Europe’s biggest salmon research project has commenced in the north-east of Scotland, with equipment installed at seven major rivers.
Receiver devices have been put in place at sites including the Deveron, the Findhorn and Moray’s world-renowned River Spey, which will help to keep track of juvenile salmons, known as smolt, when they migrate to the sea.
The multi-agency fish tracking scheme was launched by the Atlantic Salmon Trust last April to discover why the species’ numbers are dwindling.
The initial focus is on tracking juvenile Atlantic salmon as they leave the Moray Firth’s river network for the sea.
A lack of salmon has caused major problems for anglers who frequent the River Spey, with last year’s catches dropping to record low levels.
Spey Fishery Board chairman Roger Knight hopes that any information gained from this three-year £1.3 million project will help them in their bid to revitalise Scotland’s fastest flowing river.
He said: “In most Scottish rivers, the numbers of salmon have been declining and we already have a wealth of information about the juvenile salmon in our river but not what happens in a marine environment.
“With this project, we can find out more about the decline of adult salmon and use the evidence gained to base management decisions on that, develop our knowledge and see where it takes us.
“The fishing season at the Spey has got off to a promising start with lots of optimism among the anglers and quite a few big fish being caught.”
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Salmon catches on the River Spey dropped to 3,178 during 2018 – the lowest since records began in 1952 and more than 2,000 less than the previous year
The sharp drop has been blamed on a perfect storm of an exceptionally hot summer and a declining amount of fish returning from the sea.
It is a UK-wide problem as for every 100 salmon that leave UK rivers for the sea, less than five return – a decline of nearly 70% in just 25 years.
The Missing Salmon Project will help to find out where and why Atlantic salmon are dying as they migrate down seven major rivers in the Moray Firth, out through the estuaries and for up to the first 62 miles of their oceanic migration.
More than 800 juvenile salmon will be caught in traps and fitted with a tracker which the receivers installed in various point in Moray Firth will pick up on.
Matt Newton from the project said: “This is a fantastic collaborative project that where we will be tracked over 850 fish across seven different river systems, over 350 receivers and further out into the Moray Firth and the ocean than we have done before.
“It’s been a fantastic effort from everyone involved to get this £1.3million together.”
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