Fish the River Dee

Fish the Dee

Join us on the River Dee and experience this world famous salmon fishing river.

As it tumbles down from the Cairngorms, running through 81 miles of Royal Deeside, and flows on through Aberdeenshire to the North Sea at Aberdeen, the River Dee has always offered the epitome of wild Scottish Atlantic Salmon fly fishing in clear, fast and classically shallow pools and runs.

 

The River

Over the seasons, and over the centuries, fly anglers have connected with the distinctly unique River Dee. Those that find that connection with the Dee, are filled with a deep sense of care for the river, the surrounding landscapes and the local people. The community that live and work on the river, the lifelong friendships forged, and the shared experiences that can never be repeated or forgotten, are what the Dee promises – that and the added excitement and anticipation of being rewarded with encounters with what we all hold dear; wild Scottish Atlantic Salmon.

“If you were to show an experienced angler a photograph of any part of the river, and say nothing, they’d recognise the character of the runs, glides, pools and landscape and know for sure it was the Dee. The Dee is unique.”

Craig Somerville

For experienced returning anglers, those new to the river, or those new to salmon fly fishing in general, the River Dee has all that you, your friends and family need for a unique short or long stay.

Read more about what the Dee offers, how to go about planning your salmon fly fishing experience on the River Dee, and what expectations you should have.

 

Fishing Season

(No fishing on Sundays)

  • Below Aboyne Bridge – 1st February to 15th October
  • Above Aboyne Bridge – 1st February to 30th September

The Dee Conservation Code sets out the regulations for fishing the Dee.

Navigate the river with this interactive map. Click the icons to learn more and book fishing.

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The upper section

Upstream of Aboyne.

The Upper section of the River Dee is fast and dynamic with bouldery pocket waters and some larger deeper runs. Fabulous late Spring, Summer and Autumn sport is to be had in the upper reaches anywhere from Aboyne Castle up. The surrounding area is truly beautiful all year round.

Tackle

Single hand, switch and 12-13ft rods with full floating lines and a variety of tips and dressed tube and hitch flies are a good starting point here.

Wading

Not a huge amount of wading is required here, but expect to get your feet wet.

The upper section closes 30th September.

The middle section

Aboyne and to Banchory.

The Middle section is from the opposite beats of ‘Aboyne Water’ (left bank) and ‘Birse’ (right bank) downstream to ‘Lower Blackhall & Banchory’ just below the confluence of the River Feugh. In comparison, the beats are wider, generally shallow, and fast flowing, however the pools, glides and runs are more distinct than the upper section and this is where you’d expect a Springer from opening day onwards (1st February excluding Sundays).

Fishing on or just under the surface with a floating line and light tackle in these beats is the epitome of Summer and Autumn salmon fly fishing on the Dee as this is where you’d expect grilse from June, and sea trout from around April onwards.

Tackle

11-14ft rods, floating or intermediate lines and tips, not necessarily skagit lines unless fishing faster deeper runs to get under the fast surface flow in early Spring, and traditionally you would fish smaller flies unless there is high water or you need to get down to them.

Wading

Wading is common here, and there are some boat options.

The lower section

Downstream of the River Feugh confluence at Banchory.

The Lower section is renowned historically for its Springer fishing and has a host of wider beats again. It has generally slower flows, but it is still full of features like shallow gravel bars running into deep glides, and large boulders and bedrock making boils for running and resident fish to hold.

Tackle

Longer lines like long shooting heads and Spey lines are favorable in the lower section of the river, so 13-15ft rods are a must. However, bring your switch rod too in low water conditions. Large Spring flies, small dressed flies for the rest of the year, and a small selection of Sunrays is a must for the Lower Dee.

Wading

It is mostly all wading  on the lower Dee, so pack accordingly for cold legs in waders as you fish the long pools in Spring and Autumn.

Book your fishing experience now

Experienced anglers

Where, when, and what to bring to the River Dee.

With so many beats to choose from, the river is best broken down into Lower, Middle and Upper sections to help anglers make informed decisions on where and when to come and what equipment and tactics are required. Availability then dictates your options of where to book. Beats are more or less all managed and anglers will be guided by resident ghillies. If however you would like us, or a guiding company to make suggestions of where to go, please do get in touch.

