To protect Scotland's endangered salmon, these anglers purchased the same river they've fished for 100 years

Scotland's River Ericht on an overcast day

In 1924, the Blairgowrie, Rattray and District Angling Association was formed to give anglers of Scotland’s River Ericht a community to call home. 

In the generations since, it has become one of Scotland’s oldest angling clubs, encouraging the responsible fishing of salmon, sea trout, brown trout, and other fish — as well as the stewardship of their beloved natural areas.

Never has this been more true than on the organization’s centennial, as they have purchased the salmon fishing rights of a four-mile stretch of River Ericht to help conserve and protect Scotland’s endangered salmon.

Three men stand side-by-side on the banks of the River Ericht in Scotland
BRDAA committee members Peter Lock, David Hogg, and River Coverner Grant Kellie. Photo courtesy of Scottish Gamekeepers Association

With this purchase, BRDAA’s leadership hopes to improve water conditions and continue its efforts of trash cleanup, tree planting, managing invasive species, and monitoring salmon stock. 

The river runs through the town of Blairgowrie and is integral as a spawning tributary in the River Tay system — the country’s largest river system. It’s a spot in which members of the 300-member BRDAA have been fishing for generations — a place they know and love well.

“BRDAA deserves great credit for taking this step at a critical time for our salmon,” George Thompson, of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, told the BBC. “It demonstrates the passion hard-working local people have for the species and a way of life.”

A man and woman stand on the banks of the River Ericht. They hold up a map and a bouquet of flowers.
Jamie and Annie Macpherson at Macpherson Fishings on the River Ericht. Photo courtesy of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association

The four-mile stretch will be called Macpherson Fishings; named after the Macpherson family, who sold the rights to the BRDAA. The late Sir William Macpherson was a lifelong supporter of the association and was heavily involved in the local community as a judge.

His children, Jamie and Annie, told The Courier that they were determined that the river should belong to the people who love it most.

“The fact that it coincided with the centenary year is a wonderful bonus,” Jamie said.

While BRDAA leadership is optimistic about their role in the crusade to save Scotland’s salmon, they’re fighting an uphill — or upstream — battle.

According to Jon Gibb, a coordinator for the Salmon Scotland Fund, the wild Atlantic salmon was officially classified as an endangered species in Scotland in 2023.

“This keystone species is under very serious threat from a wide range of impacts, both in the river and at sea,” Gibb said in a statement. “Any projects to further understand those impacts and mitigate against them are urgently required.”

A close-up of a person's hands holding a wild Atlantic salmon
Photo courtesy of the Salmon Scotland Fund

The anglers who have fished these waters for years confirm that they’ve seen a change in the landscape, pointing to a history of water extraction for industrial purposes, with salmon stocks falling as a result of low water levels.

BRDAA former president David Hogg, 75, joined the organization in 1962 and remembers the vast salmon population of the Ericht. 

“There is no doubt salmon are in decline, nationally. When you think of the numbers that used to come up here in the late 70s and early 80s — the Spring run especially — there is no comparison,” Hogg said in a statement

But salmon stocks are falling in rivers across the country, with numbers at their lowest since 1952, according to the latest Scottish government figures.

While this milestone for the BRDAA provides hope, it’s only one step towards progress.

Two men stand on the banks of a river. One holds up a large fish. They are both smiling.
Grant Kellie fishes on the River Ericht. Photo courtesy of the BRDAA

“This is not just an issue on the Ericht. I believe there are about 260 rivers in Scotland which all have issues preventing the easy passage of migratory fish,” River convener Grant Kellie said in a statement for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. 

“The Scottish government needs to step up at this moment in time and get this implemented so we can get the fish back to where they should be.”

A Scottish government spokesperson told the BBC that a wild salmon strategy is being implemented over the next five years to “tackle the wide range of pressures salmon face in the freshwater, coastal, and marine environment.”

This, the spokesperson said, “includes an investment of over £1.25 million from the Scottish government in 2023 for the protection and recovery of wild salmon.”

This new purchase, the BRDAA hopes, will help legitimize their efforts to the government and help to streamline its official strategy, saying they will leave “no stone unturned” in the recovery of wild Atlantic salmon on the Ericht. 

“It’s something for the whole of Blairgowrie to be proud of,” Kellie told The Courier.

“We all want to make sure there’s a future for the river.”

Header image by Neil Williamson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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June 20, 2024 11:47 AM
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