Pink salmon egg trials

As readers will know non-native pacific ocean pink salmon (Onchorhynchus gorbuscha) appeared in numbers in many UK rivers this summer. The occasional pink salmon had turned up in Scotland in the past, including a single specimen caught in the lower Spey in 2015, but almost always in very low numbers. The origin of these strays is considered to be from stocking carried out in northern Russia (as far back as the 1950s). The initial stocking in Russian waters appeared to fail but from 1985 “odd year” spawning stock was introduced into rivers in the White Sea area. Self sustaining populations quickly developed resulting in an expansion into Finnish and Norwegian rivers soon after.

The most likely explanation for the widespread incursion in 2017 was that these northern Europe stocks had a very good year; this tendency to expand their range during a bumper year is a known feature of pink salmon ecology.

This blog is to report on the egg monitoring trials we were involved with in conjunction with Marine Scotland Science (MSS), and other rivers, but before that I will provide a brief summation of the situation on the Spey.

On the 10th July the first rod caught fish was reported from the lower Spey. Over the next few weeks another 10 or so rod caught fish were reported including as far upstream as Abernethy, over 80km from the sea.

A fresh run pink salmon caught in the lower Spey in July 2017

A cock pink salmon caught in the Spey at Abernethy, 81km from the sea, on the 17th July by Scott Bruce. As far as we are aware this is the furthest upstream that a pink salmon had been recorded in Scotland.

On the weekend of the 12th August pink salmon were reported to have been seen spawning in several rivers in the NE of Scotland and on the 14th August SFB staff counted ten pink salmon redds in the Spey below Fochabers with redds also reported by ghillies further upstream.

Pink salmon redd in lower Spey on the 14th August. Note the summer vegetation on the banks, a distinct change from the autumn foliage normally associated with salmon spawning in the Spey.

Following these reports of spawning a number of actions were taken by Government and fishery boards including redd destruction on some rivers. The Spey considered that it was important to gather data on the incubation of these eggs in the river which led to our participation in a national monitoring programme coordinated by MSS. This programme ended up rather limited in extend with only the Spey and the Ness able, or willing, to collect eggs from redds.

Prior to the eyed ova stage salmonid eggs are susceptible to disturbance with sharp movements such as knocks resulting in high mortality. We therefore had to wait until a sufficient period of time had elapsed after spawning for the eggs to reach the eyed stage. Subsequently on the 6th and 9th Spey we managed to excavate 200 live eggs from two redds in the river. These eggs were then placed in two secure incubators which were buried in the gravel on opposite sides of the river.

Pink salmon eyed eggs collected from redds in the Spey on the 9th Sept 2017. The eyes of the developing embryos can be seen clearly inside the eggs.

The incubators provided by MSS. The eggs were placed in the chamber on the chamber on the left. The incubator was then buried so that the other chamber remained just on the surface. A yellow temperature logger was also secured to the incubator to record the temperature within the riverbed gravel. Another temperature logger recorded the temperature at the surface.

One of these incubators was then lifted occasionally to check on the development of the eggs. On the 9th October, on the first inspection, we found that there were only 7 live alevins (out of 100 eggs) remaining in the incubator. The incubator was also full of sand, which may have contributed to the high mortality.

Some of the few surviving alevins recorded in the incubator one month after installation. To this date the mortality rate was 93%. A few dead eggs can be seen top right.

The surviving alevins were placed back in the incubator which was buried again in the gravel. On the next visit, on the 30th Oct, only five live alevins were found, the other two had died. However it was clear that the pink salmon alevins were developing well, and as expected given the relatively mild temperature regime of the Spey this autumn.

By the 30th Oct the alevins were developing well with pigmentation along the flanks, the yolk sacs getting smaller on each visit.

The next inspection on the 13th November found that the yolk sac absorption was almost complete on the most advanced alevin and they were developing the characteristic silvery pink sides.

A well advanced pink salmon alevin on the 13th November 2017.