For more information on the Upper, Middle, and Lower sections of the river, please click the expanding sections above. 

For tackle advice scroll down. 

Some fisheries/ghillies will get in touch with you prior to your arrival suggesting what to bring in response to the current conditions and catches, but do reach out to the fishery if you are unsure what to bring or where to meet and at what time.

Unsure about something? Have a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.

Headinch and Cambus O May and Craig McDonald the Ghillie
Ladies Day Deecastle

Visitors new to salmon fly fishing in Scotland

Salmon fishing in Scotland as a visitor, and on the River Dee especially is very exciting, but it can also be a bit daunting with all the terminology, equipment, rules, guidance and bookings to navigate. For instance, all fishing on the Dee is paid for, there is no free fishing on the river and it is fly only.

First consider booking a guided fishing experience on the Dee with a fishing guide company. With a guide, you don’t need to try to think of everything. This would need to be done in advance as the river and guides have limited availability. A guiding company or individual will use their knowledge of the river and plan the best possible day or multi-day fishing experience possible to fit with your requirements, supply equipment, recommend where to fish seasonally, and generally consider everything you might not. Depending on your level of experience, this guide will either come with you to the fishing, or book you onto a fishing beat (the fishery) and the Ghillie (the resident fishing guide for the fishery you go to) will direct you on what to use and where to go.

We’d like to think that the Dee has one of the best selection of programmes and offerings for those of you keen to come and try fly fishing for yourself or with friends and family. Learn all about the river, the equipment used, how to cast a fly line like a wizard, and maybe even catch and release your very own first wild Scottish Atlantic Salmon.

Unsure about something? Have a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.

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Aberdeenshire FlyFish50

We have the excellent Aberdeenshire FlyFish50 programme. These event days are hosted by caring and knowledgeable volunteers including professional instructors, Dee ghillies and a Dee beat owner who have all been pivotal to the success of the programme, engaging at least 50 new anglers into fishing each year.

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FlyFish50 website: https://flyfish50.com

Get in touch to learn more

River Dee Damsels

The River Dee Damsels is a friendly and welcoming group dedicated to ladies fly fishing and has also become an affectionate description for all ladies who fish the Dee. It was set up in 2018 to create a support system/affordable pathway to encourage women onto the river and is the landing point for ladies of all abilities who want to fish together.

Find out more here.

Book your fishing experience now

Fishing Tackle

The River Dee is predominantly a fly fishing river, and we have compiled an all you need to know section on what tackle you’ll need for your fishing here. 

Fishing Tackle for the River Dee

Fishing Events

This year we have some Introduction to Salmon Fishing days, Ladies Day and also some still water events to encourage new anglers.

Full details are on the Events page.

Learn to fish on the River Dee

Frequently asked questions

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What is a fishing beat?

This is a privately owned section of the river that is the fishery you book. It is a length of the river from one point to another and can be one bank, or both sometimes. There are a maximum number of anglers fishing each beat every day to stop overcrowding and offer exclusivity.

What is a Ghillie?

A ghillie is a traditional name for a fishing guide that is resident to a single beat and cares and manages that beat and the anglers year round. The Ghillie will meet and greet, provide equipment advice, direct you in the way of access, and offer guidance on the water. A ghillie has all of the anglers to guide as such, not just you, so don’t expect one-to-one tuition all day. Hiring your own personal fishing guide/casting instructor to come with you is recommended if this is your expectation.

An angler = “a rod”

Besides the obvious, a rod is a fishing rod. However, when discussing fishing on a beat(fishery), the number of anglers on that beat are referred to as “rods”. So, if a beat has 4 rods, that means it has space for 4 anglers.

Do I need a permit/license to fish on the Dee?

Yes, however this is better known as “making a booking” or “Buying fishing” and your confirmation email of making the booking is your legal right to fish. This should be carried on you at all times whilst fishing.

Can I buy a permit on site at the beat/fishery?

Unlike many other fisheries, you can’t buy a permit on the day from an outlet and fish the river – you must book your fishing in advance online or by telephone.

Can I fish for free on the River Dee?

No, all of the fishing on the River Dee is private and must be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.

Can I buy a day ticket to fish the river?

