Trust Newsletter 2018
One of the Trust main projects during 2018 was the National Electrofishing Programme agreed with Marine Scotland Science. This was a significant undertaking and created 54 new electrofishing sites, including 14 SAC sites. Marine Scotland believe there is the potential to compliment the current adult based assessment method for determining conservation status, and this summers electrofishing work was aimed at exploring that potential. The project was designed to survey a balanced number of sites across the Hebrides, albeit randomly selected. As well as recording the usual survey results, OHFT also collected water samples, recorded European Eel and took 375 genetic samples from salmon parr across sites.
The work took OHFT to several less visited parts of some catchments and produced some encouraging news in terms of juvenile salmon populations. The Barvas catchment showed some exceptional densities of salmon fry - some sites had up to 62.3/100m2. Other places of note were the Roag catchment South Uist and Red River Lewis which also had excellent numbers of salmon fry. The excellent juvenile numbers provide reassurance that the current fisheries management across the islands are achieving optimal fish densities. It does however highlight unresolved issues in the marine environment. OHFT are looking forward to receiving the full report in the spring from Marine Scotland.
2018 Angling Season in the Outer Hebrides
Despite many Fisheries in the Outer Hebrides having a disappointing salmon/grilse season - which was mirrored throughout Scotland - a few had some cheerier news: Grimersta recorded 300 (93% returned) salmon/grilse which is above the 5 year average of 266 and included a first ever salmon for 15 year old Donald Matheson. South Uists’ 537 (91% returned) sea trout total is 128 above their 5 year average and included fish of 81/2lb and 8lb, while their brown trout total of 2880 (92% released) (fish > 10oz) is 483 above their 5 year average which included 83 trout of 2lb and over with a magnificent 7lb fish from Loch West Ollay being the heaviest.
The Angling Promotion Officer helped organise and assisted with 6 community angling events in Lewis and Harris during 2018. Groups included; Carloway Estate Trust, Comunn na Gaidhlig, Galson Estate Trust, Gress Angling Association, Sir E. Scott School and Stornoway Free Church. A total of 89 anglers and 5 volunteer instructors participated in the 6 events. Funding for these events was through a donation from Scottish Salmon Company and a successful application to the Tesco Bags of Help Scheme, which many members of the public voted in. OHFT are grateful to the members of the public who voted and helped us secure these funds, and to the volunteers that assisted with the angling events throughout 2018, without whose help the events could not have taken place.
The OHFT Catch and Release Competition has just completed its 14th year and as in previous years, 2018 provided some stunning fish that were commendably released. Congratulations to David Chrystal from Duror, Argyll who is the 2018 Catch and Release fish of the Season winner with a stunning 81/2lb sea trout from Loch Fada, South Uist. The OHFT Catch and Release competitions aim was to introduce catch and release as part of every anglers fishing day. It is not about releasing all the fish that are caught, but to start returning some and hopefully, safeguard the survival of our freshwater fishing for future generations.
It was another productive year for the Broad Bay Sea Trout Tagging Project. OHFT tagged a further 69 sea trout between Gress and Steinish sites. There were only 10 recaptured fish during 2018, all of which came from Steinish and means the recapture rate for previously tagged fish is about 8%. Although as is always the case, there is potential to improve this via angling efforts.
It appears that what anglers did report, which was a good average size of the sea trout caught has been reflected by information gathered during the tagging process. The average weight of Steinish sea trout was 434g, which is an increase of 200g on 2017. The average weight of Gress sea trout was 588g, which was an increase of 184g on 2017. The recaptured fish at Steinish showed growth rates averaging 0.8g per day which is very significant and double what OHFT have seen in previous years, which suggests plentiful feeding during 2018. Larger adult sea trout are capable of carrying greater numbers of eggs, so the increase in size should benefit spawning and juvenile numbers in the near future.
Richard Davies - New OHFT Chairman:
I am pleased to introduce myself as the new chairman of the Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust. This follows the retirement of Giles Curtis, who I would like to thank for all his hard work over the previous 12 years. Having sat as an active member of the Trust for the last couple of years I know I have a lot to learn. However, I do know we are blessed with a skilled, experienced and passionate team.
This year has been very busy, with several added burdens on staff time, meaning the role of the volunteers has been even more appreciated.
Our fish are a natural resource relying on a naturally clean environment, with which - in freshwater, we are blessed in the Outer Hebrides. The trout and seatrout catches of 2018 have been very encouraging overall, with some very high quality fish caught too. Conversely, these are trying times for Scottish Salmon fisheries, with long term Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation - among other things - impacting on overall ocean survival. The reduced number of returning adults means a lower nutrient deposit in spawning headwaters, which can reduce juvenile recruitment and create a pattern of decline which we hope we can redress.
One cannot escape the news that the coming together of several factors at once caused a significant wild salmon kill in Loch Roag last summer. This was even broadcast by the BBC. This had a negative impact on this years return and catches on several fisheries. Whilst negative in itself, we hope it will form a catalyst for meaningful change in sea lice management in open pen cages. With the REC aqua-culture committee recommendations released in November, and a growing movement to move fish farms further away from our estuaries, it brought a real focus on regulation as regards lice emissions from farms. There aren't any! What is different about this incident is that it was not sea trout or smolts killed by unnaturally high lice numbers, but returning adult salmon, stuck in the sea loch during the dry spell. The Trust will be releasing a short film documenting the incident.
The five operating fish farms in Loch Roag had health issues throughout 2018. As a result, average on farm adult female lice levels were as high as 13 for one site during summer wild fish migration. The other site figures were also high for months.
We believe the rapid expansion of aquaculture has outpaced regulation and we need strict rules to reduce sea lice emissions and soon. Salmon runs are now too low to regularly adsorb significant impacts like this. When things get out of hand, the sheer number of fish in cages with even a few lice leads on to an enormous unnatural parasite burden on the surrounding waters and wild fish migrating nearby. As a rough guide, when stocked, there are over three times more farmed fish in Loch Roag than wild adults returning to all of Scotland’s rivers combined (ICES estimates for wild fish). Lice numbers need to be significantly lower. It is positive that some of the major aqua- culture firms operating in Scotland are now also calling for stronger regulation and we are engaging positively with them to push for change. The aim must be to co-exist in a more sustainable way. While we help work towards regulatory change, there is plenty we can do to improve our fisheries and the Trust are working on several new initiatives to increase juvenile densities where appropriate. The Trust team will present some of these to stakeholders in Spring