The last and final visit to the incubators was made on the 27th November when it was found that there were only three live alevins with another recently deceased. The most advanced at this point were on the point of becoming fry as they had absorbed virtually all the yolk sac. The trials were terminated then but the alevins were virtually at the point of becoming fry (when they leave the gravel as free swimming fish and when they have to feed for themselves for the first time).

The remaining three pink salmon alevins at the end of the trial. The most advanced was ready to emerge as a free swimming fry. Note how thin the fry had become, an adaption to enable them wriggle up through the gravel when they are ready to emerge.

On closer inspection back at the office it was noted that the ventral slit on the most advanced fry was almost but not quite “zipped up”.

The yolk sac was virtually all gone with the skin of the alevin/fry closing to seal the underside of the belly.

The other, undisturbed incubator was also lifted on the 27th November. None of the 100 eggs placed in this incubator were found to have survived to the fry stage. There was no evidence on sand entering this incubator so the 100% failure rate was unexplained. The excavation of the eggs from the redds combined with the incubator may have contributed to the high mortality rate in the trial, or was this high mortality rate typical of that experienced by the other other pink salmon eggs in redds in the river? It was interesting to read that in the River Ness trials all the eggs died during incubation.

The temperature loggers associated with the trial were downloaded the same day. The temperature profile was one of almost continual decline (as expected during autumn) with the temperature falling from 14oC in early September to 2.5 by the end of the trial.

The readings from the surface temperature logger at the end of the trial.

So whilst we should be cautious about concluding too much about survival of the pink salmon eggs under natural Scottish river conditions we did learn a great deal about the development and incubation. It is clear that the pink salmon developed as expected, although perhaps taking a little longer than anticipated. We have still to download other temperature loggers in the area; when we do so we will have the full temperature regime during the entire period, from spawning to fry emergence. However, this is likely to be around 1100 degree days (e.g. 110 days at 10oC), which is longer than occurs in their native Pacific rivers range, probably a consequence of the declining temperature profile as opposed to the more natural decline followed by increase in the spring.

So there we have it, a UK first for the the Spey. As far as we are aware this is the first time that pink salmon eggs have been monitored to the fry stage in a UK river. The survival rate was very low, the incubation a little longer than anticipated, but the timing of spawning was months earlier than our own native Atlantic salmon. The key question now is whether those fry which do emerge will be able to make the transition from dependency on the resources provided by the mother through the yolk sac to feeding for themselves. They will emerge from the redds into a frigid and relatively barren River Spey. They are supposed to migrate immediately to the sea, where the temperature will be a little warmer but not exactly teeming with life at this time of year. However, this is the world’s most successful salmon species; we would be foolish to think that they will all perish.

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Spey Conservation Policy 2018

Scottish legislation requires that all salmon caught before the 1st April must be released.  In order to protect the integrity of the Spey stock and to maximise their spawning potential, the Spey Fishery Board’s policy is that all fish caught up to and including the 31st May should be released alive. A copy of the 2018 Spey Conservation policy can be downloaded here.

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Week Commencing 11th September 2017

Last week’s forecast was accurate, the rain was possibly heavier than anticipated and the river reached close to six feet by the weekend. I’m not sure whether the high water will re-arrange some of the gravel deposited in June’s spate. Next week there is a little rain forecast most days, although Tuesday will probably be the best day of the week. The tides are building again all week.

And the rain came down!


The high water obviously suits some beats more than others.

Gordon Castle finished with close to twenty salmon landed.

Orton was lightly fished but the gillies were able to have a go.






Delfur were around the double figure mark again, thanks to Mark for the photograph.

Bernard Hammick Delfur

Rothes had an excellent week with Eric Wardle’s party landing twenty, including a day with over six landed. There is still some rods available next week I see.

Arndilly were close to double figures as well. Thanks to Charles Harman for the update and pictures.

Skinny fresh grilse

Nice fresh fish.

Caroline Pratt Arndilly.

