Skip to content

Good Ecological Status?

Posted: Monday 29 April, 2024 @ 15:43:29

Discussion groups at the Torridon workshop on 23rd April 2024

Report from WRFT workshop on salmon, sea trout and related habitats at the Loch Torridon Community Centre, 23rd April 2024

The purpose of this workshop was to discuss the health of wild salmon and sea trout populations in Wester Ross and to consider what can be done to support wild fish, associated ecosystems and protect important habitats.

The workshop was attended by 30 people including local wildlife enthusiasts and anglers, commercial fisheries and fish farming representatives, river proprietors, members of local marine and freshwater citizen-science groups and academic researchers. Representatives from the Scottish Government’s Marine Directive, Nature Scot and SEPA were unable to attend.

Peter Cunningham (WRFT Biologist) delivered presentations based on surveys in 2023, about (1) juvenile salmon nutrition and the need to consider ways of providing supplementary food in some rivers to sustain smolt quality in the absence of large numbers of surplus salmon eggs [can be found here]; and (2) sea lice monitoring, emphasising the urgent need for progress to regulate sea lice on salmon farms to protect wild salmon populations especially around the Loch Torridon area and further south [can be found here]. Sea lice levels were much too high at some locations in 2023, for example at Applecross.  

A highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Prof Karen Diele and Dr Michelle Frost of the West of Scotland Herring Hunt project (WOSHH) which included initial findings from surveys of herring eggs on the seabed to the northwest of Gairloch in March 2024. Herring eggs were found at many locations on the seabed along a 3km stretch in water of 20m to 25m depths between Aultgrishan and North Erradale. Earlier reports from the rediscovery of this herring spawning ground can be found here and here.

For shorter presentations, thank you to:

  • Joan Cummings (The Woodland Trust) and Louise Gray (Ben Damph estate) for an update on an initiative to restore vegetation including much needed riparian trees within Glen Torridon to benefit wild fish populations and other biota
  • Rachel Hedley for talk about the Aultbea River Guardians of Our Rivers project where an enthusiastic group of local citizen-scientists has been monitoring freshwater insect life over the past year
  • Alastair Hamilton for an update on the Northwest Coast Regional Inshore Fisheries Group; some progress has been made towards understanding management needs for crab and lobster fisheries
  • Dr Lydia Martens (Professor of Sociology at Keele University) about her Leverhulme Major Research fellowship ‘Storying Worlds Beyond Fish: Kinship and Connection in The Minch’; Lydia told us about the changing behaviour of holidaymakers to the area who 50 years ago caught and ate many sea fish, but not so much in more recent years
  • Robert Younger (Fish Legal) about the need to include all stakeholders for sustainable inshore fisheries management
  • Dr Jeremy Anbleyth-Evans (University of Aberdeen) expressing interest in learning more about local fisheries management systems and opportunities for co-management. Jeremy is part of the Sea the Value project which is involved with understanding and utilisation of the economics of marine biodiversity
  • Ailsa McLennan (Seawilding) about a project focussing on oysters and sea grass restoration. Ailsa is working on a project to restore native oysters to parts of Wester Ross  
  • Nic Butler (Seabed and Seashore Loch Ewe – contact and Jane Dick (Maerl Friends of Loch Torridon), about these two new locally-based citizen-science groups with plans for surveys, monitoring and awareness raising of seabeds and marine wildlife in coastal waters.  

After lunch participants split into two workgroups, (1) freshwater; (2) marine to consider and discuss major issues and possible solutions. Discussions extended beyond issues of direct concern to salmon and sea trout populations, reflecting diverse interests and experiences of participants at the workshop.

Marine. This group considered the need to address local fisheries management issues, including the Nephrops trawl fishery and scallop dredging, both of which impact upon the seabed; the current focus on species management rather than ecosystem management. Other issues listed were: decline of bivalves and biodiversity; environment status; lack of community engagement; nutrient enrichment associated with aquaculture, pollution (from ports, plastics, urban sewerage); invasive species; climate change and sea temperature. Solutions proposed were as follows: ecosystem-based management, including marine spatial planning and low impact fishery practices. Education for everyone (including schools and politicians). Improved community engagement. More regional and local empowerment.

Freshwater. This group considered the main issues for Wester Ross to be: (1) effects of climate change; (2) habitat degradation leading to erosion and silting of redds; (3) policy. Other issues listed were nutrient deficits; natural predators (imbalance); invasive species; tourism (chemical loos?); land management. To mitigate for climate change, participants discussed need to revegetate catchment areas through deer management and reduction in stock numbers. Water heats up faster on bare or thinly vegetated ground; riparian trees on their own may be inadequate to prevent over-heating of rivers for juvenile salmon and other biota. The same actions are needed to address habitat degradation issues, with revegetating of river banks considered a priority and where appropriate, to increase nutrients to ensure trees and other vegetation can grow. Policy should focus on the need for better regulation and enforcement, need for incentives, progressive environment policies and being able to enforce them (e.g. not building on flood plains).

The workshop provided an opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to network with each other. Many opportunities were identified for mutual support with surveys, monitoring and other projects. With regard to nearby rivers and coastal waters around Loch Torridon, the question ‘good ecological’ status?’ was not answered.

We look forward to welcoming representatives from the Scottish Government’s Marine Directorate, and government agencies Nature Scot and Scottish Environment Protection Agency [SEPA] to a future workshop; they may be able address some of the concerns discussed at the workshop.    

Thank you very much to all the participants for supporting the event, and to the Loch Torridon Community Centre for providing an excellent venue for the meeting.