Official re-classification of Spey Dam as a “barrier”

Official re-classification of Spey Dam as a “barrier” offers prospect of much improved access for spawning salmon to important upper Spey tributary for first time in 70 years

The Spey Fishery Board has welcomed the recent re-classification by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) of Spey Dam as a “barrier to fish passage” as this designation places an obligation on the agency to find a solution to the long-standing problems caused by the obstacle to salmon migration. Spey Dam was completed soon after the Second World War and since then the dam has severely curtailed access by salmon to the extensive spawning above.

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Roger Knight, SFB Director, said: “For many years we have been concerned about the negative impact of Spey Dam and the water regime associated with it. These concerns have been amplified by the step-change in juvenile populations as a result of the Dam; there is an abundance of juvenile salmon immediately below the dam, in stark contrast to the scarcity of juvenile salmon above it. In fact, in 2014, no salmon fry at all were found above the dam. These issues arise from the performance of the fish pass in the dam and the water flows emanating from it, compromising the ability of adult salmon to migrate up-river and the ability of salmon smolts to descend on their way to sea. Juvenile salmon have also passed through the screens at the off-take, from where water is diverted west to Fort William, with some dying as a result of being pinned against the mesh. In addition, fish are barred from accessing the historically important River Markie tributary.”

Roger Knight added: “We are very pleased that SEPA has now formally recognised the problems associated with the dam and, in the latest River Basin Management Plan for Scotland, classified both the structure and the area above the dam as ‘poor’. As a consequence, by 2027 there must be significant improvements to the status quo to ensure that Spey Dam and the surrounding habitat comply with the provisions of the relevant European legislation under the Water Framework Directive. In essence this means that measures must now be put in place to enable greatly improved fish passage. In time this should lead to a major boost to juvenile salmon numbers in the upper Spey.”

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Brian Doran, SFB Chairman, stated: “We welcome this decision. We have worked closely with SEPA for a number of years to understand the impacts of water abstraction in the upper Spey catchment. The proposal by Scottish and Southern Energy to transfer more water away from the Truim and Tromie tributaries was withdrawn in 2014 and now the negative influence of Spey Dam and its water regime will come under close scrutiny. We look forward to cooperating with SEPA in order to achieve the optimum outcome over the coming years for the long-term benefit of the Spey’s salmon stocks.”

Craig McKay, Chairman of the River Spey Anglers Association, and Grant Mortimer, Secretary of the Strathspey Angling Improvement Association, said in a joint statement: “The importance of free passage of salmon to high altitude spawning is well-documented. Furthermore we recognise how important the conservation and free passage of salmon is throughout the Spey catchment and particularly for the communities above Grantown where angling is mainly organised by clubs and associations. The quality of the fishings in the upper Spey relies significantly on salmon being able to migrate successfully to the spawning areas above. The fish which spawn here tend to be early-running or ‘spring salmon’ – the component of the Spey salmon population under most pressure.”

Spey Dam is owned and operated by Rio Tinto Alcan. The dam facilitates the diversion of water from the Spey catchment to Lochs Crunachden and Kinloch Laggan and eventually to the aluminium smelter at Fort William. This diversion regime was permitted by an Act of Parliament in 1920 in the aftermath of the First World War and the advent of air power in warfare that necessitated Great Britain becoming self sufficient in the production of aluminium, utilising Scotland’s hydro power and imported Bauxite. Spey Dam became fully operational after the Second World War.

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