Fisheries experts are calling for salmon conservation to be treated as a national priority as the species approaches “crisis point”.
Environmental change and the impact of humans around the Northern Hemisphere has put salmon at risk across their natural range, it is claimed.
Conservationists will meet politicians at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday to discuss what can be done to reverse the trend.
The event will include a roundtable discussion and evening reception, sponsored by Michelle Ballantyne MSP.
Dr Alan Wells, chief executive of Fisheries Management Scotland, said: “Salmon catches in Scotland have reached the lowest levels ever recorded and nature is sending us some urgent signals about what could happen next.
“Official catch figures for recent years confirm this iconic species is now approaching crisis point.
“Some of the factors impacting on wild salmon stocks may be beyond human control.
“But Scotland’s Government and regulatory authorities now have a historic opportunity to do everything in their power to safeguard the species in those areas where they can make a difference.
“Put simply, salmon conservation must become a national priority. Our leaders will be judged by their actions in meeting that challenge.”
Karen Ramoo, policy adviser at Scottish Land and Estates, said: “Scotland has world renowned fishing which significantly contributes environmentally, socially and economically.
“The environment and the rural economy are at risk if we do not act now to tackle declining salmon numbers.
“We must aspire to maintain and improve our rivers and lochs to provide good breeding stock whilst a sustainable harvest can be made.
“Mechanisms to conserve these vulnerable stocks and encourage sustainable economic growth must be encouraged and it is imperative that the right balance is struck between conservation and the interests of those whose livelihood relies on fishing for salmon.
The Scottish Government said it will do all it can to safeguard the future of the species and will be involved in a project to track the migration of smolt – young salmon – on the west coast of Scotland.
Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “It is fitting that today’s roundtable about the future of our iconic wild salmon is taking place at the beginning of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters.
“I am pleased also to announce £750,000 of funding for an innovative project between the Scottish Government, Atlantic Salmon Trust and Fisheries Management Scotland to work in partnership to track smolt migration on the west coast of Scotland and thereby seek to improve our understanding of this important fish.”
She added: “The decline in the numbers of wild salmon returning to Scottish rivers is of great concern and caused by a range of complex factors.
“That is why the Scottish Government has committed, in its latest Programme for Government, to develop a Wild Salmon Strategy by September 2020.
“We will continue to work with key stakeholders such as Fisheries Management Scotland, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, district salmon fishery boards and fishery trusts to do everything possible to safeguard the future of Scotland’s wild salmon.”