How a groundbreaking project on the River Nith could help solve the wild salmon crisis

  • Video report by Ciaran Fitzpatrick

A pioneering project on the River Nith in the Scottish Borders is hoping its findings will help solve the wild salmon crisis.

The year-long project investigated how young salmon migrate to the Solway coast as part of conservation efforts, as salmon populations drastically decline worldwide.

It's feared they could completely disappear from Great Britain's shores.

Scotland's rivers are home to 90% of the UK's salmon population, and the Nith Salmon fishery trust who are behind the project says the River Nith is the perfect place for this research to be carried out.

They say it's vital to monitor migration patterns to help protect the species.

The project works by tagging the salmon and tracking their journey to the coast.

Nets were used on the River Nith, north of Auldgirth, to capture those swimming down the river. Once caught, they were tagged and released.

As salmon moved towards the Solway, they were monitored by acoustic tracking devices at key locations. This allowed scientists to see the locations where numbers may be dropping off.

As the salmon progressed out of the Solway and up North, scientists used other trackers existing in the Atlantic Ocean to mark the exact path of the salmon from the Nith.

They found the majority of salmon avoided most of the Hebrides and journeyed seawards around them towards Norway.

The salmon mostly journeyed at night to avoid predators and allow for safer trips.

It's hoped these results will provide clarity as to why these important fish are disappearing, and how best they can be saved.   

Salmon were caught at different points along the Nith to discover where there might be difficulties for salmon continuing to the coast. Credit: ITV News Border

Fishery biologist Debbie Parke said: "We can look at where are they holding up.

"Are there areas where they are being predated more, are there areas where we could do habitat improvements?"

An area where the salmon migration was found to slow was near Glencaple, due to the process of going from the freshwater into the marine environment.

Debbie continued: "We can slow things down for them so they've got more safety in the river. And try to get more salmon smolts leaving our rivers."

Jim Henderson, Director of the Nith District Salmon board, said: "Young salmon could be going up the west coast of Scotland, into an area of where development might perhaps be taking place.

"This can include a fish farm or a wind farm, or another construction project, and we need to know where our fish are going so we can protect them the best we can."

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