SFB September Briefing & Pacific Salmon Update

The latest Spey Fishery Board Briefing for September 2017 has now been published and also includes an update on the Pacific Pink Salmon. The Briefing is available to download and read here.  In this month’s issue you will read about the following topics:

  • Pink Salmon Update
  • Juvenile Monitoring 2017
  • Spring Catch Results
  • Fochabers Burn

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Spey mainstem surveys update

After eight days of surveying we finished the Spey mainstem salmon fry index surveys today (below Spey dam at least). We usually leave the sites above Spey Dam for a couple more weeks so the results from there will follow in due course.

53 sites were surveyed although only 51 are reported below. The two other sites are an additional site introduced at Kinchurdy in 2015 and an alternative Aviemore site surveyed for the first time today. The results from the Aviemore site will be discussed below these sites are not presently part of our routine reporting network.

The Spey 2012 – 2016 salmon fry index survey classification scheme and the 2017 salmon fry counts are shown in the tables below.

Spey salmon fry index fry and parr classification scheme (based on 442 Spey surveys completed 2012 to 2016).

 

Of the 51 surveys only four were not in the good or excellent categories. The two sites in the low category were the perennial low fry count site at Phones and the site closest to Spey Dam.

The mean salmon fry count for sites downstream of Spey Dam in 2017 was 32.5/min, the highest mean count recorded during the six year monitoring period. This situation was not unexpected; there were good numbers of spawning fish in the mainstem last year and flows during the critical incubation period were benign. We have yet to do a mainstem survey, downstream of Spey Dam, where no salmon fry were found, but to find such consistently high numbers is unprecedented. The relatively high abundance of fry at present is readily observed by anyone who takes a few steps along the shallow margins. Fry are only the building blocks but our monitoring shows that high fry counts are usually followed by high parr counts in subsequent years; barring population limiting or regulating, events.

These surveys are primarily to assess the salmon fry population but we also catch parr. In 2016 the parr counts were published in the same format for the first time with similar colour coding based on 20% bands.

We start these surveys in the lower river, working upstream, and during the first day or two parr were notable by their relative absence. As we progressed upriver the parr counts improved with some sites producing their highest parr counts (Ballindalloch through Tulchan in particular). The mean parr count  (downstream of Spey Dam) is just below average for the sequence, with the lower river counts probably reflecting the lower fry counts in that part of the river in 2016. The Phones sites may be a low fry count site but it is often above average for parr, as was the case in 2017.  We noticed in 2015, another year with low parr counts in the lower river, the fry grew well, well enough that a proportion would reach the size threshold to become a one year old smolt. This is likely to happen again this year, although the future viability of young, and small, smolts is probably not as good as the normal older and larger type.

Most of the sites surveyed are considered to provide good or excellent habitat for fry, but not all. One example of a site where the habitat is categorised as parr in the Aviemore site S195L1. However, despite the poor habitat we still caught 53 salmon fry in three minutes today; even the poor areas of the Spey support decent numbers this year.

S195L1 survey site at Aviemore. The substrate is mainly sand/pebbles with the sampling done in little runs between weedy mounds. (Photo credit Sean Robertson)

There are few suitable run/riffle habitat sites in this part of the river but we did survey a new site today 1,500m further upstream. The habitat here was excellent resulting in a catch of 224 salmon fry, the highest count from any site this year. It is good to see that suitable habitat is being well used as fry produced in these small patches of good habitat will help populate the entire stretch with parr.

The new Aviemore site surveyed today. The substrate and fast, shallow, flows are ideal for salmon fry. The results from this site have been filed but are not presently used as part of the routine monitoring. (Photo credit Sean Robertson)

It was good to complete the mainstem surveys within a relatively short period during a period with consistent low water conditions. Our attentions will now turn to the Avon, and Livet, where we will repeat some of the surveys from last year to see if fry counts have recovered from the low values recorded in the wake of Storm Frank.

Incidentally volunteers are always welcome on these surveys. If you fancy a hard working day out in a beautiful part of the Spey catchment just get in touch.

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Spey electrofishing update

The water butts on my greenhouse have been virtually full for the last month, due to frequent top-ups from heavy showers.  Despite this the Spey, and tributaries, remain relatively low? Taking advantage of these good conditions for surveying we have cracked on with the electrofishing, mainly the timed salmon fry index surveys but also some quantitative surveys.

We have completed the repeat timed surveys of  the Avon, and Livet, to assess the population after the very low counts last year in the Storm Frank aftermath. Today we also completed the salmon fry index surveys in the Fiddich and last night we hosted the annual ghillies outing to the two middle monitoring sites in the Burn of Tommore to assess the population of stocked salmon parr in that burn.

