Of Course My Hatchery Works!
A few weeks ago I had a really good, in depth conversation with Mr Bob Kindness from the Carron River on the west Coast of Scotland. Although the people at Marine Science Scotland (MSS) have done everything in their power to ensure no Successful restocking programme can possibly take place in Scotland, it would appear that, through his 20 year on going experiment on his river, Bob already has data to show, if done properly, then the restocking of salmon is both justifiable, affordable and effective. below is his reply to one of my blogs from earlier this year. I thought I’d like to share it on here as I know many people will be interested in what he had to say.
In your recent blog, I read with interest the letter from Colin Carnie. His name was a blast from the past since the last time I met him would have been more than 30 years ago. His sentiments regarding salmon rivers and the state of our salmon stocks rings home with me since I have been following a similar line on the Wester Ross Carron for the last 20 years. He is not quite right when he says that I started with a stock from Loch Coulin. It was in fact sea trout eggs that came from Coulin via Andy Walker because it was impossible to get any sea trout from the Carron. These eggs were the basis for a captive broodstock primarily to provide sea trout fry for the Shieldaig project run at the time by Andy. However with an egg production from the captive broodstock reaching as much as 1.5 million eggs per year, I had plenty to use for the Carron. We did create a captive broodstock for salmon but this was produced from wild Carron stock. The broodstock was reared entirely in freshwater, produced good numbers of eggs and provided all the stocking for the first 4 years of our stocking programme. Subsequently eggs were produced from a combination of captive and wild stocks as the number of wild fish increased.
You mention in another blog that a 7 year study is needed to determine whether or not stocking with parr/smolts can increase the number of returning salmon. I have been stocking the Carron for over 20 years with every possible stage in the freshwater life-cycle and have accumulated a huge amount of data on every aspect of the stocking procedure. Over a 3 year period, I released tagged smolts through a release pond system and got some superb big grilse back from these fish. Over another 3 years I released 104,000 tagged autumn fry and some spring smolts. Again some beautiful fish came back some of which were maturing hens so were used as broodstock giving offspring identical in quality to what would be produced from wild fish. No obvious lack of fitness.
I have operated a rotary screw trap in the lower part of the river for the last 13 years. This has provided data on the size of our smolt run which we have estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000. According to the scientists, the river should produce a maximum of 16,500. It also allows all smolts to be examined for bird damage which can be severe at times of low water despite the fact that we only have 3 to 4 pairs of goose anders on the river during the smolt run. It smolts lose too many scales they will not survive the move into sea water. This is perhaps why 15% of the smolts in the Missing Salmon Project were lost as they entered the sea. I was also able to count the number of smolts that were tagged as fry which came out at a similar number to what might be expected from wild fish. No evidence of these fish becoming domesticated due to being in a tank through the summer and then not coping in the wild.
Me with an 18lb hatchery Salmon from a Norwegian River.
I also did a 9 year study on whether salmon get caught more than once using a panjet to mark the fish. The results were extremely interesting and indicated that on average 17% of the rod caught fish were caught more than once.
The results of our stocking have surpassed all our expectations as the rod catches clearly show. The 10-year average immediately prior to the onset of the stocking programme was 23 while the 10-year average once the stocking kicked in was 244. Our current 10-year average is 246 and our catch for 2019 was 317. Although our catches fluctuate as might be expected, we get no disappointing seasons and our catches are currently at historically high levels. In looking at the catches it should be noted that the Carron is a lightly fished river averaging about 4 rods per day for the whole river.
There is little doubt that, in the absence of any other plausible explanation, the recovery of the Carron stocks was due to stocking. However, it is less clear, now that we have natural spawning again, what proportion of returning adults are stocked fish and which come from wild spawners after the initial recovery. There is no difference in appearance between them. To answer this question, a total of over 6,000 fin-clips for DNA analysis have been taken from brood fish, screw trap smolts and returning adults in the rod catch going back as far as 2011. We are currently looking for funding to get these clips processed and analysed. The results of this analysis will demonstrate whether or not stocking works and will provide the sort of evidence that the scientists will have to accept. At the moment they are adamant that stocking does not work and damages wild stocks but interestingly they have shown no interest in what we have achieved on the Carron.
I believe that well designed stocking programmes will be essential if we are to save the salmon. We have a huge advantage with salmon in that artificial spawning and rearing is far more efficient than in the wild. As an example, I stripped a 22 lb hen this winter getting a total of 11,400 eyed eggs at an eying rate of 99.6%. These eggs have now hatched with only 16 failing giving a hatching rate of 99.9%. I would anticipate very few losses from now until the time in the autumn for stocking out. If this hen had been left to spawn in the river, assuming that her eggs were not washed away by one of our winter spates, the success rate would be a fraction of what has been achieved in the Hatchery.
