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.
Salmon fry count survey site at Sherramore Lodge. Doubt if anyone would disagree that this is the sort of habitat that a salmon fry’s dreams are made of. Note the white van in the background, one of many in the area as part of the Beauly Denny powerline upgrade.
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.
Selection of trout fry from above Spey Dam
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.
The uppermost site with Shesgnan Bothy behind. It is not a big river up here but those riffles were perfect salmon fry habitat
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.
Again nice salmon fry habitat downstream of Melgarve (well the instream bit at least!).
Trout fry caught at one of the survey 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.
A very well conditioned salmon parr of 139mm from the site at Garva Bridge, not much wrong with the feeding experienced by that fish. Scale readings showed it to be 2+ years old.
Two smaller salmon parr of under 100m were captured in two of the downstream sites, they were 1+ year old.
One and two year old salmon parr.
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……
Spey Fishery Board