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The recent Scottish Government announcement about changes to the Wild Fisheries Reform programme contained an item saying: “The Scottish Government has ruled out … the criminalisation of freshwater fishing without written permission”.

Subsequent postings on social media suggest that some coarse anglers have misinterpreted that statement, so we are issuing this note to clarify the position.

The first point to make is that nothing has changed as far as the law on fishing without permission for freshwater species (i.e. anything other than salmon and sea trout – the position regarding coarse fish and brown trout is exactly the same) is concerned. All the Scottish Government has said is that they don’t intend to change this in future.

However, it’s vital to recognise that fishing for freshwater species without written permission or legal right is already a criminal offence in a large number of waters in Scotland, and as far as we are aware the Scottish Government does not propose to alter that either.

At the moment the position is complex, inconsistent and confusing.  Fishing for freshwater species without legal right or written consent is:

  • a criminal offence under Section 11(1) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 in a “proper stank or loch”. (“stank” means a reservoir or pond with neither inlet nor outlet sufficient to allow access or egress by fish, and “proper stank or loch” means a stank or loch the fishing rights in which are owned by one person);
  • a criminal offence under section 9 of the Solway Act 1804 in rivers flowing into the Solway, except the Annan and part of the Sark;
  • a criminal offence under Section 12(1) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 on waters specifically covered by a Protection Order (details of areas covered are at );
  • a civil offence in waters outwith a Protection Order area, or in parts of a Protection Order area which have been excluded;
  • not an offence at all in “public” waters (NB – the term “public” here does not refer to waters in public ownership. In general “public” waters are those which are both navigable and tidal at the point where a person is fishing, although some legal precedent may extend this to certain other navigable waters.

In practice, it can be difficult to know the status of a particular water body. For example, information on exclusion zones in Protection Order areas is not well publicised, and it’s often unclear whether the fishing rights in a specific loch are owned by more than one person. But no matter whether the potential offence is civil or criminal, it is unlawful to fish without prior consent, so the answer in every case is to seek permission, preferably in writing, before going onto the water. We strongly recommend that all anglers do that.

Ron Woods, Policy Officer

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