The public is being asked to sponsor a radio-tagged young salmon to find out why they are on the verge of extinction in many Scottish rivers.
The “owners” will even get the chance to name their smolt and a league table of the best performing fish will be published at the end of the year to find out who is the champion – and conversely, worst performing – swimmer.
The unique “sponsor a smolt” scheme is part of a £1million- plus project aimed at trying to halt the alarming decline in wild salmon stocks.
It was launched in the Moray Firth.
The Missing Salmon Project will track hundreds of fish in an attempt to uncover what has caused populations to drop by 70 per cent in the past 25 years.
On some Scottish rivers they have disappeared completely.
The three-year scheme will seek to try and find the reasons and answers for such declines.
The project will be the largest of its kind to take place in Europe and will tag and track smolts further than ever before.
The sponsorship scheme is for the 800 Smolts being tagged on the Moray Firth.
A spokesman said: “These smolts will then start their incredible migration from the headwaters of The Spey, The Devron, The Findhorn, The Ness, The Oykel, The Shin and The Conon.
“There are acoustic receivers placed both in river and up to 100 Km out to sea in the Moray Firth. The scientists from The Atlantic Salmon Trust will be tracking these precious fish and understanding how we can help protect them as they start their amazing migration.
“How can you help? Each acoustic tracking device will cost £300 and it would be of enormous help if individuals would sponsor a smolt for £100.
“You will be able to name your smolt and choose which river you would like to sponsor a smolt from. Once your pledge has been received, the team will be in touch to get these details from you.
“All the money raised will go to The Missing Salmon Project.
To sponsor a smolt go to www.atlanticsalmontrust.org/donate-now.
Last month Sir David Attenborough made an emotional video over the plight of wild salmon – blaming fish farms for one of the reasons they are on the verge of extinction in many rivers.
Defending the farming industry, Hamish Macdonell, of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said: “The Scottish salmon sector fully supports the International Year of the Salmon. This is reflected in the effort our farmers are making helping community schemes designed to restore the natural habitats of our wild salmon.
‘Sir David is absolutely right that there are a range of potential, manmade threats to wild salmon populations – the most pressing of which come from climate change, pollution, over-exploitation and changes to our oceans.
“We share Sir David’s concern about escapes from open-cage farms – which is why our members have worked very hard to reduce these to as low a level as possible.”
Rising temperatures have affected feeding grounds and migration while smolts have been threatened by a sea lice infection.
Scotland has 297 licensed fish farms and salmon is the country’s single biggest food export, worth £600 million in 2017. It is estimated to provide nearly 2,500 jobs, with thousands more supported by the aquaculture sector.