WILD salmon could be off the menu in restaurants and shops if ministers go ahead with proposed plans to ban coastal netting, it has been claimed.

Scotland’s salmon netters are nervously waiting to hear if ministers will impose a restriction on killing any salmon outside river estuaries. The move is being considered in an attempt to assess wild salmon stocks and ensure European environmental directives are being observed.

After two centuries of netting round Scotland's coasts, those in the industry have expressed concern at the prospect of the move being more than a temporary measure to allow accurate information to be gathered on salmon numbers.

They also argue it would affect the ability of the public to buy wild salmon as it is illegal to sell any caught by a rod. Farmed salmon would be the only other option.

The company which will be most affected is Scotland’s largest netting operation, the Scottish Wild Salmon Company, also known as Usan Salmon Fisheries of Montrose.

Usan director George Pullar said prohibitions of netting outside river estuaries would effectively end his company’s operation right up the east coast and round to Thurso.

“It will mean that if this comes into force the only way most will be able to pay for wild salmon will be if they pay for a day’s fishing on a river," he said.

"There will still be a little netting in estuaries and there will still be activity in England, but there will be very little access to wild salmon for Scottish consumers.”

Angling interests, however, have welcomed the prospect of such a restriction.

Writing in The Herald today, Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, says any prohibition on killing salmon outside river estuaries would only be in force until the true state of wild salmon stock had become clear.

Interested parties have been given 28 days to raise objections to the move and have until August 19 to do so.

Mr Pullar said the reduction in potential access to Scottish wild salmon would come despite the fact that for the past two and a half years the product has been protected by the European Commission, in the same way as Parma ham, Melton Mowbray pork pies and champagne.

The fish was granted protected geographical indication (PGI) status, meaning it has a particular quality attributable to its place of origin. It meant salmon caught in other countries could not be packaged, sold or advertised as Scottish wild salmon.

Mr Pullar said that they had been told that if Mr Lochhead agrees to the prohibition, it would be temporary. There would also be fair compensation given they have the heritable rights to net and are not selling them.

He said: “What can we do? It is about the EU, which seems to protect us with one hand then restricts us with the other. But we very much want to work with the Scottish Government to modernise the legislation.”

Others hope any prohibition will be for a longer term.

Hughie Campbell Adamson, Chairman of Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland), said recently: “The proposed banning of coastal salmon netting is a milestone – indeed the most significant change to the regulations on the exploitation of salmon in the last 200 years.”

One Highland hotelier, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that without the salmon caught by the netters, she would have to take wild salmon off her menu and serve farmed salmon. But added: "Mind you there are other people who catch salmon in nets, but rather unofficially."