The evidence for structuring of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) into distinct reproductive populations and for genetic differentiation and local adaptation is compelling. The effect of genetic variation among populations is demonstrably a factor determining the economic value of salmonid fisheries in the British Isles. Genetic considerations are, therefore, a matter of self-interest for fisheries managers and a shared interest with those advocating more general approaches to the conservation of diversity and variation. The local population is the basic unit of production and, therefore, the preferred unit of management. However, salmonid populations are numerous and many are small. These factors limit practical possibilities for management at the population level. We suggest that this difficulty can be addressed by combining populations in fisheries-biased management units that comprise interchangeable, nested groupings of populations that are both genetically and biologically meaningful. This population-based approach addresses the necessity of managing the fisheries in ways that are consistent with the conservation of adaptive potential in relation to the dynamic aspects of populations, their capacity to respond to changing environmental conditions, and the likelihood that salmonids will remain a worthwhile resource for the future. Crown Copyright (C) 2002 Published by Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.