Last week the team headed up to the very top of the river to carry out the annual salmon fry counts. By the very top I mean that part of the Spey mainstem upstream of Spey Dam. There is about 20km of river above Spey Dam but I think it is fair to say that the salmon population up there is not what is should be or once was.
We have 11 mainstem survey sites above Spey Dam, including one within 1.5km of the source of the river at Loch Spey. We didn’t have time to survey that uppermost site this year but its omission was of little relevance to our overall findings.
Access was secured through Rio Tinto in Fort William and once the paperwork formalities had been completed with their staff at the dam we headed to the first site behind Sherramore Lodge.
We found a few fry at this site and a few salmon parr but the fry were trout, setting the scene for the rest of the day.
After completing what was the furthest downstream site on the schedule we headed for the uppermost. In 2012 we found 17 salmon fry at this site but none this year.
Working our way back downstream the pattern was repeated; a few trout fry, the odd trout parr and the occasional salmon parr turning up at most sites.
It was noticeable that in the upper sites all the salmon parr that we caught were large, i.e. over 100mm and almost certainly two year olds.
Two smaller salmon parr of under 100m were captured in two of the downstream sites, they were 1+ year old.
This apparent absence of salmon fry above Spey Dam is of great concern. There has been no stocking above Spey Dam since 2010 so any fish present since then must have been naturally spawned. The sizes, and age classes of the salmon parr found this year match exactly the salmon fry counts over the last three summers. The better than expected recruitment of salmon fry in 2012 produced reasonable numbers of salmon parr last year with a lower number remaining as two year olds this summer, all of which will smolt in 2015. If the same absence of fry occurs next year the Spey above Spey Dam will be virtually bereft of juvenile salmon.
So in contrast to recent salmon fry counts on the Fiddich which were the best I have ever seen, this was the worst. There endeth a very disappointing day. Not so much a day of salmon fry counts more a day of no salmon fry counts……