A “CATASTROPHIC” failure of the salmon run in Argyll’s largest and most closely monitored river has prompted demands for the closure of some fish farms and a review of the expansion of the industry.

This year’s run of salmon in the River Awe is by far the lowest since records began in 1964, according to figures released today. The annual salmon count for 2017 has been confirmed as 480, which compares with 807 in 2016 and a five-year average of 1400. The previous lowest total was 781 in 1998.

“This year’s salmon count on the River Awe is incontrovertible evidence that the decline in wild fish in salmon farming’s southern heartland has become critical,” said Roger Brook, chair of Argyll District Salmon Fishery Board.

“We call upon the Scottish Government to take action on all issues within its regulatory control. Specifically, we ask for a review of the policy to facilitate the continued expansion of the salmon aquaculture industry without first addressing the negative impacts. Expansion of aquaculture without greater regulatory control is sounding the death knell for viable wild salmon populations in most of the West Highlands and Islands.”

“We plead with the Scottish Government to take this issue seriously and act decisively to protect and improve our iconic West Highland salmon and the important west-coast tourist industry associated with recreational fishing. Scotland has the opportunity to create a world-leading regulatory and planning system which protects wild migratory fish and proactively seeks to address any local negative impacts.”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of Salmon and Trout Conservation (S&TC) Scotland, said future salmon farms should be sited away from the probable migration routes while the worst-performing existing farms, both in terms of location and lice control, should be closed.

“If the crisis in wild salmon numbers in the West Highlands and Islands is to be halted, Scottish Ministers must now be given a duty, and granted the necessary powers, to intervene to protect wild fish and to implement measures to prevent further damage and provide the conditions to reverse the decline in wild salmon and sea trout populations,” he said. “This means ensuring proper control on the siting of farms and the levels of sea lice on the farms.”

“When in August we highlighted the low Awe salmon count, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation claimed the announcement had been ‘premature and over simplistic’, as ‘the majority of grilse don’t return to the Awe until the autumn’. There has never been a significant autumn grilse run on the Awe and our forewarning has proven to be entirely accurate.”

In June the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee responded to a formal petition lodged by S&TC Scotland seeking protection for wild salmonids from sea lice from Scottish salmon farms.

It agreed to launch an inquiry into Scottish salmon farming and the issues raised, which is scheduled for next year.