Not for the entire river, but you can purchase a day ticket on some fishing beats. Note, some fishing beats only accept exclusive use bookings (meaning one customer takes all the available fishing for the allocated time and shares that booking with friends and family for a half or full week). Please see availability on the booking system.

Where is the best place to fish?

Seasonally this changes, however if you refer to the ‘Experienced Anglers’ section, this will outline the time of year and where to go.

When is the salmon fishing season on the Dee?

  • Below Aboyne Bridge – 1st February to 15th October
  • Above Aboyne Bridge – 1st February to 30th September

 

Can I fish on Sundays?

No fishing on the River Dee on Sundays. This is Scottish law.

Can I fish for Brown Trout and Pike or is it just Salmon and Sea Trout?

River Dee fishing is booked on the expectation that you fish for salmon (and/or sea trout). If you wish to fish for Brown Trout or Pike you will need written permission, it is best to ask the beat/ghillie for advice.

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Why is the River Dee catch and release?

The decision was made to have a catch and release policy for salmon on the River Dee to allow fish that have been caught to go on and spawn to help maintain the precious stocks of this magnificent species.

What tackle and flies should I bring, and where can I get these?

Have a look at our fishing tackle advice page for some helpful suggestions.

Can I use spinning methods?

The Dee is a fly fishing river. Only at the discretion of the beat owner and then only at certain times of the year and in certain conditions, as described in the Conservation Code is spinning permitted. The majority of beats do not permit spinning in any conditions.

How do I get to the River Dee?

Depending on where you start from there are various travel options, if you are coming by car then you can use AA routefinder to plot your journey options or of course Google Maps.

The Dee has 2 main routes once you are in the destinations, the North Deeside Road and the South Deeside Road and these have easy access to all 47 beats on the river, the beat can give you detailed access information once you have booked your fishing.

If you are coming by Air then Aberdeen International Airport is within 30 minutes of the town of Banchory on the middle Dee, you can  hire a car from the Aiport or get a taxi to the place you will stay, but there is no public transport that comes directly from the airport to Royal Deeside.

Check your destination and airline

Where can I stay?

Deeside has a broad range of accomodation options and some beats have their own houses and lodges. Visit this page to see some options that suit anglers in the local area.

You can also use the Visit Aberdeenshire website that will tell you more about the towns and villages we have on Deeside and where you can eat and stay

Can I make a group booking?

If you need help with making arrangements or you are looking to bring a group or fly-fishing club then please contact Debbie Cooper at the river office and she can help arrange some options for you –

debbie@riverdee.org

T- 07979 878971

What is the weather like?

Royal Deeside is beautiful, but you can have all seasons in one day, even in the summer! Bring layers that you can add to and then remove easily, always have a hat with you and sunglasses or eye protection. The East coast of Scotland has less rainfall than Rome apparently and Deeside is much drier than the West coast of Scotland overall. We can still get cold nights and a touch of ground frost until the end of May and from the start of September. Midsummer here is perfect for early morning  late evening and night fishing as we are so far north we have daylight from 6am until 10pm in June and July.

Click on the BBC weather for the latest update before you pack.

Will there be toilets, wifi, and other facilities?

Each beat has a different set of facilities, due to location and setup. Please check the beat details  you are anticipating booking for required facilities.

What is the vehicle access like where I’ll be fishing?

Every beat will be different, however most will have vehicle access. Refer to the beat details before making a booking.

Can kids fish the Dee?

Yes, children can fish, but not all beats permit childeren, to avoid any disappointment please contact the beat in advance to check any age restrictions and the policy they have on the individual beat. 

Fishing trophies

River Dee Trophies

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Calum Mackenzie cup for young people

5Lewis receiving the Calum Mackenzie Trophy

Do you know a youngster who has enjoyed angling success this year?

The Cup has been presented to celebrate Callum’s great love of the countryside and especially his love of fishing. It is to be awarded to a young fisher in memory of Callum’s youth when the kindness and foresight of others channelled his enthusiasm into a lifelong long love of fishing. The Cup has been provided by Ballogie Estate with the support of the Mackenzie Family in recognition of the assistance that Callum gave to Ballogie over many years especially with the fishing. The award will be to the youngster whose angling success has been selected as the most notable fish by the Callum Mackenzie Award Committee and will be made annually at the River Dee opening ceremony.

