About the Trust

The Atlantic Salmon Trust was founded in 1967, against a backdrop of growing concerns over the excessive numbers of wild salmon being taken by distant water fisheries, and the impact of UDN (Ulcerative Dermal Necrosis).

It was distinctive in being one of the first organisations devoted to the welfare of a single species, and quickly demonstrated its effectiveness in raising awareness of the plight of salmon.

Throughout its life, AST has depended heavily on its Honorary Scientific Advisory Panel – a group of the finest scientists in the field, who give their time free of charge to advise on and suggest areas of research which we can support, and to guide our policy.  This has meant that we have been able to punch well above our weight in terms of influencing politicians and regulators – both within the British Isles and further afield. It has been key to our reputation for reasoned and reasonable pragmatic, impartial, science-based policies.  It has also meant that AST has been able to foster and support a wealth of research projects from 1967 to the present day, always with an emphasis on research which will lead to pragmatic advice on best practice for fishery managers and anglers. The HSAP remains pre-eminent in the role of the Trust today.

Prior to the arrival of RAFTS (Rivers & Fisheries Trusts Scotland) and the Rivers Trust , AST was the only conservation charity working on behalf of wild Atlantic Salmon. The Trust’s biologist performed an irreplaceable role on the riverbank, responding to concerns of managers, biologists, owners and anglers throughout the UK in advising managers on the river bank.  This led to many successes, for example the liming of Welsh rivers, and the setting up of the Tripartite Working Group in Scotland, to address problems caused by the country’s rapidly-growing salmon farming industry.  We should also mention the Restoration Report , co-authored by the Trust biologist. By 2009, with the Fishery Trusts well and truly up and running, AST felt that a role for its biologist had ceased to exist.

John Webb inspects Kintrochat pass

We have also played an important role on the international stage. The Salmon Symposium held in Edinburgh in 1978, and organised by AST and its partner the Atlantic Salmon Federation, highlighted the threat posed to salmon populations by the Greenland and Faroes high seas fisheries. As a direct result, NASCO (the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization) was formed in January 1984. AST has therefore been involved in NASCO’s work from the start, and we have been delighted to share in the effective control of high seas salmon fisheries.

Over the years, AST’s role has widened to include sea trout – surely the ‘canaries of the ocean ‘par excellence. Study of these fascinating nomads of our inshore waters formed the basis for the AST Sea Trout workshop in 2011 and the Sea Trout Research Programme.

The AST first published a policy on aquaculture, and potential damage from sea lice, in 2010, which was based on a review of current science produced by our current Research Director, Professor Ken Whelan. This policy was updated in 2016 with the AST Aquaculture Position Paper Nov. 2016.

A highlight of more recent years has been AST’s major role in getting the SALSEA (Salmon at Sea) project off the ground – not only via the inspirational work of the then Research Director Dr Dick Shelton,  but also with substantial amounts of funding.  Indeed, the emphasis on marine survival of salmon dated from the AST-sponsored 4th International Salmon Symposium in Canada in 1992, which had the theme ‘Salmon at Sea’.

Adjusting the trawl on the Celtic Explorer.  © Deirdre Brennan

At our Ocean Silver conference held in London in December 2011, the leading scientists from SALSEA outlined the major implications of their data for an audience of almost 200 fishery managers, anglers, politicians, journalists and opinion leaders from all over Europe and beyond.  SALSEA has provided a rich seam of data which can be mined for many years ahead, and which has already spawned further research. We are at last within sight of fully understanding the whole lives of salmon, as freshwater fish, as coastal fish and as members of the pelagic family of ocean fishes. The ‘Three Pillars’ strategy reflected this growing body of holistic knowledge. This was a logical extension of the AST’s past work, leading the Trust into ever greater involvement with international partners across the whole range of Atlantic salmon and sea trout, and across a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines, including genetics, oceanography and climate change studies.

Highlights of AST’s entire lifetime have been the many conferences and workshops which we have organised, in specialist areas such as the welfare of sea trout, importance of river flows, and the role which small streams play in recruitment of salmon and sea trout.

Organising conferences and workshops remains a crucial element of our work and in 2017, our 50th Anniversary year, we shall be holding a conference ‘From Headwater to Headland Improving Smolt Survival in Rivers and Estuaries’, organised jointly with the Tweed Foundation. We shall also be holding a Scientific Symposium as part of our 50th Anniversary Gala Celebrations in May 2017.

There are many battles yet to be won. We continue to be as critical today as we were in 1967 of the unsustainable practice of commercial netting of salmon which targets stocks from more than one river. We continue to have concerns over the impacts of salmon aquaculture, and of in-river hydro schemes. A newer concern is the potential for damage to migratory fish from offshore wild farms and tidal energy devices.

Our ultimate aim remains the same today as it was in 1967: working to see naturally-generated stocks of wild salmon and sea trout reach sustainable levels of abundance.  All of our scientific work feeds into producing the ultimate ‘management toolkit’ which will empower fisheries managers to do more than ever to ensure that their rivers see the best possible outputs of smolts and the best possible returns of adult fish.

You can read more about the people who have led the Trust over the years in this article by Dr Derek Mills.

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