It has been a week of contrasts so far; on Tuesday we completed the upper Avon salmon fry index surveys where we usually find the sparsest salmon fry population and the smallest fry, and today we did the Fiddich where in 2014 we achieved out highest salmon fry counts.

The salmon fry index survey results for the Avon catchment are shown in the table below.

It was good to see that the salmon fry counts had recovered to a similar magnitude to those recorded in 2013. The overall pattern is the same with the highest counts in the lower reaches, declining with altitude. The contrast with the very low counts from last year are stark. Take the results from site TA15L1 for example, (this site is just above Greys Run towards the upper end of the Ballindalloch beats). Last year we could only catch 4.3 salmon fry per minute, or 13 during the three minute survey. This year, and in 2013, we managed to catch over 240 in three minutes.

The upper Avon counts are generally low, primarily in our view to low productivity. One interesting site, which was an anomaly in 2013 and in 2017 is site TA84L1, which is downstream of the Allt Loin Bheag. This tributary is only accessible to fish for a short distance and is therefore insignificant as a fish producer itself but it, along with other tributaries in the area,  create a little pocket of productivity in an otherwise very low nutrient environment. In 2013 and 2017 the fry counts at this site were higher than those recorded in sites upstream and downstream. I also had a quick look at the mean size of fry from that site and found that they were 42mm compared to the low to mid 30mm for neighbouring sites.

A little green oasis. This tributary, which joins at the Avon at virtually 2000ft altitude is clearly more chemically rich than the Avon mainstem. In the vicinity of the confluence and for a short distance downstream the river bed supports mosses and, at this time of year, algae. This type of primary production must elevate the invertebrate population a little resulting in larger, and slightly more abundant fry.

The results from the Livet, one of the most productive of the Avon tributaries, were good with the fry counts four times higher than last year (Storm Frank affected).

Salmon fry index results from the Livet. 2016 was the first year that we did this type of survey in the Livet (except for a single survey in 2013) so there is not much of a baseline but the fry counts in 2017 were all in the good to excellent categories with one site in the super abundant category! The mean fry count in 2017 was more than four times higher than in last year.

Today we intended to have a relaxed day and I would have been happy to have made a good start on the Fiddich salmon fry index surveys. However, we were on a roll and in the end we completed all the monitoring sites in the Fiddich, with some pretty impressive results.

The mean fry count in 2017 was lower than in 2014 but the size and biomass of fry present in the sites downstream of Dufftown was incredible. As with the Livet all the Fiddich fry counts were in the good or excellent category with one coloured blue (reserved for counts greater than 100 per minute).

The record sheet for the site below the Balvenie warehouses is shown below (with one of the upper Avon sites for comparison).

Salmon fry index survey record sheet for the Fiddich at Balvenie and the Avon at Faindouran. Hopefully readers will be able to make out the figures. In the Fiddich site we caught 316 salmon fry  (in three minutes), excellent but the most remarkable feature was the size of the fry. The largest was over 100mm (to be confirmed by scale  reading) with all sizes from 50mm to over 95mm represented. A few large parr were also captured. The growth exhibited by the salmon fry in this Fiddich site means that many will potentially be large enough to smolt as one year olds; if they survive the winter. There were about 5 large fry per square metre of the river bed and with such a huge concentration of prey it was a wonder the place wasn’t infested with predators. Note the small size of the upper Avon fry in comparison, in fact all the Avon site parr, some of which could be three year old, were smaller than the largest of the Fiddich fry, which were only months old. Jim and I have a few years electrofishing experience between us and we agreed that what we witnessed today was unparalleled. There are reasons for this exceptional productivity of course: the temperature of the Fiddich is elevated by all the distillery discharges upstream and there may also be organic enrichment. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen.

 

A jumbo salmon parr of 147mm from the Fiddich today.

Yesterday evening we completed the remaining two monitoring sites in the stocked Burn of Tommore. Readers will no doubt be aware of the Tommore project. The Tommore is inaccessible to migratory salmonids due to an impassable road culvert and has been stocked since 2012, From 2013 it has been stocked with fin-clipped 0+ salmon parr from the Sandbank Hatchery. The monitoring results from the remaining two sites last night were the best recorded there over the last four years with the salmon parr density at one of the sites reaching 34.5/100m2; high enough to make it into the excellent category in the SFCC Moray Firth Classification scheme.