Rules – The Most Notable Fish

  • Fisher must be under 18 years of age at time of catch
  • Any species of fish within the Dee catchment, including Rivers Cowie and Carron or one of the many trout fisheries in the district
  • Entries should include a short story about the capture of the fish
  • Picture, date, and location of capture
  • Witness to confirm catch
  • Submissions will receive publicity through the local press and River Dee website.

All entries to the Callum Mackenzie Committee should be sent by e‐mail to debbie@riverdee.org or by mail to River Dee Office, Mill of Dinnet, Aboyne Aberdeenshire, AB34 5LA

Closing Date for entries: Monday 14 October 2024 and winner announced at 2025 River opening ceremony

Tor na Coille Trophy for the best fly-caught salmon

Tor-Na-Coille trophy - The River Dee

This coveted trophy is commissioned by David Littlewood, owner of Tor Na Coille Hotel at Banchory on Royal Deeside, and is a stunning salmon sculpture made from old pennies and other coins.

The use of coins from different currencies is symbolic given that fishing attracts people from all over the world and generates millions of pounds to the local economy every year. Two Aberdeenshire artisans were commissioned to create the unique award which has been hailed as an artistic tribute to the majesty of the river and Scotland’s iconic species, the Atlantic salmon.

Renowned sculptor Helen Denerley combined her love of the natural world with technical aspects of metal work, casting the salmon sculpture from old pennies and coins from other currencies. The plinth was crafted from local elm and resin to resemble a flowing river, and made by Inverurie carpenter Kenny McKay, of Polished Finish.

The best catch is one of the most prestigious honours that can be won by a River Dee angler. It is not necessarily awarded to the angler who lands the heaviest fish, but judged by a committee who consider fish handling, time of year and the condition of the fish. The catch must have been witnessed. It will be competed for annually with the winner receiving the title, with a commemorative plaque a two-night stay at The Tor Na Coille Hotel, a luxurious Victorian country house hotel in Royal Deeside, and two days’ fishing on the River Dee at Lower Blackhall & Banchory.

Ask your ghillie for more details if you land a large Atlantic Salmon on your visit to the Dee.

See a picture of this beautiful trophy

Frequently Asked Questions on the Salmon Decline

Is there a salmon decline?

The Atlantic salmon is declining across its international range. NASCO reports that the species has declined in the Atlantic by approximately two-thirds in the last 45 years.

We have seen a significant decline in salmon throughout Scotland, although there is perhaps less of a decline in the most northerly rivers which may reflect the latitudinal gradient seen in the salmon decline.

The Dee is certainly experiencing a decline, perhaps particularly strongly due to spring salmon, which has been worst affected by the decline and historically has contributed substantially to the Dee stock. There is evidence of the salmon decline going back centuries, likely linked to human impacts, and in recent years climate change impacts are accelerating this decline.

The Atlantic salmon decline is happening in the context of the general biodiversity decline, with global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish suffering an average two-thirds decline in less than half a century. Freshwater biodiversity has been the most affected, suffering an 84% decline since 1970 (Source WWF).

What are the biggest threats to salmon?

Atlantic salmon are a particularly vulnerable species because they need freshwater, marine and coastal habitats during their complex lifecycle.

The major pressures on the Dee salmon population are climate related across their life cycle. In the freshwaters of the Dee there have been severe floods in recent years, which has led to riverbed instability, removal of some spawning gravels and impacts on egg and juvenile survival. Invertebrate food sources are also impacted by significant floods; fish growth is critical to produce healthy smolts and their successful migration.

Summers are becoming hotter and drier; the Dee has excessive summer temperatures that routinely disrupt fish growth and cause stress. The risk of drought is now one in every two years. This causes direct mortality of young fish as their habitat dries out. There is also likely to be indirect mortality, as a reduction in growth can lead to a reduction in size at smolt migration, which is linked to marine survival.

Early-year droughts are more likely due to the loss of the Cairngorms snowpack, which previously fed the river during the spring and assisted with smolt migration. It also helped cool the water. Without snowmelt, water temperatures can go straight from a cold winter to a hot summer. It is the moderate temperatures of the spring that enable cold-blooded salmon to achieve their greatest growth rates.

