IT is profoundly disquieting to learn that, after 60 million years on the planet, wild Atlantic salmon could become an endangered species in our lifetime. Inured as we are to hearing every other day about a new species under threat somewhere in the world, the thought of wild salmon facing such a bleak fate is bound to be particularly troubling to Scots.

According to the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST), the world population of wild salmon has declined by 70 per cent in just 25 years. Since the fish are sensitive to ecological change, that might indicate a gloomy prognosis for the planet.

However, the causes of the decline of wild Atlantic salmon are not completely clear, even if a line-up of the usual suspects is easy to assemble: climate change; pollution; effects of aquaculture such as sea lice and disease spread by escapees; over-fishing of young salmon’s staple diet; increased predation by seals, cormorants and dolphins; even changing sea currents.

READ MORE: Conservationists launch biggest study of its kind to find out why Scotland's wild salmon have declined so much

If we are to help in stemming the decline, it is essential that we pinpoint as best we can what is behind it and, to that end, the AST’s latest project is to be welcomed. Having already prepared a Suspects Framework, the organisation launches its Missing Salmon Project today at the River Garry, with the aim of determining what is the most likely culprit in the decline of the species.

Over the next two years, it will do this by tagging and tracking smolts from their spawning grounds in rivers around the Moray Firth to the sea and back again. This is an exercise on a scale never before seen in Europe. Hence the price tag of £1 million, to pay for the tags and acoustic receivers, that the trust is hoping to raise through a crowdfunding exercise. That will require some crowd.

But the task is urgent. As the AST’s tracking co-ordinator Dr Matthew Norton says: “Too many times, humanity has acted too late when a species is in decline. We have an opportunity to act now and make a lasting, positive impact, so we’d ask everyone with an interest in preserving not only Scotland’s wild identity, but one of the world’s most famous species’s future, to support this ground-breaking project.”

Obviously, some fingers will point at salmon farming as a prime suspect in the decline, and it remains to be seen how much this turns out to be the case. Scottish salmon producers have already pledged to work with the AST and have previously argued that the decline in salmon numbers has been recorded for many decades, going back to before salmon farming even existed.

READ MORE: Conservationists launch biggest study of its kind to find out why Scotland's wild salmon have declined so much

Scotland’s love affair with the salmon does indeed go back a long way, with legislation enacted in the 14th century to prohibit certain types of traps in rivers. In the 15th century, other laws were passed to help smolts pass downstream safely.

Now the fate of the salmon is a concern from Greenland to Portugal. The species has never had an easy life, even from nature, with high levels of predation and ever-shifting barriers being put in its way. It has always managed to survive, but now it needs our help. And if humanity has been a contributory cause to its decline, we will have to mend our ways.

We wish the AST the best of luck with its crowdfunding exercise and its mission to establish just exactly what has been going on to hasten the decline of wild Atlantic salmon. The Missing Salmon Project is a sad necessity, but it will have a happy outcome if it can help to turn the situation around.

After 60 million years, the world would surely miss wild Atlantic salmon, and Scotland would be among the chief mourners.