From Smolts to Salmon: New Project Marks Major Milestone

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Spey Fishery Board Completes Phase 1 of Smolt to Adult Supplementation Project

The Spey Fishery Board (SFB) is pleased to announce the successful completion of Phase 1 of the Smolt to Adult Supplementation (SAS) project, an integral component of our ongoing “Save Our Smolts” initiative. This landmark project aims to bolster the Atlantic salmon population in the River Dulnain, a vital tributary of the River Spey.

What is Our Smolt to Adult Supplementation Project and Why Are We Doing It?

Atlantic salmon in Great Britain have recently been reclassified as endangered due to declining populations across the country. Forty years ago, of all the millions of salmon smolts that left Scotland’s rivers each year, about 25% would return as adult fish. Nowadays, only 2% return. This alarming trend has underscored the urgent need for targeted conservation efforts.

The primary goal of the SAS project is to help address this crisis by boosting the number of eggs deposited within the River Dulnain, one of the vital tributaries of the River Spey, without removing adult fish for use as broodstock.

Salmon smolts are captured instead and taken into a hatchery to be reared on to adult fish. Eighteen months later, when these fish have become grilse, they are stripped of their eggs and those eggs are stocked back into the River Dulnain, from which the smolts had originally been taken. The grilse are then returned to the hatchery for another year, after which they are returned as two-year-old adult fish to the River Dulnain, so that they can spawn naturally, thereby increasing the population of juvenile salmon in the river.

Smolts being collected on the River Dulnain

Phase 1 Complete

In the first phase of this project, our team collected over 350 Atlantic salmon smolts from the River Dulnain using a Rotary Screw Trap. These smolts were then transported to the Drimsallie Hatchery, who are specialists in this technique, where they will be raised to maturity over the next two years.

“The completion of Phase 1 is a significant step in our new conservation efforts,” said Roger Knight, Director of the Spey Fishery Board. “This project exemplifies our commitment to finding innovative solutions to try to help reverse the fortunes of our iconic Atlantic salmon. We hope it will help boost the numbers of salmon eggs in some of our vital tributaries, without having to take adult salmon out of the river to use as broodstock.”

Spey smolts ready to be transported to the Drimsallie Hatchery.

Future Release

In 2026, we will release the mature salmon back into the River Dulnain. This effort will be closely monitored to evaluate its impact on juvenile salmon production and the genetic integrity of the salmon population. Over the subsequent years, we will conduct redd counts, electrofishing surveys, and genetic analysis to track the success of the project and ensure that it meets our conservation objectives.

Before we launched this initiative, Spey Ghillies visited Drimsallie Hatchery to observe the different stages of development. Here, you can see adult salmon, collected as smolts, ready to be released into another river in Scotland.

A Positive Impact on Populations

“Our Smolt to Adult Supplementation project is a vital intervention aimed at reversing the alarming decline in salmon numbers. By nurturing these smolts to maturity, we provide them with the best possible chance of survival and successful spawning,” said Atticus Albright, Head Biologist at the Spey Fishery Board. “This initiative is not just about numbers; it’s about preserving the genetic integrity and resilience of our salmon populations.”

Our SAS project is designed not only to increase the number of spawning salmon but also to maintain the genetic diversity and resilience of the salmon population. This initiative is a crucial step in our broader conservation strategy to help salmon populations flourish within the River Spey ecosystem. By increasing the salmon population, we aim to ensure the sustainability and future viability of this iconic species. A thriving salmon population not only supports the river’s biodiversity but also upholds the cultural and economic heritage of the Spey region.

We extend our gratitude to our partners for their continued support and involvement in our conservation efforts.

If you are interested in supporting our work by sponsoring our Save Our Smolts initiative, please contact us at info@speyfisheryboard.com.

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