Estuarine netting and fish identification

In my youth I spent several summers working on an estuary salmon sweep netting station. One of the fascinations was the range of species caught although with a mesh size of 2″ plus knot to knot most the interesting little fish got away. It was therefore with great interest that I signed up for an estuarine and marine fish identification and monitoring course hosted by the Moray Firth Trout Initiative (MFTI). Along with its partner organisation the MFTI has been developing monitoring in coastal habitats around the firth.

The first day of the course was office based where marine fish identification was covered along with monitoring techniques. The second day was spent in beautiful early autumn sunshine at Findhorn Bay, an extensive sheltered intertidal bay where the River Findhorn and several coastal burns meet the sea.

Starting at low tide we carried out several sweeps of the net. The sense of anticipation when the net is closed and pulled ashore never diminishes and the first few sweeps highlighted the productivity of estuaries such as the Findhorn Bay.

Nice catch of sandeels in one sweep

Nice catch of sandeels and brown shrimp in one sweep. There were hundreds of brown shimp in some of the hauls along with smaller mysid shrimps which were present in huge numbers in the shallow margins.

The team closing the sweep net on the shores of Findhorn Bay

The team closing the sweep net on the shores of Findhorn Bay

Steve Coates, course leader, helps the course members with fish identification.

Steve Coates, course leader, provides advice to the course members on fish identification. Steve was one of the pioneers of formal estuarine fish monitoring in the UK, culminating in the development of the EU Water framework directive monitoring regime.

As well as sandeels and shrimps a number of other fish varieties were caught including flounder, plaice, gobies, 3 and 15 spined sticklebacks. It was interesting to observe how the fish fauna changed with the flooding tide and the ingress of more saline conditions. The range of fish species caught was relatively limited but we were operating quite a distance from the open sea.

The water framework directive relies on more than one technique including fyke netting.

Steve and Captin Conroy from the Ness demonstrating the deployment of fyke nets.

Steve and skipper Conroy from the Ness DSFB demonstrating the deployment of fyke nets – what a perfect day to be on the sea shore.

This was a very useful course. We have had ambitions to learn more about the ecology of Spey Bay, an important transitional zone between the river and the true marine environment. Spey Bay is not on the same scale as Findhorn Bay and doesn’t have the same range of habitat but the productivity of estuaries is well known. It would be good to do some exploratory netting in Spey Bay next summer, especially as there is concern locally with perceived declines in the inshore environment.




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