ANGLERS and conservation bodies have forced ministers into a U-turn over controversial plans to extend the coastal salmon netting season in the country's east coast.
The groups achieved their victory after condemning the Government's move to allow additional netting in the South Esk district in Angus.
They claimed it would have jeopardised the conservation of wild salmon and threatened ministers with legal action. But now they have said the extension is no longer required.
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Hughie Campbell Adamson, former chairman of the Esk District Salmon Fisheries Board (EDSFB) said: "We are delighted that the Government has revoked the licence after one year only. We always felt the decision was flawed on both conservation and on legal grounds, and therefore warmly welcome this decision."
In August, ministers granted a three-year licence to the country's largest salmon netting company, Usan Salmon Fisheries, allowing the firm to net salmon from its stations south of Montrose for an additional two weeks in September – after the end of the statutory netting season on August 31.
The Government said this was to compensate the fishery for disruption caused by Marine Scotland Science having access to fish and genetic samples during the commercial fishery season for tagging research purposes.
At the time the licence was granted, a Government spokeswoman said there was no evidence the extension would have a detrimental impact on stocks.
The EDSFB raised a judicial review in the court of session on the issue, which was due to be heard in February, but the Government has now revoked the firm's licence.
Mr Campbell Adamson, who was EDSFB chairman when the review was sought, said: "The Scottish Government's capitulation, together with its undertaking to pay the board's costs, vindicates entirely the EDSFB's decision to go for judicial review.
"I hope that we can all now move on and never again allow politics and prejudice to jeopardise wild salmon conservation.
"The latter must take priority – whether it is in the context of salmon netting on the east coast or the unsustainable increase in salmon farming on the west coast."
He added: "I would especially like to thank the Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) and the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board for their invaluable support."
The Esks Rivers and Fisheries Trust also said it was pleased at the Government's decision to withdraw the licence.
Tom Sampson, chairman of the trust, said: "The Government's reversal of its decision is welcome. No increased exploitation of salmon, in the context of today's limited marine survival levels, can be justified."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The September net fishery is not required for years two and three of the South Esk project (2013-14) and therefore the licence was revoked."
The River South Esk is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for Atlantic salmon.