Tweed smolts to be tagged

A new phase of research by the Tweed Foundation that aims to investigate ways to improve Atlantic salmon stocks on the River Tweed is under way thanks in part to a £40,000 two-year grant from the Fallago Environment Fund.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 12:12 pm
Fallago Environment Fund chairman Gareth Baird presents a cheque for £40,000 to Tweed Foundation biologist, James Hunt to help fund a smolt-tracking survey that aims to improve Atlantic Salmon stocks on the River Tweed. The young migrating salmon will be fitted with tiny acoustic tags and monitored as they head downstream with the aim of identifying future strategies that ensure as many as possible make it out to sea. Photo: Phil Wilkinson.

The study is tagging 220 young migrating salmon known as smolts and tracking their progress as they make their way downstream.

Increasing marine mortality has seen a significant decline in the numbers of adult salmon returning to Scottish rivers, including the Tweed. Between 1983 and 2016, a period of just 33 years, the numbers of wild Atlantic salmon fell by more than half*. To help compensate for increased losses at sea, the Tweed Foundation’s research aims to better understand the factors affecting smolt survival as they pass down the river and investigate ways to minimize losses.

Building on a small pilot study from 2019, Tweed Foundation scientists are using tiny acoustic tags attached to the fish to monitor their journeys and estimate survival numbers of salmon smolts between Galashiels and Berwick. The work will pin point areas where higher losses occur and devise testing methods that identify ways to improve survival. Potential reasons for smolt loss include low river flows, lack of sheltering habitats and predators.

Additional funding for the £106,000 project has also been received from the River Tweed Commission as well as from smaller private sponsors who are encouraged to sponsor a smolt, follow its progress as it migrates and have the chance of winning a prize if their smolt is one of the first three to make it out to sea.

James Hunt, Biologist for The Tweed Foundation said; “It’s only with hard evidence on smolt losses that we can effectively target and improve our management of the river in order to boost the number of fish that reach the sea. The work we are carrying out fits in with tracking research being carried out on other rivers in Scotland and will contribute to the evidence base for management discussions at a national level. Acoustic tracking of smolt is an effective way to carry out our research but it is expensive so we’re extremely grateful that the Fallago Environment Fund has supported this important project.”

The project is one of the latest to be supported by the Fallago Environment Fund which is supported by Roxburghe Estates, EDF Renewables and Hermes Infrastructure and which shares the benefits of the Fallago Rigg windfarm with projects across the Scottish Borders

Gareth Baird, Chairman, Fallago Environment Fund said; “The Atlantic Salmon is an iconic species that is hugely important to the ecosystem of the River Tweed and to the communities and businesses of the Scottish Borders and North Northumberland that rely on the fishing sector and the continued vitality of the river to make a living. The Fallago Environment Fund is delighted that resources generated from a renewable energy source in the region can help to protect and enhance one of the Borders’ most important natural assets.”

Anyone interesting in sponsoring a smolt and helping to track its migration downriver and out to sea can find out more here.