The mean salmon parr density in the Tommore Burn was almost twice as high a recorded in previous years, with improved densities at all four sites. Explanations for this good result from the Tommore stocking were discussed last night. The trout parr density has remained relativity stable since 2013 but the number stocked in the burn in the autumn of 2016 had been reduced. Perhaps this is a case of less means more? Another factor could be that the number of smolts trapped in 2017, as they emigrated from the burn, was the lowest over the three years of trap operation so it is possible that a higher proportion had remained in the burn for an additional year . although the size distribution didn’t suggest that was the case.

 

Electrofishing survey sheet from site SA1b in the Burn of Tommore. 29 salmon parr were caught at this site. Note the absence of salmon fry due to the impassable culvert downstream.

The Burn of Tommore appears to be supporting a good population of stocked salmon parr this summer; based on that we would expect the number of smolts to higher next year, potentially significantly higher.

 

 

 

 

 

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Spey Catchment Initiative Update 2016

The Spey Catchment Initiative Update for 2016 newsletter has been published and is now available to download here.  The update includes information on the following topics:

 

  • 2016 UK River Prize Award
  • Reconnecting Disconnected Side Channels – Aviemore
  • 2016 River Spey Catchment Management Plan
  • Growing Riparian Woodlands
  • Salmon Go to School
  • Demonstrating Green Engineering Techniques
  • Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Partnership (TGLP)
  • About The Spey Catchment Initiative (SCI)
  • Looking to the Future

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Smolt trap update

What a difference a week makes; this time last week the Avon smolt trap catch was ahead of the same date last year but one week on the running total is now well behind. In the six day period up to 26th April 2015 we caught over 2000 smolts in the Avon traps compared to 93 in the same period this year. Each year is different of course with snow featuring more than sun in the forecast on Speyside over the last couple weeks. The average river temp over that six day period this year was 5.3oC compared to 8.8oC last year. River levels have dropped over the course of the week whereas last year there was a small rise midweek. Still we are nearer the start of the normal smolt migration period than the end so there is time yet but it would be good to see the run increasing soon.

River Avon smolt traps daily salmon catch related to river height

River Avon smolt traps daily salmon catch related to river height.

River

River Avon smolt traps daily catch related to river temperature.

On the Tommore Burn the catch has been equally slow with one smolt trapped over the course of the last week. The temperature was only 3.1oC this morning but the snow over the last few days should produce a rise in water levels when the thaw arrives.

Tommore smolt trap running total 2015/2016

Tommore smolt trap running total 2015/2016

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Smolt trap update

Quick update on the Tommore and Avon traps

Tommore

Catches have declined since the big catch last Tuesday along with water levels.

Tommore Burn trap daily catch related to river level

Tommore Burn trap daily catch related to river level.The total presmolt/smolt catch to date is 307, well ahead of last year although the trap was deployed much earlier this year. On a like for like basis the catch this year is lower than in 2015 although we will never know if we missed a similar early run last year.

One interesting feature is the capture of 59 fin-clipped one year old parr (only 2 during the whole deployment in 2015). These are generally between 55 to 70mm and will not smolt this year. The trout catch in the Tommore is also well ahead of 2015; 82 trout have been caught so far compared to 7 at the same date last year (virtually none during the earlier deployment period this year). The same high trout catch has been recorded in the Avon trap and the Deveron guys report similar in the Fiddich and Deveron traps.

Tommore trap running total salmon presmolt/smolt 2015/16

2015/16 Tommore trap running total salmon presmolt/smolt

Avon

Catches have been steady over the last week. Two recapture trials have been completed with low recapture rates between 2.5 to 10%. The running total for salmon presmolt/smolt so far is 255 compared to 275 at the same date in 2015. The trout catch is much higher for the same date; 136 trout have been caught in the traps compared to 50 last year. Something different is occurring with the trout this year.

We are inspecting all the salmon careful for fin-clipped fish and on the 10th April four fin-clipped one year old parr were caught in the Avon traps. So far only 59 fin-clipped 1+ parr have been caught in the Tommore trap, including 11 on the 9th. Of course parr are likely to have been migrating out of the Tommore all winter so will not know if these were recent emigrants or fish which have been sitting in the Avon for a while. Four out of eleven recaptures seems improbably high compared to our smolt recapture trials, so it is unlikely that these were all released from the Tommore trap the previous day.

I’ll try to provide a further update before the weekend.

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Smolt trap update – a welcome late burst!

This time last year the smolt run was all but over in the Avon with daily catches down to single figures or just above. However no two years are the same and today’s catch of 231 salmon smolts and 29 trout was one of the higher catches this spring. Yesterday we had 156 salmon and 18 trout in the traps, all but two of which were marked and released back upstream as part of our assessment programme to quantify the total run. This morning we recaptured 10 salmon (6.5%) although we may still get more recaptures tomorrow. Even if we get a few more recaptures the smolt run down the Avon last night would have been in the order of 3,000. The river level this morning was 22cm on our gauge but the previous morning, the night when we caught 156 salmon, it was 41cm when the trap efficacy would have been lower – the challenges of trying to quantify the smolt run!

