A Holyrood committee has narrowly backed measures to control the killing of wild salmon despite concerns they are based on “flawed” science.
The Environment Committee was considering regulations drawn up by the Scottish Government that set out where salmon can be killed and where they must be returned to the water during the 2018 Scottish fishing season.
The conservation measures were first introduced in 2016 amid the threat of proceedings by the EU for breach of the habitats directive for the protected species and the decline in salmon numbers in Scottish rivers.
The updated regulations propose to extend mandatory catch and release to a higher number of rivers than in 2017 and have been criticised by some angling groups.
A motion to block the measures was lodged by Tory MSP Liz Smith but was defeated after committee MSPs voted six to five against.
Those in favour of annulling the provisions raised concerns about the quality of the data used to carry out the assessment.
Tory John Scott said: “I feel that the instrument is flawed, it is based on poor science, no-one appears to have confidence in the science that has not been peer-reviewed and it might not stand up to that level of scrutiny.”
Labour’s Jackie Baillie said she felt consultation with angling groups in the Loch Lomond area had been a “tick-box exercise”.
She said: “The improving model and methodology amounts it appears to me to be guesswork and three hand-drawn maps that, I have to say, probably look as if they have been done by a five-year-old.
“I really struggle that this is evidence-based.”
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the government was confident it was using the best available data and scientific advice, and emphasised the regulations did not stop fishing, just the killing of fish.
She said: “While there’s a clear need for additional research into the various and complex range of factors involved in this, we’ve got to take decisive action.
“It is imperative that we take a precautionary approach to determining whether and where stocks can be exploited.
“If we don’t follow such an approach there’s a real danger that yet again we will face infraction proceedings because we are failing to protect and to demonstrate that we are protecting our special areas of conservation. Doing nothing is not an option.
“There will always be uncertainties and what we try to do is to minimise the uncertainties, to improve the assessment process year on year where possible and ensure that we’re taking a sensible approach to protecting our salmon stocks for future generations of anglers. “