Energy giant SSE has invested in a fully refurbished salmon hatchery which opened yesterday by a Ross-shire river.
The new building, just north of Contin, will ensure the fish have a safe place for artificial breeding before being allowed to run free upstream.
SSE’s network of dams in the Conon River system means salmon require this assistance to reach their native spawning grounds.
A hatchery building has been in place at Contin since 1958 but the old building, the water supply pipeline and dam was no longer fit for purpose.
But the new building will have a capacity to house about three million fertilised slamon eggs at any one time.
The idea is to give Mother Nature a helping hand by fertilising the salmon eggs before storing them in the hatchery building, eventually releasing the fertilised eggs upstream of any obstacles in gravel beds in the spring.
It all starts when the salmon wade into the river and into a salmon trap at Loch na Croic, and the fish are caught by hand and a team mark down if they are male or female.
The caught salmon are then taken to a holding facility and the egg ‘stripping process’ begins. The fertilisation takes place before the eggs are taken to the hatchery for incubation in the winter.
The parent fish are then released and able to swim free none the worse.
SSE’s marine biologist Alastair Stephen said: “Central to the success of this hatchery scheme is our partnership with the Cromarty Firth Fishery Board. We have a legal and I would say moral obligation to look after the salmon here as their natural spawning grounds were affected by dams we put in the 1950s. Salmon are an iconic part of the Scottish wildlife and also bring in huge social and economic benefits to the area.”
Simon McKelvey, from the Cromarty Firth Fisheries Board, said: “At all times we endeavour to mimic nature so the salmon will be released as fry or eggs so they remain wild and remain exposed to natural selection.”
The new building is being opened and named after Lord Nickson in recognition of his former work as chair of the Cromarty Firth District Salmon Fishery Board.