Following lobbying from Ms McAlpine, who put down a parliamentary motion to save the haaf netters, Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, said that the unique cultural heritage of the haaf netters would be recognised. He revealed that his officials would work with the haaf netters on a scientific project which would allow them to take some salmon, while helping to count the number of fish and improve authorities’ understanding of conservation issues.
Mr Lochhead revealed the plans this morning at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee (RACCE) to discuss new Atlantic salmon regulations in order for the Scottish Government to comply with European and international conservation measures.
Ms McAlpine told the committee that haaf netters had been fishing since Viking times, had passed skills down from father to son and that their preservation was essential to “human ecology” just as much as the salmon was a unique part of Scotland’s biodiversity.
While details of the plan are still to be revealed, officials accompanying Mr Lochhead at committee said they would be in place before the haaf netting season opened this year. Mr Lochhead also committed to speed up the gathering of scientific evidence about salmon stocks so that the grading of rivers could be reviewed at an early stage. Ms McAlpine, who previously wrote to ministers about the haaf netters’ predicament and highlighted it in her national newspaper column, said the compromise was a big gain for the fishermen, Annan and the fish themselves.
Ms McAlpine said:
“Nobody knows these stocks better than the haaf netters who have been working the Solway for generations so they are ideally placed to participate in a project gathering evidence about fish numbers and other conservation material.
“This may also help improve understanding of the rivers, which have been graded without the amount of data that scientists would ideally like – however the minister explained that the government was under considerable pressure to comply with its international obligations and conserve the salmon to preserve it for future generations.”
Mr Lochhead told the committee that other countries had taken a more blanket approach than Scotland which introduced three different river gradings. However, he said there was a very real threat that failure to comply could result in punitive measures from Europe such as the ordering of some rivers to be closed completely which has happened in other countries.
As soon as the committee was over, Ms McAlpine called John Warwick of the Annan Royal Burgh Fishermen’s Association to break the good news. She will now write to the minister asking for details and suggesting an early meeting with the fishermen.
Ms McAlpine said it was important that the Annan Common Good committee be kept informed of the new development as it may affect their decision-making regarding licensing.