Livet redd counts

Following the hatchery visit this morning Steve and myself proceeded uphill to complete redd counts in two sections of the Livet. By the time we got there the rain had started but then a dreich, snowy late November day is to be expected for redd counting. Despite the overhead conditions everything else was okay for the task at hand although the river was starting to rise and colour at the end.

Typical excellent mixed juvenile and spawnign habitta in the upper middle Livet. there were about six redds in the frame. four on the top left and two in a channel on the right hand side.

Redd counting is an excellent way to see the river and its character. This photo shows the typical excellent mixed juvenile and spawning habitat found in the upper middle Livet. In the shot there were about six redds, four in the light coloured patch top left and two in a channel just off to the right.

One of many dead cock salmon seen, this particular on would have been a double figure fish in his prime.

One of many dead cock salmon seen, this particular one would have been a double figure fish in his prime.

We counted two sections today, although they were contiguous. The lower section count was 82 salmon and 47 trout redds, a satisfactory count in a stretch 2.1km long.  When I say satisfactory I mean that the egg deposition would be in excess of the hypothetical conservation limit target (7/m2) although that figure may be subject to change during the development of what may become actual conservation limits.

One difficulty with redd counting in a river like the Livet is differentiating between salmon and sea trout redds as both are present in numbers and there is considerable overlap in fish size. Normally features such as size, profile, position in channel, substrate and freshness of the redd provide an indication of species but we saw one or two pairs of spawning salmon today cutting little redds that looked like those we assumed to be trout! Redd counting in a mixed area like this is not easy. Some areas which had been used by sea trout in late October now featured freshly cut gravel indicating some utilisation of the same spawning locations by both species.

The lower section ended at the confluence with the Cromie Water, a productive Livet tributary. We back-tracked a little and found that the lower Crombie was full of redds, mostly old along with some of more recent vintage.

The lower Crombie Water is quite different in character to the Livet, more stable looking with martginal weeds. The substrate was darker but ideal for spawning.

The lower Crombie Water is quite different in character to the Livet, more stable looking with marginal weeds. The substrate was darker but, in this section, absolutely ideal for spawning. To summarise our understanding the Crombie is a great sea trout burn with a few salmon and in its upper reaches supports a prolific juvenile trout population almost to the exclusion of its larger (usually) brethren.

The upper Livet stretch redd count amounted to 69 salmon and 65 trout. Another good total with some live salmon seen and many dead cocks. The only previous redd counts available from those stretches date from 1993/4 when the counts were of similar magnitude to those recorded today.

The rain today, and snow melt, will rule out redd counting in the upper catchment for a day or two but we hope to be out in a lower tributary tomorrow – assistance always welcome!

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Canoe sawbill counts

All hands were roped into completing one of our regular sawbill counts today. The Spey mainstem from Broomhill Bridge downstream is counted synchronously on four occasions throughout the year. Last year an October count was introduced to provide supporting data for our application for an earlier piscivorous bird scaring/control licence.  That application was successful and this year the licence period started three months earlier than in previous years extending from Oct to May.

Myself and Roger canoed the river from Craigellachie to Spey Bay this morning, and what a dreich morning it was. Not the best visibility at first but at least the wind was relatively light. Thankfully the river had risen about 6″ overnight saving us from what could have been a very bumpy ride. There was only one place where we had to disembark and walk the canoe over shallows. Another location with a mean reputation for capsizing was avoided by walking the canoe round, although with hindsight it didn’t look as bad as some of the other rough bits that we did sail through.

The main point of the day was not to have fun in a canoe but to count the fish eating birds. The count of herons (no licence applied for but counted for interest) was steady with 21 in total between Craigellachie and the sea, one of the highest counts for that section of river. The numbers of goosanders increased as we progressed downstream with a total of 247 counted (equivalent to 8.51/km river), the highest total ever recorded in that section. In addition we recorded 5 mergansers and 11 cormorants (all in the tidal zone). We also keep a record of goldeneye but none were seen today in that long stretch of river, although their numbers do tend to be higher in the spring. The counts for the remaining river sections take a little while to arrive in the office but it is possible that the Oct 2015 count will be one of the highest recorded on the river.

Ready to set off again after a pitstop at Fochabers bridge

Roger ready and raring to go after a pitstop at Fochabers bridge.