Grantown had one of the best week’s of the season with more than thirty-four reported. There were also over fifty sea trout landed. Several of the salmon were in the high teens. James Chambers pictured with an 18lb from the Long Pool.

James Chambers 18lb Long Pool Grantown

Kinchurdy also had a good week. With around twenty salmon landed and a handful of seatrout. Thanks to Bobby Hall for organising the photographs for me.

Again Dot Potter appears in most of the pictures!

Dot Potter Kinchurdy

Dot Potter again

And Dot yet again.

Richard Norman Kinchurdy.

Gillie, busy at lunchtime!

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Week Commencing 18th September 2017.

I was saddened to learn that Joe Brandie from the Fiddichside Inn passed away early this morning. Joe had been the Landlord in the Fiddichside Inn since taking over from his wife Dorothy. I am sure visiting anglers as well as the locals who visited the Fiddichside will sadly miss Joe.


Again the forecast was reasonably accurate, and the rain mid week pushed up the river again it peaked early Friday morning around the five-foot mark. Next week is forecast to be mainly dry and sunny, though todays rain at the top of the catchment might give a small rise on Monday. It is forecast to be quite wet on Friday perhaps finishing the season with a small spate.



Gordon Castle finished with forty-four. Thanks to Ian tenant and his team for the updates and photos.

Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle

Emily Newbald Gordon Castle.

Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle

Alex Robertson Quarry Gordon Castle.

Orton were close to double figures.



Delfur Eric Wardle having dropped down from Rothes ended up with another week in the twenties.

Eric Wardle Delfur 25lb.


Rothes were lightly fished but ended with half a dozen, Andy Burton had this beast from Creakie.

Andy Burton Rothes.


The rest of the river continued to pick away.

Aberlour Angling club had around seven salmon and a handful of sea trout. Pictured below to visiting anglers, Harry Boyle and Mick Cartlidge.

Mick Cartlidge Aberlour.

Harry Boyle Aberlour.

Grantown ended with around twenty salmon reported and there are still a few big sea trout being landed.

Kinchurdy were close to double figures of salmon. Many thanks to Edwin Whyte for the pictures.

Edwin Whyte Kinchurdy

Edwin Whyte Kinchurdy

Edwin Whyte Kinchurdy.


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Week Commencing 28th August 2017.

Last weeks forecast was mainly correct, there were couple of showers but nothing to get excited about. The river has dropped back to around summer level. Next week we return to the mixed forecast, there will be some rain on Monday, and Tuesday morning then Wednesday will be sunnier. With perhaps a little more rain before the weekend. The tides are building again all week.



Ian Tennant tells me they finished the week at Gordon Castle with around thirty fish landed.

Gordon Castle.

I hear Orton had a better week than of late finishing in the twenties.

Delfur were again into double figures, thanks to Mark and Grant for the pictures.

Toni Douetil Delfur.

Grace Douetil Delfur.

Abbi Douetil Delfur

Jamie Hardy Delfur.

I believe Rothes finished just short of double figures.


The middle river had a new lease of life, Wester Elchies had seven Sam tells me this was the best week since June.


Kinermony landed a monster from the Boat Pool, it was measured at 41” it would have been a lovely fish to land in June!

Something big and ugly in the Boat Pool.

Nick Plum 41″ salmon Kinermony.


Both Carron and Laggan were close to double figures, the Tullis party had eight the best pictured below.

Joe Tallis Carron.


Laggan should have had at least a dozen but Friday was a day of missed opportunities with four lost. Grant Morrison on a busman’s holiday had this fine clean sea trout one evening.

Sea trout Laggan

Grantown again was quiet but a few fish were landed the best a 15lb fish from Lower Bend.


Kinchurdy continue to fish well. Don Griffin and Brian Taylor had 3 days, Don said, great few days a few fish and Bobby made our trip one of the best.

Brian Taylor Kinchurdy.


Kevin Shanks sent me a photograph as well and says, I am just back from another great week at Kinchurdy, I managed seven sea trout to 5lbs and a 10lb salmon. As usual a great beat to fish and great help from Gillie Bobby Hall.

