ANGLERS are set to be banned from taking their catch home on 101 Scottish salmon rivers next year.

Proposed river gradings for the 2022 season show five waterways will move to the highest conservation status.

This makes a catch and release policy mandatory within their waters and comes amid ongoing concerns over wild salmon stocks in Scotland.

However, six rivers that were previously under the strictest rules will no longer require catch and release.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said anyone who feels the gradings are unfair should "go back with the evidence". 

A spokesman for the SGA's fishing group, which represents Scottish river workers, said: “Marine Scotland have used a modelling approach to try to mimic the rod catches which could have happened, had the pandemic not struck.

“Obviously, that can only account for so much so, if rivers feel the grading isn’t a true reflection, they should go back with the evidence.

“The SGA fishing group campaigned successfully to have angling restored during lockdown as it was a safe, solitary activity.

“That said, several weeks were missed at the start and some restrictions were maintained throughout long spells such as on boat fishing, coupled with anglers being unable to travel beyond their local areas. 

"All of these factors will have impacted rod catches.”

Conservation regulations introduced in 2016 sort salmon rivers into three categories, with 1 indicating fishing is sustainable and 3 meaning salmon numbers are low.

Proposed gradings for the 2022 season would see 101 of Scotland's 173 salmon rivers or groups of rivers classed as Category 3.

This compares to 102 this year, 103 the year before and 95 in 2019. 

In 2017, just 73 rivers were placed in Category 3, but this jumped to 122 the following year.

The figures mean almost 60 per cent of salmon rivers are classed as Category 3, which means exploitation is judged "unsustainable" and mandatory catch and release is required.

Elsewhere, the proposed changes for 2022 will see 37 rivers classed as Category 2, where catch and release "should be promoted strongly in the first instance", and 35 as Category 1, where no additional management action is deemed necessary.

There are long-running fears over the decline of wild Atlantic salmon numbers in Scotland, with the species facing a variety of pressures, including from climate change.

Critics say fish farms also have an impact, with concerns around the transfer of sea lice to wild fish stocks.

Major projects at rivers around the country are seeking to reverse the decline.

These include a £350,000 scheme at the River Teith and work at the River Tyne to remove river obstacles that are preventing fish from reaching spawning areas.

The proposed changes for next year mean eight rivers will see their grade improved. Of these, six will no longer require catch and release.

However, eight will be moved to a stricter grade, including five rivers which will become mandatory catch and release fisheries in 2022.

These are the Kerry and Badachro group, Laxford and Gleann Dubh, Caslabhat and Tamanabhaigh, the River Lochy and the North Uist Lochs.

The Scottish Government said the assessment was made using "the most up to date data available from fish counters and catch returns from the 2020 fishing season".

It said: "The 2020 fishing season was affected by the restrictions imposed by the pandemic which inevitably led to a reduction in 'rod-effort' and the numbers of fish caught.

"Although it is not possible to fully account for the complexity of the pandemic and its impact on rod fishing, local information was used to develop methods which allow its impact to be accounted for in stock assessments for each river or group of rivers. 

"This ensures that the outcomes of the assessment are based on the best available information."

Figures published in May show the total reported rod catch of wild salmon for 2020 was 45,366. 

This is the third lowest on record and 92% of the previous five-year average, although the Government said the impact of the pandemic "complicates direct comparisons with previous years".

Catch and release accounted for 93% of the total rod catch.

Views on the proposed 2022 gradings can be submitted until September 11.