Tommore Burn smolt trap 2016

The Tommore Burn trap was installed on the 4th March by Jimmy Woods, primarily to test that it was working okay, but it was left in operational mode over the weekend. On Monday morning, to everyone’s surprise, there were 43 fin-clipped presmolts and one fin-clipped 1+ parr. Tuesday’s catch was 24 fin-clipped presmolts and four 1+ parr, with 4 fin-clipped presmolts today and one unclipped.

Since the deployment of the trap last Friday 71 fin-clipped presmolt salmon have been trapped plus a few fin-clipped 1+ parr (which will not smolt in 2016) and one unclipped salmon presmolt. The trap was not deployed until the 20th March last year when the catch in the first eleven days totalled 7 fin-clipped fish. The catch subsequently increased in early April as water levels rose. The total catch of fin-clipped presmolt/smolts in 2015 was 352, therefore the catch in this early phase in 2016 is already 20% of the 2015 total.

The 9am water temperatures have been low, 1.9oC yesterday morning for example, with snow falling nightly.

It is not possible to say at this early stage what the rest of the 2016 Tommore Burn smolt run will be like and as the trap was not put in place until later last year it is impossible to know if we missed a similar early run in 2015. In the past we haven’t deployed smolt traps as early as this because even in the Truim and Tromie (which are located much higher up the catchment) the first reasonable catches were not normally made until about the 20th March.

Most readers will, I’m sure, be aware that the Tommore Burn trap is part of the monitoring associated with the mitigation stocking of this lower River Avon tributary. Fish access is blocked a short distance upstream of the fish trap by an impassable culvert under the Glenlivet Road. The Tommore trap will be monitored daily from now on so that an assessment of the remainder of the smolt run can be made.

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Tommore Burn project: stocking monitoring

Readers of the blog and followers of the Spey will be aware that the Tommore Burn has been stocked with 0+ salmon for a number of years and since 2013 all stocked fish have been fin-clipped. We surveyed two of the regular monitoring sites in July one very still and midge infested evening along with some of the Spey ghilies. The remaining two sites we left until the last day of the 2015 electrofishing programme, mainly so that we would be able to assess how well the 2015 stocked fish had done.

The four electrofishing sites cover the lower, middle and upper reaches of the burn, straddling a range of habitat zones from mixed broadleaf to moorland fringe in the upper site.

The results from the 2015 monitoring with 2014 for comparision, are shown below.

Tommore burn electrofishing results 2015 and 2014.

Tommore burn electrofishing results 2015 and 2014. There were no salmon fry in 2014 as all the monitoring was done prior to that years stocking. It can been seen that good densities of salmon fry had been established in both sites in 2015. Overall the mean salmon parr densities were similar in both years, 12.0/100m2 in 2014 compared to 12.9/10m2 in 2015. We have no  late season surveys from 2014 with which to compare the 2015 results. Trout fry and parr densities were also higher in 2015 than in 2014.

The lower Tommore Burn stocking monitoring site.

The lower Tommore Burn stocking monitoring site.

Although we are only dealing with two sites and small numbers of fish it was interesting to note that the mean size of the stocked fry in the lower site was 55.4mm whereas it was 58.5mm in the upper site.

Teo fin-clipped salmon fryb from the upper site. These fry were sampled one month after stocking. Whilst they are lean the tail fins are very healthy looking

Two fin-clipped salmon fry from the upper site. These fry were sampled one month after stocking. Whilst they are lean the tail fins looked perfect.

We are building up a good set of data from the Tommore Burn now; electrofishing and smolt trapping, both of which we will continue in future years.

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Tommore Burn ghillies electrofishing

Last night we enjoyed the company of a group of Spey ghillies who joined us during the monitoring of the stocking carried out in the Tommore Burn last year. Last September the ghillies fin clipped all the parr stocked in the burn therefore providing easy visual recognition of stocked fish.

After meeting at Ballindalloch Jimmy Woods eventually led us to the monitoring sites. We planned to repeat a couple of monitoring sites that we had surveyed in both 2012 and 2013. We set up the stop nets and from the start we caught fish, most of which were salmon parr. The habitat in the Tommore Burn is excellent with moss covered boulders and undercut banks. After we demonstrated the banner net operation the Craigellachie ghillies took control of the fish catching. Despite the banter about their relative, recent, lack of experience in netting fish they did a great job. The gusto with which Dougie Ross took to the task was a revelation; definitely biologist material there!

Steve assisted by the Craigellachie ghillies electrofishing in the Tommore Burn. Chris can even do it standing on one leg.

Steve assisted by the Craigellachie ghillies and Steve Brand electrofishing in the Tommore Burn. Chris can even do it standing on one leg.

The Tommore Burn (a tributary of the Avon) has been stocked upstream of an impassable culvert on the Glenlivet Road. It had been stocked previously in 2012 with salmon fry in June although they were not fin clipped. There was great interest in the fish and it turned out that all were fin clipped. The condition of the fish was very good and they ranged in size from 72mm to 103mm at the first site.

Not the best photo but this is one of the fin clipped fish stocked in 2013

Not the best photo but this is one of the fin clipped fish stocked in 2013

None of the fish stocked in 2012 were found. Judging by the size of the fin clipped fish they are all likely to smolt as two year olds next year. If a parr reaches 90mm in length by the end of the growing season it is considered likely to smolt the following spring. Therefore in the Tommore Burn most of the stocked fish will be big enough to smolt as two year olds.

22 fin clipped parr were found in a stretch of the burn about 30m long in the first site with lower numbers in the second site. We normally find that we catch about 60% of the parr in the first run down a site so the actual parr population present would have been higher. A comparison of the salmon and trout densities in the two sites surveyed are shown below.

TSite SA1b was the first site surveyed. I mentioned last night that the salmon parr density was probably in the excellent category but it didn't quite make that, although good is what it says on the tin.

Site SA1b was the first site surveyed. I mentioned last night that the salmon parr density was probably in the excellent category but it didn’t quite make that, although good is what it says on the tin.

It can be seen that the density of salmon parr at both sites was higher this year than that recorded in 2013. There were quite a lot of salmon parr in the first site but the SFCC classification system for the Moray Firth region is demanding; it takes a lot of parr to make it into the dark green category. The trout parr density has declined in both sites. That is not unusual in stocked sites, the increased competition from the stocked fish often depresses the existing fish population, however experience has shown trout densities can recover quickly in the absence of stocking or even when stocked if environmental conditions favour trout.

All in all it was a very enjoyable evening. As with any type of culture the satisfaction of seeing the results of your efforts in the flesh never diminishes. No doubt every grilse in 2016, and every salmon in 2017 and even 2018 will be examined very carefully for the absence of an adipose fin!

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