Utilising the Lochy’s wild restoration hatchery near Glenfinnan and assisted by the local fish-farm company Marine Harvest, Jon Gibb and his team now operate the largest indigenous smolt rearing operation in the country. The Lochy smolt stocking operation is also sponsored by several aquaculture companies including EWOS, SKRETTING, HVALPSUND NETS, SALMOVAC, MSD ANIMAL HEALTH and SOLWAY TRANSPORT.
The primary aim of the Lochy smolt programme is to maximise the number of healthy smolts going to sea and, where appropriate following annual fish farm lice counts, have the ability to counteract the effect of sea lice in the estuary by treating the smolts with anti sea lice medicine prior to release. Unlike any estuary in Scotland, a smolt leaving the Lochy can pass up to 17 fish farms before it reaches the open sea!
The programme has expanded considerably over the last few years and from a start in 2009 of 18,000 smolts released, in 2014/15 there was a release of 90,000 fin clipped autumn parr and spring smolts were stocked. While the whole programme has been thwarted somewhat by global oceanic problems and particularly the fact that 1sw grilse returns have declined dramatically over the last 5 years, as we have this programme in place we are able to partly compensate for these unwelcome natural events through increasing indigenous reared smolt production to counteract the reduction in marine survival rates. The use of the hatchery also gives us the ability to respond rapidly to one-off catastrophic events – for example the increasing incidence of severely damaging floods which are becoming more frequent due to climate change and the presence of poorly designed hydro dams in the headwaters.
While there is plenty of dogmatic argument in scientific circles about the use of hatcheries to restore stocks, there is very little evidence that hatcheries (used in the right circumstances and producing healthy strong juveniles) do anything other than benefit salmon rivers. That is not to say there are several poor examples of hatchery work in the past where their use was the incorrect and illogical approach. However Jon has made a point of visiting and corresponding with most of the major smolt programmes currently operating in the North Atlantic region (eg. Delphi and Burishoole in Ireland, Vosso and Aroy in Norway and Ranga in Iceland). It has become very apparent that smolt stocking has a role to play in some management scenarios and, far from damaging wild stocks, has been shown to increase stocks and improve angling considerably. Jon and his team have taken the experience from all of these successful projects and will be applying them on the Lochy for the future benefit of the river, its salmon stocks and all who come to fish for them.
Jon Gibb is the Hatchery and Restoration Manager, supported by Pawel Fowsak. This work and Jon’s on-going relationships with his Hatchery partners are key to the future success of the River Lochy.
Through Jon’s role as Clerk to the Lochaber DSFB he continues to represent the RLA’s interests in a wide range of other areas including fish farming, hydro impact and conservation regulations