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WATCH: Feargal Sharkey gives passionate speech to save Atlantic salmon

By Gavin Musgrove

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Renowned conservationist and ex-Undertones frontman Feargal Sharkey gave an impassioned plea to save the Atlantic salmon before it is too late.

And he told the packed audience at Boat of Garten Community Hall that if he was in charge of Scotland he would make the fish the country's national emblem.

The music legend was speaking at the official launch of The Spey Catchment Initiative (SCI) as a registered charity and proved to be a charming and eloquent special guest.

Mr Sharkey, who had flown up from London and stayed at the Boat Hotel in Boat of Garten last night, gave an exclusive interview to Highland News & Media ahead of his address.

He said there were two reasons why he had journeyed to Strathspey in support of the SCI launch.

The music legend explained: "One, the joy and the extraordinary thing that is the River Spey and second the Spey salmon.

"And to give you an example of this and this happened completely randomly – I did not plan it, I could not plan it.

"This morning I was sitting in the restaurant in the hotel having breakfast chatting to Charlie (Whelan) and there is a couple sitting next to us.

"The lady leaps across with an American accent and said she had heard us chatting about fishing.

"Here was a couple that had flown all the way from San Diego in California to get the opportunity to fish for salmon on the River Spey.

"That is the kind of recognition and global standing it has on the planet.

"But here is the downside. They thought Scotland was utterly brilliant, they thought the local people here were amazing, the ghillies were just great but they are going away disappointed and saddened because they have not seen a single salmon and they are not coming back."

Feargal Sharkey was the special guest speaker at the event to promote habitat restoration of the River Spey catchment area.
Feargal Sharkey was the special guest speaker at the event to promote habitat restoration of the River Spey catchment area.

Mr Sharkey said that salmon had 'unfortunately suffered death by one thousand cuts'.

"For Atlantic salmon you literally have to start at the tiniest wee burn in the Cairngorms and follow that path all the way down the Spey out into the North Atlantic and all the way back again.

"I can tell you that 97 per cent of the salmon born in those wee burns do not come back into this river to spawn again.

"So something has happened to 97 per cent of those fish."

"This is the bit I am intrigued about. Today I hope it is a celebration of the Spey and the Spey salmon but also I hope a bit of a word of warning.

"If you have watched in the last few months the 'Wild Isles' series by David Attenborough – brilliant television – but according to him the Atlantic salmon has only got 20 years.

"If we do not do something really radical then it is extinct; it is over, it is finished.

"So we have one chance and I want to talk to people about this today if we can not find a way to conserve and protect one of the most iconic rivers and most iconic species of fish on the planet – one that a couple from San Diego were prepared to save up and travel to the other side of the world to fish it – then what chance is there to save the Tay, Dee or the Tweed.

"It is game over for Scotland; game over for our rivers, game over for the Atlantic salmon."

Feargal Sharkey gave a passionate speech supporting action to save the Atlantic salmon before it is too late.
Feargal Sharkey gave a passionate speech supporting action to save the Atlantic salmon before it is too late.

Mr Sharkey knows the area from previous trips – including fishing and distillery expeditions.

He said: "We were doing a distillery tour and I was driving and clearly not partaking and I thought; 'Come on, we'll go to Grantown and have lunch'.

"I pulled off the A9 and God bless Mrs Sharkey – she had never been here before –but she said: 'Hold on I recognise that name Grantown-on-Spey promptly followed by 'You better not have a rod in the back of this car!'.

He said he and Mrs Sharkey had done a grand tour of the Highlands at the end of last summer to see more of the region which is clearly close to his heart.

"I have been coming up to the Highlands fishing for many years but I had never toured the region myself.

"I have to put my hand up driving through Glencoe was amazing and by the way I have seen a lot of this planet and got to experience a lot of stuff but I just want 'Holy, f***, did Scotland get this bit right!"

Mr Sharkey, whose solo career included the chart blockbusters 'A Good Heart' and 'You Little Thief', said he had not performed his music for quite a while: "I have not done that for 30 years – it makes you hot and sweaty'... "I have not done that in anger, professionally since I was in my late 20s and early 30s."

He declared: "Left to my own devices I'd be quite happy standing waist deep in a river somewhere."

Mr Sharkey is a passionate fly fisherman and told how his love of the sport had started with his options at school. He has become well-known in more recent years for his campaigns against river pollution in the UK

The mission of the newly established Spey Catchment Initiative is to create a sustainable, climate-resilient, and thriving natural environment for wildlife and communities throughout the Spey catchment.

Covering an area of 3,000 square kilometres with 36,500 kilometres of streams and rivers, the SCI has been a public-private partnership since 2010 and has successfully delivered numerous projects, including the award-winning Allt Lorgy River Restoration Project.

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