Spey Dam salmon fry counts 2014…………..

Last week the team headed up to the very top of the river to carry out the annual salmon fry counts. By the very top I mean that part of the Spey mainstem upstream of Spey Dam. There is about 20km of river above Spey Dam but I think it is fair to say that the salmon population up there is not what is should be or once was.

We have 11 mainstem survey sites above Spey Dam, including one within 1.5km of the source of the river at Loch Spey. We didn’t have time to survey that uppermost site this year but its omission was of little relevance to our overall findings.

Access was secured through Rio Tinto in Fort William and once the paperwork formalities had been completed with their staff at the dam we headed to the first site behind Sherramore Lodge.

Salon fry count survey site at Sherramore Lodge. Doubt if anone would disagree that this is the habitat that a salmon fry's dreams are made of.

Salmon fry count survey site at Sherramore Lodge. Doubt if anyone would disagree that this is the sort of habitat that a salmon fry’s dreams are made of. Note the white van in the background, one of many in the area as part of the Beauly Denny powerline upgrade.

We found a few fry at this site and a few salmon parr but the fry were trout, setting the scene for the rest of the day.

Selection of trout fry from above Spey Dam

Selection of trout fry from above Spey Dam

After completing what was the furthest downstream site on the schedule we headed for the uppermost. In 2012 we found 17 salmon fry at this site but none this year.

The uppermost site at Shesgnan Bothy. It is not a big river up here but that riffle was perfect salmon fry habitat

The uppermost site with Shesgnan Bothy behind. It is not a big river up here but those riffles were perfect salmon fry habitat

Working our way back downstream the pattern was repeated; a few trout fry, the odd trout parr and the occasional salmon parr turning up at most sites.

Again nice salmon fry habitat downstream of Melgarve.

Again nice salmon fry habitat downstream of Melgarve (well the instream bit at least!).

Trout fry caught at one of the survey sites

Trout fry caught at one of the survey sites

It was noticeable that in the upper sites all the salmon parr that we caught were large, i.e. over 100mm and almost certainly two year olds.

A very well conditioned salmon parr of 139mm from the site at Garva Bridge, not much wrong with the feeding experineced by that fish. Scale readings showed it to be 2+ years old.

A very well conditioned salmon parr of 139mm from the site at Garva Bridge, not much wrong with the feeding experienced by that fish. Scale readings showed it to be 2+ years old.

Two smaller salmon parr of under 100m were captured in two of the downstream sites, they were 1+ year old.

One ane two year old salmon parr.

One and two year old salmon parr.

This apparent absence of salmon fry above Spey Dam is of great concern. There has been no stocking above Spey Dam since 2010 so any fish present since then must have been naturally spawned. The sizes, and age classes of the salmon parr found this year match exactly the salmon fry counts over the last three summers. The better than expected recruitment of salmon fry in 2012 produced reasonable numbers of salmon parr last year with a lower number remaining as two year olds this summer, all of which will smolt in 2015. If the same absence of fry occurs next year the Spey above Spey Dam will be virtually bereft of juvenile salmon.

So in contrast to recent salmon fry counts on the Fiddich which were the best I have ever seen, this was the worst. There endeth a very disappointing day. Not so much a day of salmon fry counts more a day of no salmon fry counts……

There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Henry Spence at 3:50 pm

    20 miles of ideal spawing grounds that is potentially devoid of juveniles is as Gordon Mackenzie says disastrous. If this is the case then what is the scientific argument against turning that entire 20 mile stretch into a type of “stocking” laboratory, where smolt production could be fairly easily monitored with a well placed smolt trap and I assume returning adults could be easily monitored via the Rio fish pass.

    • Brian Shaw Author at 9:15 pm

      Hi Henry,

      One of the main reasons for the lack of progress above Spey Dam is that the stocking undertaken by the board “muddied” the waters making it difficult to establish what exactly was happening with the wild stock. The board stopped stocking in 2010 and the situation with the naturally spawned fish above Spey dam is now becoming apparent. I do feel that progress can now be made. SEPA have got very good people involved and if we can work with the hydro operator we may begin to establish where the bottlenecks lie.
      The area above Spey Dam has been stocked on and off for decades, and for sure increases in smolt production were noted, pretty substantial increases at that. The counter is only recently operational so there were no adult data during most of the period when the highest levels of stocking took place.
      I do agree that it is an area where stocking is required but sourcing appropriate broodstock will be difficult. At the same time if infrastuctural bottlenecks can be identified they need to be removed for there to be any meaningful chance of the situation improving.
      So to summarise there is a case for stocking up there but not at the moment. We are actually in a far better position with the regulators; and the dynamics of the salmon population have become much clearer since the stocking stopped.
      Best regards

  2. Gordon Mackenzie at 11:56 am

    I am surprised there has not been a lot more comments on this report.
    Having 20kms of good juvenile salmon habitat in the River Spey basically devoid of salmon can only be regarded as disastrous. More so given the obvious problems with the lack of returning salmon and the need to get the entire Spey catchment producing the maximum number of smolts.
    Am I right in thinking that, given the altitude of this stretch of river, that it would be mostly spring running fish that would be expected to spawn there?

    • Brian Shaw Author at 1:18 pm

      Hi Gordon, they will be spring/early summer fish or early grilse. Hopefully once we have a couple years if counter data we may start to understand what is happening up there. Cheers brian

  3. Bryan Herbert at 4:20 am


    This surely proves without any shadow of doubt that fish passage is severely restricted and the fish pass provided dose not work. This evidence must surely now put more pressure on Rio Tinto to put in measures to ensure migratory fish have easy safe passage both up and down so that the area can be repopulated and hopefully in the future provide a big increase in smolt production of the Spey as from what I saw while up with you the area could easily achieve.

    Out of interest did you ever get the fish count numbers from there counter on spey dam and dose it also show the fish pass is not fit for purpose.

    Regards Bryan

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