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Issue 20 - Salmon killers on the loose

Scotland Magazine Issue 20
April 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Salmon killers on the loose

Wild salmon are under threat from among other things, pollution and hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon that have escaped and are causing mayhem. Graham Holliday reports

Scotland’s salmon are famed internationally, but the species is under threat. Many rivers where salmon could once commonly be seen leaping are seeing fewer and fewer fish.

In January 2005, the World Wildlife Fund published their Marine Health Check. It concluded that Atlantic Salmon are in ‘significant decline’ within the United Kingdom. Scotland boasts 80 per cent of the UK’s Atlantic salmon and is Europe’s largest haven for the species.

However, salmon levels are now a third less than the levels recorded in the 1960s and 1970s. Female salmon lay up to 15,000 eggs in the upper reaches of shallow freshwater rivers in late October and February. The small fry remain river bound for up to three years when they are known as parr. In the second, third or fourth year they grow into smolts where their fins turn black and they begin to take on the distinctive silvery hue.

They then begin their journey to the sea before returning home, sometimes leaping three metre high waterfalls, to repeat the life cycle.

The numbers of returning salmon is reducing and human intrusion is a key cause. In January nearly 700,000 farmed salmon escaped during heavy storms. Only around 58,000 of those were confirmed dead, the rest are now swimming in the Scotland’s waterways causing potentially serious harm to the wild population.

“It is not merely the number of farmed salmon that escaped but the activities of those that may survive,” says Laura Bateson, joint marine programme officer for Scottish Wildlife Trust and WWF Scotland.

“Wild salmon are especially adapted to their river’s characteristics. Should a small percentage of the farmed escapees survive and return to Scottish rivers, they may interbreed with the wild salmon.”

The concern is that any hybrid offspring could weaken the wild population.

A new four year, £3 million European funded ‘LIFE-Nature’ project is hoping to conserve the species. The project will look at eight salmon rivers. Rivers will be cleared of obstructions, including 25 obstacles along 187km of habitat, pollution levels reduced, riverside habitat improved and an awareness campaign will encourage river owners, schools and the general public to protect the environment the salmon relies upon.

“Local schools in seven of the partner areas will be involved by developing a programme of ‘Salmon in the Classroom’ activities being led by the Galloway Fisheries Trust,” says Dr. Colin Bull, a biologist specializing in salmon, who will coordinate the work.

“The Trust will be developing a website to allow sharing of information and resources with teachers who wish to participate.” The Rivers Dee, Spey, Tweed, Tay, South Esk, Bladnoch, Oykel/Cassley and Moriston are all set to benefit from the project. Netting on two of those rivers will now be controlled.

Wild salmon is a protected species in Scotland, and the species is endangered in more than 30 per cent of the UK’s historic salmon rivers. If the new project is to succeed it will need the salmon farming industry to sharpen up its act.

“These continuing losses by the industry pose an unacceptable risk to wild stocks,” says Andrew Wallace, director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards.

“The Scottish salmon farming industry has to get to grips with it if it is to convince the public that it can farm salmon in a sustainable way.”

Atlantic Salmon Trust
Scottish Wildlife Trust
WWF Scotland

Where to see salmon:
The Falls of Shin form part of the River Shin in Sutherland. There’s a visitor centre where you can watch salmon heading up river in autumn. The centre is open between 9 .30am – 6pm in summer and 10am – 5 .30pm in winter.

There are many walks through the Scots pine and Norway spruce of Achany Forest which is home to buzzards, chaffinches and Merganser ducks.

Falls of Shin, Achany Glen, Lairg, Sutherland
Tel: +44 (0)1549 402 231


Park House, Lairg
Tel: +44 (0)1549 402 208
Park House is a Victorian family home located on the banks of Loch Shin. The dining room overlooks the loch. B&B is from £25 per person per night

The Nip Inn Hotel, Main Street, Lairg
Tel: +44 (0)1549 402 243
Six bedroomed small hotel with ensuite rooms. On the menu there are steaks, game and seafood. There’s also a well-stocked bar. From £23 per person per night

2 Quail Restaurant & Rooms, Castle Street, Dornoch
Tel: +44 (0)1862 811 811
The award winning 2 Quail Restaurant and Rooms in Dornoch is within striking distance of the Falls of Shin. The food is the creation of Grampian TV guest chef, Michael Carr. His sumptuous spreads have been shortlisted for many awards. From £80 per room, based on two people sharing.

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