A major change in the way Natural Resources Wales works to protect wild salmon has been agreed.
A comprehensive review of scientific research found that hatchery-reared young salmon have a much lower survival rate than young wild fish, and can harm existing wild salmon populations.
NRW now intends to phase out salmon stocking by 2015 and close its hatcheries at Mawddach, near Dolgellau and Maerdy near Corwen.
The proposal was confirmed this week by NRW’s board.
The Cynrig hatchery, near Brecon, will remain open and NRW will assess the possibility of developing a freshwater research centre on the site.
Ceri Davies, Director of Knowledge, Strategy and Planning for Natural Resources Wales said: “We are passionate about making sure that Wales has a healthy and sustainable salmon population. To do that, we need to use our resources as effectively as possible.
“We’ve done a lot over the years to improve water quality and, together with our partners, to improve habitats and resolve barriers to migration. We believe the benefits of these are now starting to have effect, and this will improve freshwater conditions for our salmon and other fish.
“Our rivers are an important part of our environment. They provide essential habitats for fish and other wildlife as well as giving people opportunities to enjoy the outdoors through angling and other water-based activities.”
NRW says it looked at a wide range of scientific evidence from the UK and abroad which suggested there are more effective ways to support salmon in Welsh rivers. A public consultation did not come up with any evidence to the contrary.
Salmon became extinct on the River Taff during the industrial revolution and stocking played a part in its recovery along with some other previously industrialised rivers.
A study has now revealed that, after stocking provided that initial boost to restore the population, more salmon would be produced if fish were left in the river to spawn rather than taken for hatchery rearing.
Money raised from the sale of the hatcheries will be used to improve fisheries in rivers which have previously been stocked, including work to improve habitats or to open new migratory routes.
And NRW will be working with partner organisations to implement these improvement programmes.
Over the last 10 years NRW, Welsh Government and the EU funded Sustainable Fisheries Programme has, in partnership with Rivers Trusts and others, invested millions of pounds t.o improve fish stocks.
This includes opening up over 1,500km of access to spawning grounds by building fish passes and improving more than 500 kilometres of habitat by, for example, fencing to keep livestock away from river banks and prevent delivery of sediments to the rivers.
The decision has gained support from Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE, Director of The Wye and Usk Foundation, who said: “NRW have been very courageous in these proposals, challenging what are some extremely entrenched beliefs.
“Although it might be argued that given the weight of scientific evidence the cessation of stocking is long overdue, historically, changes to any fisheries management or byelaw have invariably been watered down to get past a minority of vociferous critics.
“This time the new organisation has gone with the evidence and honoured the sustainable principles enshrined in their name."
Ceri Davies of NRW added: “We recognise that there will be some debate around this decision, but scientific evidence shows that this is the best course of action to secure the future of wild salmon and angling in Wales.
“We have an opportunity to think creatively about the best way to support fish stocks so our rivers can continue to provide benefits to the wildlife, people and economy of Wales.
“We have agreed to develop a robust action plan to do this and will report back on progress.”