An ambitious project harnesses the power of technology to finally reveal the secret life of wild Atlantic salmon – backed by £ 400,000 from the Scottish government.
Atlantic salmon begin their life in streams and rivers, before migrating to the high seas to grow up and return home to spawn, connecting vast ranges of diverse habitats.
Little is known about the migratory routes of wild salmon when they leave our rivers, but they travel great distances to North Atlantic feeding areas and Scottish salmon can be found in areas ranging from seas to West Greenland to the Norwegian Sea.
A number of factors, including climate change, have resulted in a severe decline of the species in recent decades and the West Coast Tracking Project is one of a wide range of measures used to build the resilience of the species. iconic.
The multi-year initiative sees highly trained biologists, including some from the west coast fishing trusts, tag young salmon with miniature acoustic transmitters, each with their own unique signature, as they begin their migration.
Strategically placed receivers record each tag’s signal, allowing each fish’s progress to be tracked as it passes through multiple listening sites.
The information will fill major knowledge gaps about smolts as they migrate from freshwater through the key area of the coastal zone and will be combined with data such as sea lice distribution and ocean currents.
This will provide a strong evidence base to inform aquaculture planning and regulation, as well as to inform decisions on the location of renewable energy facilities at sea.
Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “The rebirth of salmon populations and the habitats they depend on will provide multiple benefits to society and will play an important role in our ambitions for the rural economy.
“The suite of actions we are taking across Scotland underscores our commitment to tackle the twin crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss.
“At the same time, we continue to advocate for greater collective action on the international stage. “
This project, which is managed by Atlantic Salmon Trust, Fisheries Management Scotland and Scottish Government Branch Marine Scotland, will continue for a second year with funding from the Scottish Government, industry representative body Salmon Scotland and donations private.
Mark Bilsby, CEO of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, said: “The work being done to understand how smolts migrated out of ten rivers in 2021 was a gigantic geographic and logistical challenge, met by the surge of support from people and organizations on the ground – from those of the Solway Firth, to West Sutherland and across the Outer Hebrides.
“Scottish government funding will allow work to expand into 2022 so that we have a better understanding of how young salmon use our coastal areas. This practical information is essential to better protect wild Atlantic salmon.
Dr Alan Wells, Managing Director of Fisheries Management Scotland, said: “We warmly welcome this additional support for the West Coast Monitoring Project. Information on wild salmon migration patterns will contribute to our understanding and ability to manage interactions with marine developments, such as fish farms and marine renewable energies. The results of this crucial work will help inform policy and regulation, including the regulatory framework for fish farms currently under development by SEPA. “
Tavish Scott, Managing Director of Salmon Scotland, said: “This is a welcome government investment that builds on the joint work between Salmon Scotland and Atlantic Salmon Trust. We want to understand the migratory patterns of wild fish on the basis of good science. This collective work aims to achieve this goal. Salmon Scotland looks forward to an update from the project managers on what we have learned from the first year of monitoring wild fish in early 2022. “
The beacons transmit a high frequency “ping” at regular time intervals, every 18 to 38 seconds. The acoustic ping transmitted by each tag is unique to that tag, allowing each fish to be tracked.
Acoustic Fish Tags have a battery life of approximately 77 days and continue to ping until their battery runs out. This battery life covers the time elapsed from tagging the salmon, moving downstream, and exiting in coastal waters.
The pings sent by the tags are detected by acoustic receivers. The receivers for this study are placed on anchored buoys, ensuring that they remain in their intended position throughout the study.
The receivers are able to detect pings emitted by fish tags up to 350m away, depending on water conditions. The receivers have a battery life of up to 18 months.
The Scottish Government’s wild salmon strategy, delayed due to the pandemic, will be released in early 2022.