We have completed 12 mark/recapture trials covering a range of river flows from 16 to 47cm, so our strategy of pooling all the results into a single period for the run estimation calculations is probably fair. Overall the recapture rate so far this spring has been 8.96%. As the smolt run is not yet over I’ll refrain from publishing the ongoing run estimate but these nights with catches into the hundreds make a big difference. The basic figures to date are 5,134 salmon (14,035 in 2014)and 678 trout (725) with trap efficiency figures this year of 8.96 % for salmon and 3.3% for trout.

The Tommore Burn trap was removed today as the run was over with only 10 salmon smolts caught in May and 1 in the last ten days. The total number of fin clipped salmon in the Tommore Burn was 357, giving a estimated smolt production of 4.05 per 100m2 wetted area.

With the run continuing in the Avon we intend to operate those traps until the end of May at least – looks like another weekend away from the fishing then!

At the quarterly Spey Foundation meeting today we heard about low smolt trap counts from other parts of Scotland, not all of which were as badly affected by the “Bertha” spate in August last year. I will get some figures from other areas before the final blog on the smolt traps for this spring.

Some graphs below for you to ponder.

Avon salmon smolt catch related to 9am river level.

Avon salmon smolt catch related to 9am river temperature.

Avon salmon smolt catch related to river level

Avon salmon smolt catch related to river level

Avon trout catch related to river temperature

Avon trout catch related to river temperature

Avon trout catch related to river height

Avon trout catch related to river height

 

 

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Smolt traps update 26th April

It has been ten days since the last update so apologies for that. The numbers of smolts caught in the Avon traps increased greatly last week with the water temperatures increasing in the lovely sunny weather. This weekend it has turned a lot colder with snow falling down to below 500′.

The total catch in the Avon traps to date is 2647 salmon and 166 trout. The trout numbers this year are similar to 2014 but on this day last year we had caught 4543 salmon. We are expecting a lower smolt run this year due to the impact of the big August spate but with the exception of last week the winter of 2014/2015 and the spring of 2015 have been more normal compared to the exceptionally mild conditions pertaining last year. So the catch is lower so far but the peak of the run is likely to be later this year.

The catches in the Tommore Burn trap have been steady at a low level over the last two weeks although the 13 salmon smolts caught today was the best daily catch since the 9th April. The burn has been low so we may well see another burst of fish if the level rises again. In total we have caught 296 salmon and 32 trout in the Tommore traps. The vast majority of the salmon have been fin clipped but there is a proportion which have intact fins and may be wild smolts produced in the accessible part of the burn above the trap.

Salmon smolt catch at the Avon traps related to 9am river height

Salmon smolt catch at the Avon traps related to 9am river height in cm! Smolt number are the black bars, river height the blue line. (ingore the fact it says trout on the y-axis, that is an error)

Tommore salmon catch related to burn height (cm)

Tommore salmon catch related to burn height (cm)

Avon salmon smolt catch related to river temperature.

Avon salmon smolt catch related to river temperature. Temperature is a realy important factor for smolt migration. This week the numbers of salmon smolts captured increased on the back of a rise in temperature despite the river height falling.

Tommore Burn trap salmon catch related to burn temperature

Tommore Burn trap salmon catch related to burn temperature. In the Tommore Burn the water level appears to be a more important migration cue. Not surprising considering the small size of the burn. This may also explain why the migration appears to have been a lot earlier in the burn than in the river; the fish may take advantage of the higher early spring water levels.

We have undertaken a number of recapture trials in the Avon. I don’t have the results at hand but the recapture rate appears to be similar to those obtained in 2014. We also monitor the Avon traps for fin clipped fish and yesterday there were 6. Again I don’t have all the figures available but that was the highest daily catch of fin clipped fish. The recent catches in the Tommore Burn have been low so these fin clipped fish may have been earlier migrants that were waiting in the Avon until ready to move further downstream. Alternatively they may have been fish that left the Tommore Burn as autumn parr. Without applying a further mark to the Tommore fish we won’t be able to establish that.

On this date last year we had caught 146 salmon parr in the Avon traps. These are generally smaller fish in the 60-85mm range which will not smolt this year. Steve and I mentioned that we had caught comparatively few so far this spring; probably in the order of 30-40. Not sure what the implications are of that, if anything.

The forecast is for the colder weather to remain this week so we are expecting steady catches in the Avon traps.

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