Otter Ferry wins grant funding for salmon gene bank project

Large Atlantic salmon swimming in a river

Otter Ferry Seafish has been awarded nearly £50,000 to work with Argyll wild fisheries experts, to develop a groundbreaking gene bank which could help save threatened wild salmon populations.

The grant for the fish farm and research centre, based at Tighnabruaich on the west coast of Scotland, is one of seven major environmental projects being supported by Scotland’s salmon farmers to help save iconic wild salmon and sea trout.

Almost £140,000 has been granted to organisations this year through Salmon Scotland’s Wild Fisheries Fund to address long-term species decline.

The fund is part of a £1.5m commitment from the salmon industry to support the conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of wild fish numbers.

The initial four-year project is being developed in partnership with the Argyll Fisheries Trust and the River Ruel Improvement Association.

Organisers hope the project will not only help stock several regional rivers but also become a “blueprint”, paving the way for a wider ‘genetic insurance’ network of banks across the country.

By setting up a live salmon gene bank, the project seeks to preserve the genetic material of threatened wild populations, ensuring their survival and adaptability.

Using advanced genetic screening, the team will assess the diversity of salmon in the River Ruel and determine the need for egg stocking from the gene bank.

The goal is to help restock several regional rivers and set a model for other areas to follow.

Otter Ferry Seafish is the oldest independent fish farming company in Scotland. It operates the UK’s only halibut hatchery and produces cleaner fish – a natural way to help control sea lice numbers – for the salmon farming sector.

Alastair Barge, Otter Ferry’s managing director, said: “We are very excited to be part of this new initiative funded by the Salmon Scotland Wild Fisheries Fund.

“The project combines the knowledge and expertise of the wild fishery sector with the control provided by our dedicated staff and versatile aquaculture facilities.

“Working together with the Argyll Fisheries Trust and the River Ruel Improvement Association, we aim to preserve the genetic integrity of the river’s salmon population while giving it a real chance for rapid recovery in the future.”

Alastair Barge, Managing Director, Otter Ferry

Preserving the river environment

A separate scheme to tackle erosion on the Ruel, improving the habitat through tree planting and fencing, has received £10,000, marking a third year of funding.

Wild salmon and sea trout populations throughout the UK have been in decline for decades – particularly because of habitat loss and rising river and sea temperatures. These fish now have a marine survival rate of between 1% and 5%, compared to around 25% only three decades ago.

The Scottish Government has identified other pressures facing wild salmon, including non-native plants, predation by fish, birds and seals, and obstacles to fish passage including dams and weirs.

Previously called the “wild salmonid fund”, more than £335,000 has already been invested since 2021 including a £35,000 grant to save the leaking Fincastle Dam on West Harris, helping preserve an important salmon fishery.

The fund is co-ordinated by fishery manager Jon Gibb, who is based in Fort William and has championed a constructive relationship between the farm-raised salmon sector and fisheries and angling groups.

The five other projects awarded funds this year are:

  • Ayrshire Rivers Trust – £17,026  to undertake a restoration project that will aim to address riverbank erosion at the Mauchline Burn.
  • Galloway Fisheries Trust  – £22,697 to reduce acidity in the River Bladnoch using 700 tonnes of crushed scallop shells on forestry roads and feeder burns, improving the ecosystem.
  • Uig Lodge Lettings – £10,000 for improvements to the Fhorsa River on the Isle of Lewis, focusing on enhancing spawning areas, re-shaping channels, clearing vegetation, and helping salmon move more easily.
  • Urras Oighreachd Chàrlabhaigh (Carloway Estate Trust) – £6,305 for fishing surveying, analysis, and spawning bed improvements on the Carloway River on the Isle of Lewis.
  • River Eachaig Fishery Syndicate – £24,376 for habitat improvements in Argyll, including riverbank strengthening, fencing, rhododendron control, and flood damage repairs.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “Wild salmon is one of Scotland’s most iconic species, but there has been a decades-long decline on the east and west coasts of Scotland due to climate change and habitat destruction.

“Scotland’s salmon farmers are determined to find solutions, engaging constructively with the wild fish sector and taking meaningful action to save wild salmon.”

Jon Gibb with salmon

Jon Gibb with salmon

Jon Gibb, co-ordinator of the Salmon Scotland Wild Fisheries Fund, commented: “The wild fisheries fund provides a rare and exceptional opportunity for rural and coastal communities to access vital funds aimed at improving their local rivers and lochs.

“In 2023, wild Atlantic salmon in Scotland were officially classified as an endangered species.

“It’s fantastic to support a variety of innovative projects dedicated to conserving and enhancing habitat, particularly for species facing extinction in certain areas.

“Wild salmon are currently facing a deep and dire crisis, and the aquaculture sector can play a crucial role in reducing their decline.”

 

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