For the last 60 million years the Atlantic salmon has been making one of the planets greatest natural migrations, travelling thousands of miles to feed and finally return to their native river to spawn.
Last month we were invited to join the head biologist of the Ness & District Salmon Board whilst he delivered an electro fishing session. He explained to those present that the river Ness is healthy with good numbers smolts, which we could clearly see, but once they leave he said "Fewer numbers are now returning". A worrying fact and the same story we are hearing across the UK.
This month we have invited the Atlantic Salmon Trust to share with you the Missing Salmon Project. Launched last year, it is seeking to raise money and heighten awareness of the critical plight of one of the nation's iconic species.
"Wild speculation on the causes of decline are no good - we need evidence!"
We must collectively take action to identify what is happening and determine how to halt this decline. If we can find out what is happing on the salmons journey we can take steps to help increase survival.
It's time to find our missing salmon.
"Too many times, humanity has acted too late when a species is in decline. We have an opportunity to act now and make a lasting, positive impact so we'd ask everyone with an interest in preserving not only Scotland's wild identity, but one of the world's most famous species' future, to support this ground-breaking project." Dr Matt Newton, AST
A scientific study in the UK starting in Scotland to find out what's happening to wild salmon on their journey down our river systems and out to sea.
What are the migration pathways our smolts use? Identify key reasons for mortality. Define the most likely causes and focus actions. Create and implement plans to reverse the trend. Improve their survival rate so more fish return?
Using the findings recommendations can be made to inform policy and enable management solutions - read more.
"For every 100 salmon smolts that leave our rivers for the sea less than 5 will return. This is a decline of nearly 70% in just 25 years. In just over 40 years wild Atlantic salmon numbers around the world have more than halved"
There has been a vast amount of research carried out over the years and most of this has been valuable to give us an improved understanding of mortality factors into migrating salmon. What it has not done is pursue with determination the process of assigning a value to suspects and therefore prioritising their importance. It is only by using an evidence based approach we will win the arguments.
We all know the major suspects and we can all have an uninformed argument with different groups to suggest what is going wrong. What we have failed to do is collate evidence with a value and then assign it to a suspect. It is only in this way that we can challenge the organisations and issues which are impacting on the survival of this iconic fish.
So to all those out there who want to help with the survival of this fish help us collect the evidence and then let us work together to present the evidence so we can put in place policies to help the Atlantic salmon survive.
Please support the Missing Salmon Project.
To have a meaningful impact on reversing the Atlantic salmons decline the Atlantic Salmon Trust need to tag and track fish on a scale never seen before in Europe.
They need to raise One Million for the project. This is the kind of figure you see raised on TV or a commercial radio station, not in the world of fishing!
So far they have raised a staggering £800,000 and in order for the project to start next year they need to reach a million. They need the help from everyone reading this newsletter - please show your support.
In 2017 the Atlantic Salmon Trust launched the Missing Salmon Project against a backdrop of continued declines in salmon runs across the North Atlantic. The aim of the project is to understand where and how salmon are dying so that management measures can be put in place to reverse this decline. Without such a coordinated effort it is likely that salmon will become an endangered species in our lifetime.
The first part of the Missing Salmon Project was to bring together experts from around the Atlantic and Pacific to start the process of building a framework where the suspects responsible for killing the salmon could be identified. This was started at a major international workshop hosted by the Atlantic Salmon Trust in Edinburgh, November 2017 - read more.
The Atlantic Salmon Trust have published an important Blue Book on the Likely Suspect Framework - read book.
"The global populations of wild Atlantic salmon have declined from 8-10 million in the 1970s to 3-4million fish today. The Missing Salmon project will have an international impact".
Deploying acoustic receivers
The Missing Salmon Project will use acoustic tracking, tagging of juvenile fish, smolts, as they begin their journey from their home river towards the sea. Fish are recorded as they pass through strategic points � which will help determine how many fish make it to the ocean and where mortality occurs.
"If we're going to have a meaningful impact on reversing the Atlantic salmon's decline, we need to tag and track fish on a scale never seen before in Europe."
The tracking project will start in the Moray Firth where up to 20% of the UK salmon stock has to pass on its journey to sea.
The information from the Moray Firth Tracking Project will be fed into the Likely Suspects Framework to give information on the number of fish making it through each of the domains within that region and identify where fish are being lost.
Lessons learned will be transferable to other populations of salmon around the UK.
"By tagging the fish and tracking their progress from their spawning ground and back again, we'll be able to pinpoint where fish are being lost � and help identify the causes for their increasingly worrying mortality rates."
The Likely Suspects Framework has a track record of success.
In the 1970's the amount of cod was measured at 18,000 tonnes in the Irish Sea. In 2000, the amount of cod had diminished to 850 tonnes. Today, cod stocks have returned to 11,000 tonnes.
It was used by scientists to establish the key reasons for mortality in cod stocks in the Irish Sea as part of a study which led to vital management recommendations.
The Missing Salmon Project will work with all the relevant agencies to approve stock recovery plans and recommendations which will be presented to policy makers to enact change and save wild salmon from becoming an endangered species. Please show your support to the Missing Salmon Project.
Since 1967 The Atlantic Salmon Trust has been leading the way in research into migratory salmonids. The findings have successfully and radically altered the way in which salmon have been managed during the Trust's existence.
The trust helps support local projects with funding, which includes the Deveron, Bogie & Isla Rivers Charitable Trust 2017 Radio Tracking Project.
The Atlantic Salmon Trust and University College Dublin are running an innovative project to develop and pilot a pioneering technique to assess the presence or absence of salmon DNA on board ships using environmental DNA (eDNA) - read more.
For many years The Atlantic Salmon Trust has recognised the vital importance of small streams. The Trust has actively encouraged, not alone research into the biology of small streams, but spearheaded an initiative to train volunteers in the mapping and conservation of streams and burns in their local area - read more.
Ken Whelan of the Atlantic Salmon Trust worked with FishPal to produce The Gift a series of Catch & Release Films.
Visit their Knowledge Zone where you can view and download factsheets and worksheets suitable for schools projects. Including their interactive map which is a great way to bring these resources together.