That number of goosanders on the river has the ability to consume vast numbers of salmon fry and parr on a daily basis (there is no other food source of such significance, salmon are the dominant and by far the most abundant species in the river) but at least the licence is in place to allow scaring and ultimately control although of a limited number. However it should always be borne in mind that the worst situation of all would be if there were no goosanders on the river; that really would be a disaster.

Talking about salmon it would be a close run thing between whether we saw more goosanders or adult jumping; indeed on several occasions fish almost jumped into the canoe. Not quite in the same league as some of these american videos showing the introduced Asian carp jumping in front of speeding boats but not far off!

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Spey Dam salmon fry counts 2014…………..

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.

Salon fry count survey site at Sherramore Lodge. Doubt if anone would disagree that this is the habitat that a salmon fry's dreams are made of.

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

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 at Shesgnan Bothy. It is not a big river up here but that riffle was perfect salmon fry habitat

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.

Again nice salmon fry habitat downstream of Melgarve (well the instream bit at least!).

Trout fry caught at one of the survey sites

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 experineced by that fish. Scale readings showed it to be 2+ years old.

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 ane two year old salmon parr.

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……

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Good fry counts in the Fiddich

Today we made a start on the electrofishing surveys in the River Fiddich. It was a delayed start to the day so we only managed four sites but they were productive. We used the same timed survey approach that we use in the Spey mainstem and in the other larger tributaries. This technique hadn’t bene used in the Fiddich before so there was no direct baseline rather it was more for comparison with other timed surveys across the catchment.

The first site was below the old railway bridge crossing just upstream of the Fiddichside Inn. I had sussed this location a few weeks ago and had high expectations as the habitat looked ideal.

To get to the site we had to battle through 8′ high Himilayan balsam, the tallest I have ever seen. However it was worth it as was we caught 322 salmon fry and a few parr in the three minute survey. This was the highest count from any of our fry surveys over the last three years.

322 salmon fry and parr in these two buckets

322 salmon fry and parr in these two buckets

There was a tremendous number of fish at this site, many of which were relatively large for fry in July. The thermal discharges from the many distilleries in the Fiddich is known to enhance the growth of fish in this tributary. At each of the four sites today there were a number of fish over 80mm (as well as larger more obvious parr). We took many scale samples as usual we will will know for certain once they are read if they were fry or small parr. The biomass of fish caught was high with damaged tail fins on many fish: a not unusual occurannce in sites with high fry densities.

Unfortunately due to my failure to activate the GoPro headcam the survey was not recorded on video. A pity as there was an impressive number of fish. Let’s just blame the jetlag!

The survey site in the lower River Fiddich

The survey site in the lower River Fiddich

The next site up was at Mains of Newton Farm. Here we caught 263 salmon fry and a few parr (subject to scale reading), along with a few trout and eels. This is I think the second highest salmon fry count we have recorded during the salmon fry counts.

The survey site at Mains of Newton. Holding the site board is Kirsteen Macdonald our seasonal summer assistant. With 3 years previous experiance with the Kyle of Sutherland fishery board Kirsteen was able to hit the ground running and has been a very able assistant. Kirsteen's father is a ghilie on the Oykel so she is well versed in salmon matters.

The survey site at Mains of Newton. Holding the site board is Kirsteen Macdonald our seasonal summer assistant. With 3 years previous experience with the Kyle of Sutherland fishery board Kirsteen was able to hit the ground running and has been a very able assistant. Kirsteen’s father is a ghilie on the Oykel so she is well versed in salmon matters.

The next site was opposite Kinninvie House. We couldn’t find a site with optimum habitat for fry but we still got 142 in the 3 minute survey. This site had the largest average salmon fry size of the day at 64mm, comparable with the very lower reaches of the Spey.

Kininnvie survey site; a bit too deep to be considered optimum fry habitat but we still had a good catch.

Kininnvie survey site; much of the site was a bit too deep to be considered optimum fry habitat but we still had a good catch.

The upper site today was downstream of Balvenie Distillery. The count was lower here; 75 fry were caught in 3 minutes, just above the average for all the sites done on the Spey mainstem this summer.

Balvenie Distillery survey site

Balvenie Distillery survey site

Nice trout from Balvenie site

Nice trout from Balvenie site

We will continue with the timed surveys on the Fiddich tomorrow. There appears to be no shortage of salmon fry in the lower Fiddich. I always reckon that whilst electrofishing in core habitat in a healthy salmon river you should catch a salmon fry/parr within 10 seconds of starting. That was certainly the case today.

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