Just about all of the fisheries management world is now agreed that we are currently entering a MSW salmon cycle and are fast coming out of a 1SW grilse cycle. If history repeats itself, it may last up to 60 years! We are at a pinch-point in that transition and all it takes in any given year is for a poor MSW salmon run (as happens frequently, even in normal times) and the whole season collapses, as the salmon component of any annual run in a river is always far less numerous than grilse. I suggest this is probably exactly what we saw in rivers such as the Awe and the Lochy in 2017.

We are still fortunate though that the Lochy, compared to most west coast rivers, supports a strong genetic strain of large MSW salmon. Their time to shine might well be about to happen! It can be certainly no coincidence that only last season (2016) we had the best MSW spring salmon run for decades but the poorest grilse run in recent memory…

The reason for this grilse to salmon shift appears to be a warming sea (especially in the western edge of the NE Atlantic) and the complex changes it is having on (parts) of the ocean. Some areas of the NE Atlantic are still fairly stable, probably due to lesser impacts from shifting warmer currents (there is a known ‘cold blob’ just west of Norway for instance) but in other areas the lack of ‘grilse sized’ food is catastrophic: West of UK and South of Iceland being 2 examples. This is probably the reason for the northern Scottish rivers holding up particularly well and the southern and western rivers on the point of collapse in some cases. In times of grilse abundance (1960’s to 1990’s) the much cooler ocean would have held food uniformly all over – nowadays the food supply (and temperature) is highly patchy.

Sand-eel numbers have spiralled downwards due in part to the explosion in numbers and the unprecedented geographic spread of mackerel and other pelagic fish as waters have warmed. Grilse require abundant sand-seels to grow strong enough to survive their first winter at sea. A post-smolt salmon is a relatively rare creature in the vast ocean and the competition from any super-abundance of any marine species such as mackerel will completely swamp the vulnerable post smolt’s ability to compete for the same food source.

Conversely, MSW salmon travel further north for food where the problem is less pronounced. MSW salmon may also benefit if they can survive the first winter at sea and grow big enough to predate on the mackerel themselves. Possibly why, in amongst the current declines of most salmon rivers, some MSW salmon are returning at huge sizes (you grow fat quickly if you become big enough to eat mackerel!)

Anyway, all of the above is having an equal impact of sand-eel eating seabirds such as kittiwakes (doing very badly) but is favouring deep diving fish eaters such as gannets (doing very well). I cannot recommend highly enough the following programme which explains all of these oceanic changes on seabirds (and salmon) far better than I can. The mechanisms at play for both species are exactly the same.


Jon Gibb, Hatchery Manager.


Jon Gibb.     The rationale behind the agreed 3-year stocking plan

It may be helpful to recap the advantages of various stocking strategies and why (even when marine survival rates are at all-time lows) it is still worth removing a small amount of the overall spawning adults from the river to maximise the future benefit the progeny of those fish bring to the population.

The table below uses accepted wild salmon survival rates (Mills and Shelton, AST, 1986) at all life cycle stages, compared to the survival rates of reared hatchery smolts. Clearly it makes sense to take a small proportion of your spawning fish and utilise them in this way as the eggs generate proportionally far more returning adults. However, any such activity must be done within the bounds of what is an acceptable risk to genetic variation (this is why we stock only 50,000 smolts as opposed to a million!)

In terms of which life stage to stock at, it makes the most sense to stock smolts…. if you can afford to do so. In our case it makes perfect sense to do so as, due to funding, it costs the RLA a fraction of the normal price of running a smolt hatchery (normal cost for 50,000 smolts = £100,000pa @£2 per smolt)

This next table shows a comparison of 2 different stocking strategies – smolt stocking and fry stocking.  It demonstrates why the most productive strategy is smolt stocking, even when marine survival rates have collapsed (as they almost certainly did these last 2 years). It is also why the 3-year hatchery plan (agreed in February 2017) is to stock both smolts and fry if enough broodstock can be obtained.

Fundamentally though, until marine survival rates of both stocked/wild smolts return to their recent range (circa 4% for wild, 1.5% for stocked) then the hatchery will not be likely to be benefiting fishermen in the short-term, but the long-term benefits of extra egg deposition remains. Importantly, it takes a very small shift upwards in survival rates to have a very large impact on returning numbers (including those to the rod). Meantime, using the hatchery, we can create significantly more eggs deposits than if we had left the fish in the river, and hope for a turnaround very soon in marine survival.


Sea Lice from local fish farms 50,000 fin clipped smolt release in Lochy – even balance on all 4 private beats and river mouth.

Treated against lice when necessary based on late winter lice figures

Ongoing liaison with fish farm industry, Highland Council and Marine Scotland about the relocation of the inshore fish farms to deep-water locations (short term) or to land-based or closed containment units (eventual goal).

Declining 1sw grilse numbers Undertake an annual 16 site electro-fishing survey to identify areas of poor recruitment

50,000 – 100,000 fed fry released in areas identified by the electro-fishing survey

200,000 from 2019 onwards due to additional captive broodstock maturing in hatchery

Improved access to some smaller tributaries including working with LFT to install new fish passes on barriers on the Inverlochy and Distillery burns

Roy/Spean below min spawning target 25,000 fin clipped pre-smolts released in October 2017

From April 2018 onwards release of 25,000 fin clipped full smolts

Ongoing talks with Braeroy re bankside fencing

Predation in river Responsible person to deliver a predation control plan including goosanders, gulls and trout

eg. YEAR-ROUND goosander target = 1 birds per 24 acres (research by Dr PF Elson)

Mucomir Counter below min spawning target New smolt trapping, captive broodstock and eyed ova stocking programme agreed with SSE and Lochiel estates. Starts in April 2018

Ongoing negotiation with SSE in to improve downstream and upstream fish passage at Mucomir including the design of a new operating regime using the new turbines and floodgate control







50,000 Spring stocked fin clipped smolts main stem River Lochy April 2017







25,000 Late autumn parr stocked into Roy Catchment











One of our young helpers!

Please note that ALL FIN CLIPPED FISH MUST BE KILLED IN 2016. As part of a Marine Scotland study into the fecundity of returned hatchery fish on the Lochy, all of the ghillies will be carrying equipment to extract and store the ovaries of all hen fin clipped salmon and grilse and take scale samples of all fish. All fin clipped fish caught on the club beats should be reported immediately to the River Manager.


eggs hatch

With the warmer water temps eggs are busy hatching in the trays at the moment. This will last another week or so. The alevins fall through the gaps in the trays to a special substrate at the bottom of the tanks and will spend the next 3 weeks or so absorbing their yolk sacs, which contain all of the nutrient they need for early life in the wild.

The final grade has taken place at the hatchery – this is where fish are passed through a grid to sort out smaller fish that will not smolt this year from larger fish that will be stocked out as smolts. As a result, we now have the final amount of smolts this year. 45,000 fin clipped smolts will be stocked over the coming month into beats 1 to 4 of the River Lochy.

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