Kevin Shanks Kinchurdy.

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Week Commencing August 21st 2017.

Next week the forecast is for no rain, none at all, well I wait to see if that is correct. Temperatures are slightly above average for late summer peaking around the mid teens. Tides it will be Friday till the tides start to build again.


Catches. Things are pretty slow.

Gordon Castle finished in the low thirties, thanks to Ian Tennant and his team for the updates and pictures.

Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle


Delfur again crept into double figures. Mark sent me these two photographs, different fish caught by the same angler on the same beat in a week, one lovely and fresh still with sea-lice the other has been in a while.

Fresh Fish.

Coloured Cock fish

Sean Howe visiting from Seattle had his first salmon and sea trout. Joanna Howe had a salmon and a grilse, many thanks to Grant for his pictures.

Sean Howe first Salmon Broom Delfur.

Sean Howe first sea trout 3lb

Joanna Howe Collie Delfur

Joanna Howe Broom Delfur


The rest of the river picked away, with most beats ending up with a couple of fish.




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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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Week Commencing 14th August 2017.

Last weeks forecast was incorrect as far as the heaviest rain fell at the start of the week, pushing up the river on Tuesday. The rise last night was quite small and is already dropping away. Next weeks forecast is back to changeable, there will be a little rain mid week, and some periods of sunshine. The tides are building till Thursday then there will no new water for a week.



Gordon Castle had over seventy for the week from their beats. Ian Tennant tells me they were mainly older fish.

Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle.

Gordon Castle.

Gordon Castle.

Orton had a better week than of late, getting close to mid teens.




Delfur were again into double figures. Thanks to Grant for the picture.

Mrs Constantine’s fish Delfur.


Rothes finished just shy of twenty. Mike tells me the majority were coloured.

The middle river was pretty quiet the rise in water brought a few fish on but not many. Aberlour Angling Club had five as did most of the beats round and about.

Grantown had a few more anglers out and not surprisingly a few more salmon were landed finishing the week with at least eight reported, the best 19lb from Tarric Mor.

Kinchurdy continue to catch both salmon and sea trout.

Pictured below is French guest with his first ever salmon of 6lb safely returned.

French guest and Gillie Kinchurdy.

Kinchurdy Sea trout

The Delfur Swallows have come on quickly and are about ready to fledge.

About ready to fledge.







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Week Commencing 17th July 2017

Again the forecast was reasonably accurate but perhaps I under-estimated how warm it was to be at the start of the week. Next week will again be changeable, starting the week sunny, with some rain mid week and overcast towards the weekend. It will be interesting to see whether today’s rain pushes up the river.

The tides continue to build till mid week, then there will be no new water till next week.


There was another Pink Salmon caught at Gordon Castle this week, again I suggest you follow the advice here,


I received this interesting picture this week, I was asked what I thought the salmon had encountered. Looking at the picture it is clear it is not the usual seal damage, I believe the marks are too far apart to be a dolphin, so have come to the conclusion that this fish had a close encounter with an orca. I will be happy to be corrected.

Close Encounter with?


Atlantic Salmon Catches.

The Lower River continues to fish well. Tony Smith again was successful on the Fochabers Association water.

Tony Smith Fochabers.

Gordon Castle finished the week with around twenty fish, thanks to Ian Tennant for the picture.

Geordie Gordon Lennox.

Orton had around ten fish.


Delfur Mark tells me they ended up with over twenty for the week, and sent me these pictures.

Nathalie Mountain Delfur.

Charlotte Horn Delfur

Rothes, though lightly fish still finished with double figures.

Craigellachie, Wester Elchies Carron and Laggan all finished with a handful each.

Last week I hear that John Corrister from the Isle Of Man had a 22lb fish from Aberlour, this week , John continued his success this time with a grilse.

Grantown surprisingly was lightly fished and the catches reflect this.

Kinchurdy continued their excellent season with the sea trout landing over 60 this week.

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