The cost of stocking is often given as a reason for not going down this route. If you build a fancy hatchery and employ several staff, it can certainly be expensive, however it doesn’t have to be. I run my operation almost entirely on my own with occasional help from a retired local butcher. This includes: collecting broodstock, stripping and incubating eggs, rearing fry through the summer, stocking out the fry and monitoring the stock in the river. My facilities are simple but effective and are run on a shoe string.
I hope you find this of interest and please get in touch if you want to find out more.
What I find interesting about this is, personally I’ve never been an advocate of mass restocking in our rivers. All I’ve ever really wanted to know was, what works and what doesn’t, so that we could mitigate for loss of Juvenile fish due to flood events etc. Over the past 10 or so years I’ve wanted to see a national case study to answer the stocking questions once and for all. However, As Bob pointed out to me, it Would seem we now don’t need this, because, as he says, that question has been answered. “It does“ and is very successful on his river. The stats speak for themselves and this on a river smack bang in the middle of the aquaculture zone where it’s said that most fish, particularly weak ones are lost to sea lice Infestation! This would suggest that Bob‘s fish are anything but weak and making it back when "wild fish" from other rivers in this area are not!!!
Or possibly theres a totally different reason??
Since publishing this I've been asked to add this from Graham Salisbury, written a couple of years back, to the blog -
Salmon Fisheries in UK Fall Off Cliff!
At the age of fourteen I was invited to fish the River Lune at Halton Lancashire looking off the foot bridge crossing the river I was spell bound for more than 15 minutes by 3-4 thousand salmon plus seatrout that I could physically see, these days are long gone! Having just returned from an annual prime spring week on a mid-river beat on one of the big four where the run we witnessed was
pitiful! We have a strong team of eight rods and doubled the catch compared to the top beat on the river with six fish, the top beat would expect in excess of thirty.
Today Salmon have a Fundamental Problem - too many people on our planet with world-wide pressure from: -
Global warming, illegal netting and by-product catches at sea, lack of predator control in river and around our estuaries and science! The only real area fisheries can influence is the in-river part of the cycle, numbers of smolts have fallen to unsustainable levels, in yester year ‘The Silvery Tay’ was named as a result of the whole river shimmering with the spring smolt run many other rivers experienced the same. At one time almost every river system in Scotland and most of the UK had a
hatchery programme that was assisting in producing collectively a huge smolt shoal leaving our shores each season, size and numbers is the key to their survival if this shoal is to small predators pick them off, as the shoal going out reduces the percentage returns reduce also. I attended the two-day Stocking conference in Glasgow in November 2013, to listen to our leading scientists at the time effectively carry out a professional back slapping exercise condemning the use of hatcheries due to the risk of genetic interference.
One young contributor stood up to explain the theory that their Agency only supported paired mating ! this means two fish choose each other ! and stripping fish in the hatchery was wrong! anyone who has witnessed a proper salmon red spawning will know it is like an orgy with fish chasing each other around the pool, sometimes two cocks laid either side of a hen , the odd precocious parr nipping in and contributing in between . This scientific statement makes a true countryman weep with dismay! Name a single case where this modern science and theory has produced and improved a fishery? name me one case where stocks have not fallen in recent years? We have historically until relatively recently stocked our rivers for decades and in some cases centuries.
The famous Tay Salmon Company run by the infamous Mr Malloch with his army of keepers and ghillies patrolling the banks, controlling vermin, enthusiastically carrying outa stocking programme is the only model for salmon to realistically stand a chance of holding their ground against todays combined pressure caused by man.
Apparently, we can reintroduce and artificially feed red kites and sea eagles with no detrimental effects to the genetic strains why does science tell us we cannot do this with salmon? Scientists show us worthless green graphs of fry and parr counts on our river systems – everything is OK ! the true green graph of yesteryear was when ghillies witnessed salmon spawning up the smallest of streams with their backs out of the water as there was no room in the tributaries and main stems. The true green graph has never been witnessed by most scientists. The only graphs that matter is our smolt output and the mature returning fish. This is currently flashing red on all our rivers. I have been a keen salmon angler for 40 years but we are currently over the edge of the cliff and science regarding the use of hatcheries is complicit in this failure, our salmon fisheries and importantly their benefit to the surrounding rural economies are doomed without a brave and collective approach from all our fishery boards.