Jewel in the crown of the national park

Jewel in the crown of the national park

THE FUTURE of angling on Loch Lomond, one of Scotland’s biggest tourist assets and the jewel in the crown of the country’s first national park, is set for an acrimonious debate this week following a long-running feud over management of its lucrative salmon and trout fishing.

Insults and allegations of financial mis-management have been hurled across the bonnie banks and on website forums for months while anglers complain that the reputation of the river and loch system, once one of Scotland’s prime game fishing venues, is being badly damaged.

One owner of salmon fishing on the River Endrick, the main tributary of the loch said: “Loch Lomond as a fishery has lost its respect with public bodies like Scottish Natural Heritage and to some extent the angling association has lost its way.”

On Thursday, an emergency meeting of the 600-strong membership of the historic Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association (LLAIA) has been called following repeated attempts over the last 18 months by a breakaway group to force a change of management.

The factor of Luss Estates, Ian Chivas has agreed to act as an independent chairman for what is set to be a highly-charged meeting in Glasgow.  LLAIA has issued documentation running to more than 40 pages for the gathering.

In March the LLAIA annual meeting broke up in disarray following a vote of no confidence in the committee and the breakaway group attempted to set up an alternative management team.

The battle escalated last week when the rebel anglers launched their own website with a domain name almost identical to the association’s official site, in an effort to increase public and member support.

One one bank stands the breakaway group, who published their own development strategy for Loch Lomond angling at the beginning of the year. They claim they have not seen fully audited accounts since 2003/04, that catch returns are incomplete, and that their legitimate requests for changes to the LLAIA constitution have been rejected, sometimes by “devious” means.

On the opposite bank, the LLAIA through its paid-chairman, Michael Brady, says he and his committee have been subjected to a campaign of  “smears and lies” and there is no chance of any reconciliation with the breakaway group.

Stewart Inglis, a Clydebank teacher and LLAIA member for 26 years, has put himself forward as the new secretary of the association.  He says:

“We have a core group of about 10, largely made up of professionals like myself.  We have serious doubts about some key aspects of the restocking policy, particularly the smolt programme, but our main concerns are about the lack of transparency in the management of the association. We are deeply concerned that the membership overall is not being kept aware of the exact details of the LLAIA finances.”

The LLAIA, a club whose membership limit of 1000 was over-subscribed in the 1980s, has seen a persistent decline in support in recent times.  Full members have fallen by 23% to 443 in the last 10 years according to the rebel group, despite positive efforts such as bailiffing, restocking and habitat management to restore fishing quality.

Catches of salmon are reported to have declined dramatically, as they have in other Scottish river systems, although there has been a resurgence recently in sea trout numbers aided by a voluntary catch and release policy by anglers.

But sales of permits and season tickets, which this season rose to £15 day and £175 a year respectively, still generate a substantial six-figure income. LLAIA’s Brady, who also acts as secretary, said:

“When I took over as chairman 12 years ago we had a debt of £63,000. Now we have a fishery reserve of £250,000 and have bought four stretches of the River Endrick.

“There is a small group who want to get their hands on the fishery reserve, spend it willy-nilly and cut permit costs on the River Leven.  We have been subjected to a smear campaign with completely untrue stories and lies being spread on internet forums and such like.

“There have been suggestions that money is going somewhere it should not. Every single penny in the LLAIA can be accounted for.  We have made massive improvements in the finances and have invited the group to come and look through the accounts.  They are afraid to come. There is no chance of reconciliation.”

He says the LLAIA is backed by a professional fishery manager and points out that catches of sea trout, one of Scotland’s most threatened game species, were 518 last year and 520 in 2007.   Brady added: “These are excellent results which will stand comparison anywhere. Salmon returns are not what they were in the 1980s, but we have studied regeneration programmes in Ireland and are now starting a smolt restocking programme.”

LLAIA, formed 100 years ago by the celebrated writer Henry Lamond, leases the majority of salmon, trout and coarse fishings on the loch and its important catchment rivers like the Leven and Endrick, from around 40 riparian owners. These include its vice president, the Duke of Montrose and, until his death earlier this year, its honorary president Sir Ivor Colquhoun of Luss Estates.

Some LLAIA members are outraged that the association has allowed itself to become embroiled in an ugly dispute when it should have been promoting itself to visitors during the Year of Homecoming celebrations.  Gary Weir, author of the alternative strategy plan for the loch, said:

“I put what together is a draft report because the LLAIA does not have a public development plan and we think it is necessary for there to be a clear and accountable policy for the loch and its rivers.

“The present situation has become an embarrassment and should never have been allowed to happen. What have the riparian owners who lease the fishing to the LLAIA been thinking about?  And what have they been doing?”

One prominent owner has conceded it may be time for change. Jonathan Henson, rural affairs director of Savills the estate agents, owns a stretch of the River Endrick and is a member of the Loch Lomond Riparian Owners Group. He said Loch Lomond as a fishery had lost its respect with public bodies like Scottish Natural Heritage and the LLAIA had “lost its way” to an extent.

He said: “”Although the owners are fragmented, there is potential for creating a formal district salmon board.” But he stressed that this should be done through the existing association.  “Personalities have to be put to one side. The association has stood the test of time and has, on balance, been quite a cohesive organisation operating in difficult circumstances.  I support it.”

In My Opinion