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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March, 2005, 15:41 GMT
Bid to keep salmon catch rejected
A row has broken out over whether anglers can keep what they catch
An attempt to overturn a ban that prevents fishermen from keeping salmon catches on a Scottish river has failed.

The ruling was put in place on the North and South Esk near Montrose as a conservation measure after concerns about the level of fish in the rivers.

A move to annul the orders at Holyrood's environment and rural development committee has been rejected by five votes to three.

Local fishermen have branded the measures "draconian".

The Esk District Salmon Fisheries Board is the first in Scotland to be granted powers forcing fishermen to throw back any salmon they catch before the beginning of June.

Anglers claim the ruling could threaten the sport in Scotland if other boards follow suit.

The Esk board decision affects statutory fishing grounds where almost everybody else involved seems to want a voluntary scheme
Andrew Welsh

On other Scottish rivers voluntary schemes operate with anglers allowed to keep at least one fish.

MSPs asked to revoke the powers did however raise concern that the five-year order would result in relations between fishermen and the Esk board becoming even worse.

Angus MSP Andrew Welsh put forward the proposal to throw out the restriction.

He said the decision to ask for regulation on the river was only "forced through" by the board after a tie led to the chair having to make a casting vote.

The Scottish National Party MSP said: "The Esk board decision affects statutory fishing grounds where almost everybody else involved seems to want a voluntary scheme, based on compromise and consensus between all sectors of the fishing industry."

He added: "Netsmen have a genuine concern that their minority status will be used to simply put them out of business while anglers feel that this compulsion will be extended to other Scottish rivers."

'Vested interests'

East Lothian Labour MSP John Home Robertson, who said he was "very suspicious" of calls for regulation, said decisions were taken because of "vested interests" and not environmental concern.

Deputy Environment Minister Lewis Macdonald said the situation was "regrettable" but necessary for salmon conservation.

"Voluntary agreement was wanted by everybody," he said.

"Every effort has been made to achieve agreement. Taking this route does not penalise those who signed up to the voluntary agreement. On the contrary it protects them."

Mr Macdonald said he was confident that any loss of angling tourists due to the rules would be offset by visitors who did not object to the catch and release policy.

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