Has the Dee Fishery Board considered stocking?

Stocking has been a very common salmon management tool, including here on the Dee in the past, however, the Dee Fishery Board stocking operation ended in 2005 because of evidence that it was not providing any benefit to the fish populations.

We carried out a review of stocking in 2015 that highlighted the potential for harm that could arise from stocking the Dee. Last year, the River Dee Trust carried out a further Stocking Review, seeking new and updated information. The 2015 conclusions were, if anything, strengthened. Although stocking is not ruled out under specific circumstances, the risks are very well known that stocking may harm wild salmon stocks. Therefore, the Fishery Board have decided not to consider ‘restocking the river’, stocking where there are wild salmon present, or taking adult salmon from an area with low numbers to provide eggs for a hatchery.

Stocking could be considered to tackle very specific problems, but such action would need to be well understood, including any genetic implications, to make sure it achieves more good than harm. In most cases, stocking is used to counter other impacts which are best addressed directly and our view is that we must tackle the root causes of salmon decline.

Further reading – Scottish Government’s 2023 Stocking Review; NASCO review

What harm could stocking do?

Inappropriate stocking could damage an existing wild salmon population. This may be through competitive effects, the removal of wild broodstock from the river, and the introduction of less suitable genetic material into the population. It also draws limited resources away from tackling the direct impacts driving the salmon decline. As stocked salmon have lower survival than wild salmon, then the preference is always to retain the fish in the river if possible.

Has stocking worked in other rivers?

Some salmon reared in a hatchery and stocked into the river will survive. However, to be successful, stocking has to increase salmon returns above what is being achieved by the wild population. Unfortunately, many stocking programmes have not been monitored to answer this crucial question. The West Coast River Carron, for example, has shown that stocked offspring survive and return as adults. What it hasn’t answered is whether they compete with wild fish or there could be the same proportion of fish returning if the stocking had not taken place. It is not known whether the stocking programme has increased or decreased the long-term security of the Carron population if the stocking was to be discontinued.

Stocking can be successful if it is the appropriate solution – and therefore it is often combined with other recovery measures for success - and it tends to work best when wild stocks are at very low levels, close to or possibly extinct. For example, the River Tyne recovery was based on the cleaning up of the Tyne estuary and improvements in water quality, with the Kielder hatchery boosting numbers in the early years. The Tordalselva in Norway was recovered using liming to tackle acidification, and stocking in the early years also aided in bringing the population back from near extinction.

Should young salmon be removed from the river to protect them from extreme weather events?

The Storm Frank floods in 2015 likely harmed the Dee salmon stock in the short term, but as an isolated incident it is something that the stock can recover from. However, Storm Frank-type events may be much more common in the future.

The river is the best hatchery available and it is just not feasible nor sustainable to take all the salmon out of the river to protect them. It deprives fish of life in the river which is when they gain their survival skills. There is much more to do in using natural tools to provide habitat cover and shelter for eggs and fish. Over time, our salmon will adapt to this changing climate.

Our view is that instead of taking fish out of the river to try and protect them from their environment, we must ensure that the river provides a suitable environment in which the fish will survive and thrive even when such events do occur.

What can be done instead of stocking?

The focus of our salmon management is to address directly the threats facing salmon. This includes not only habitat restoration, but issues such as predation, water quality and factors affecting their transition to the marine environment.

Habitat restoration is vital to ensure the Dee salmon population has any chance of a future in the changing climate: Without suitable habitat to create a resilient river catchment then our salmon simply will not survive. We have seen how habitat restoration benefits salmon – for example, our Beltie burn and Garbh Allt restoration sites where salmon are now spawning once more.

Habitat restoration such as instream and bankside improvements are appropriate methods to manage and restore salmon populations, but they are generally done at a very small scale and therefore effects are not seen at the catchment level. This restoration is needed at scale, on a catchment wide basis, to help the population and we are committed to achieving this.

What rivers have recovered their stock levels by habitat improvement?

Examples of rivers in recovery are few, which is understandable given the overall decline in salmon numbers throughout their North Atlantic range. The Clyde is a good example of a river that is recovering. This is due to the improvements in water quality and barrier removals that enabled salmon to return – from zero returns in 1980 to over 1,000 adult salmon returns in 2020. Within the Clyde catchment, habitat restoration and obstruction removal have been highlighted as being successful in restoring salmon to various tributaries.

