of returning to breeding grounds up-river and boosting the area’s sporting reputation.
Atlantic salmon survival rates have decreased dramatically over the past half century and the Esk District Salmon Fishery Board’s purchase of the netting station around the Nab on the North Esk – for an undisclosed sum understood to be into six figures – has been hailed as a “huge boost” for the river.
Nets have been a common sight on the Angus coast for generations, including the popular beaches of Montrose and Lunan Bay where holidaymakers would see fishermen heading out on the sands with tractor and trailer to check the haul.
The North and South Esks in Angus have long been regarded as Scottish gems among sport anglers, attracting fishermen from across the globe and generating millions of pounds for the local economy.
All salmon and sea trout netted are killed, while anglers release the vast majority of the fish they catch.
It is believed that historic low marine survival rates are behind the decline in wild Atlantic salmon stocks, and although the Esk DSFB does not have any influence over what happens to salmon at sea, it can control what happens to the fish when they enter the river.
The 2019 North Esk season is due to open on February 16 and Esk DSFB chairman Malcolm Taylor said: “The DSFB has invested heavily for the future of the River North Esk.
“While it is sad to see the end of this traditional form of catching salmon, it is essential that we allow as many salmon as possible to return to their breeding grounds to produce the next generation.”
Neil Anderson, fishery manager for the Gallery Beat on the North Esk and owner of a local fishing shop, said: “This deal will be a huge boost to the river.
“With more salmon and sea trout running the river, anglers will have a great chance of catching fish, which is good for the anglers and good for local businesses.”
Rod fishing for salmon and sea trout on the Angus rivers generates a significant annual boost for the area.
A report commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2004 estimated the salmon and sea trout rod fishery in the North Esk contributed around £2 million to the local economy, including indirect fishery benefits to local hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions.
The Esk District board is a statutory organisation with a duty to protect, conserve and improve its salmon fisheries and operates on the Rivers North and South Esk, as well as the Bervie and Lunan waters.