Salmon tracing study begins to show results


An ambitious salmon tracking study is beginning to shed light on how the species uses the west coast of Scotland.

The West Coast Monitoring Project is a unique study carried out in partnership between Marine Scotland, Fisheries Management Scotland and the Atlantic Salmon Trust which aims to better understand how our young salmon smolts use the west coast of Scotland, in the ultimate goal of better protecting them.

Following the project’s launch in spring 2021, work is beginning to indicate migration patterns and preferences, including how individual smolts move through sea lochs and how fast they move.

Early findings also show that our salmon smolts disperse widely along the west coast and migrate using many different routes.

A smolt was tagged and released on the River Orchy on April 26 before being detected in the Sound of Mull on May 1. He then migrated to the southern islands of the Outer Hebrides on 11 May, covering a total distance of 189 km in 16 days.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “I welcome the early results of this innovative and ongoing project which is improving our understanding of salmon migration routes.

“Reviving salmon populations and the habitats they depend on will bring multiple benefits to society and the rural economy.

“As we take a series of steps across Scotland to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, we continue to advocate for greater collective action on the international stage that will reverse the decline of this emblematic species.

study salmon

This groundbreaking three-year project uses state-of-the-art technology to track our salmon smolts from their rivers of origin, through the coastal waters of Scotland and out to the North Atlantic continental shelf, closing key gaps in knowledge about their swimming behavior and how they are using our coastal waters. This essential work will help to inform the future regulation of coastal developments, such as
as aquaculture and offshore renewable energy installations, so that we can better protect this iconic species.

In the first year of the project (2021), more than 1,200 salmon from ten rivers have been tagged with acoustic tags, which emit regular high-frequency “pings”. Over 200 underwater listening stations have been deployed in strategic locations across the west coast of Scotland, including between Skye and Uist.

Young salmon smolts are detected by a uniquely identified “ping” from the acoustic tags, providing insight into smolt movements and a broader understanding of their migratory journey.

Mark Bilsby, chief executive of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, said: “There has been tremendous effort from everyone involved in this project. It’s great to finally shed light on the previously unknown behavior of our young smolts and how they use this complex environment.

“To see people who care deeply about the future of wild Atlantic salmon come together has been incredible and the ability to share resources and knowledge has only strengthened the project for the benefit of wild fish.”

Salmon are tracked on the west coast of Scotland

Continuing in the second year to strengthen our knowledge, work is well underway to deploy the equipment by the project partners and the teams of the network of Fishery Boards and Fisheries Trusts, supported by the University of Glasgow.

Welcoming the second year of the project, Dr Alan Wells, Managing Director of Fisheries Management Scotland, said: “The West Coast Monitoring Project is a wonderful example of working in partnership which will allow us to better protect our precious salmon. Savage. Building on the results of year one, year two will deepen our understanding of the timing and speed of salmon migration through sea lochs and the routes taken in areas of marine development, such as the aquaculture and offshore renewable energies. The resulting information will directly inform planning and regulation.

These early results from the first year of the project are a huge step forward in understanding how our young salmon use Scottish coastal waters and provide the critical knowledge needed for more wild salmon to not only survive, but thrive, in our rivers and at sea.

The West Coast Monitoring Project is funded by the Scottish Government, Salmon Scotland and the Atlantic Salmon Trust.

The Atlantic Salmon Trust was formed amid growing concerns about the significant decline in the numbers of wild Atlantic salmon. The Trust is recognized as one of the first conservation charities to work on behalf of wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout.

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