Further afield, the River Skjern in Denmark is a good example of how habitat restoration, and in particular barrier removal, has enabled the salmon population to recover from very low levels. This work has been carried out since 2004 and is part of a £50 million, holistic approach involving the compulsory purchasing of land and re-meandering of river channel, and has also included stocking to assist with recovery. The Skjern was reviewed as a case study in the River Dee Trust’s Stocking Review.

How will habitat restoration work if salmon numbers are low?

Where salmon numbers are low and not close to the carrying capacity of the existing habitat, we would expect that the habitat restoration will help by improving fish quality (e.g. health, size), ultimately giving those fish greater chance of survival. So in these situations, the process by which habitat restoration helps stock recovery is much slower, requiring the whole life cycle survival rates to be considered. In addition, habitat will improve juvenile survival by provision of shelter from predators/floods/droughts. This is more so with the ever-challenging climate regime, and so a more appropriate measure is number of fish saved, rather than number of extra fish added.

How long will habitat restoration take?

The decline in salmon has been built on decades and centuries of human impacts and will not be turned round in a matter of months. It will take time to restore habitat and provide resilience to the climate changes - not only temperatures but the floods and droughts we are experiencing more of. We have just launched a 20-year programme of work, which is a realistic timeframe for habitat restoration and achieving catchment resilience. But we are very concerned that time is not on our side. This is why we are looking at additional actions, such as conservation translocation, that can be taken urgently on a temporary basis (years) until the catchment is restored.

What do we mean by conservation translocation?

Conservation translocation is an intervention to move and then release salmon into the wild for conservation purposes. We are looking to trial this on the Dee to help the most vulnerable sub-populations of salmon in our upland tributaries which may otherwise become extinct.

We are pursuing options of kelt reconditioning and smolt to adult supplementation (described in the Stocking Review in 2022). These options would involve fish (spawned female salmon kelts or juvenile smolts) being removed from the river and then returned to the river in the following year(s), thus avoiding the high mortalities that these stages of salmon experience. They can then spawn naturally in the river when ready. Any fish husbandry would respect genetic selection and structuring, leading on from innovative international work in Norway and Canada.

These methods would ensure that the fish released are best able to survive, rather than trying to release huge numbers of fish throughout the catchment. Initial pilot work could, if successful, be extended through the upper Dee catchment. We would compare our intended approach to such a conservation programme as being carried out with wild cats in the Cairngorms National Park.

What do we expect to achieve from this work?

Our approach combines short term measures that will bring the most vulnerable sub-populations of salmon away from the brink of extinction, whilst creating the habitat to enable larger numbers of salmon to be supported and a healthier, functioning river ecosystem to ensure salmon populations, and all biodiversity, have more opportunity to thrive under future climate scenarios.

Should we consider gene banking?

Gene banking is a preservation tool to ensure that the genetic material that has been created through evolution and natural selection is not lost. It is the genetic material of salmon that allows them to survive in such a wide variety of situations and develop traits uniquely suited to the pressures that local population experiences. The genetic material is preserved in a gene bank, and at some point in the future will be reintroduced back into the wild population.

The biggest pressures salmon face are climate-related and so are not short-term, nor are these pressures expected to revert back to previous levels. Therefore, whilst salmon genes could be preserved, it may be that there would not be a time when it would be appropriate to return these genes to the wild populations. Given the climate predictions, the best outcome would be that salmon adapt to future conditions, and this requires natural selection processes to continue to operate in the wild. The challenge is whether adaptations can occur in time. Our work is to effectively buy salmon time so that adaptation can take place.

What role does NASCO have?

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, NASCO, Is an organisation of 6 governments plus the EU. Its objective is to conserve, restore, enhance and manage the species, which it does by encouraging international cooperation, sharing of information, achieving agreements, developing and signing up to policy, etc. It was set up in the 1980s to protect salmon at sea and negotiated a ban on salmon fishing in international waters. It acknowledges that limiting salmon exploitation at sea is not sufficient to halt the salmon decline.

Its clearest advice to its members is that they should increase the number of healthy wild salmon smolts going to sea. It is up to members to follow this guidance.

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