The Atlantic salmon is an iconic species. It captures the imagination not only of anglers but of all of us who express a great love for the remaining wild creatures of Scotland. This year marks the International Year of the Salmon. This is a multi agency and global initiative to highlight the importance of salmon to ecosystems and cultures. The Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust are hosting the first of several events showing important documentary films and presenting current research and plans to ensure we look after the salmon’s habitat as best we can
Salmon populations are, by and large, unique to their river system but migrate out to sea to feed, with no knowledge of or respect for international borders. They home back to their place of birth, having taken on large amounts of nutrients in a compelling and romantic life story. These nutrients in the form of eggs and carcasses of the dying fish help feed the next generations and contribute significantly to the entire trophic web. This supports all manner of creatures from insects and birds to freshwater pearl mussels. Salmon have populated all clean cool rivers with access to the sea in much of the Northern Atlantic. All this has taken place since the last ice age, when only a few populations remained in Southern France and Spain, where the ice had not reached. Salmon are exceptional survivors and adapters but man’s impacts may be too fast for evolution to cope with in some places.
The salmon has enjoyed a rich and diverse cultural impact in the Hebrides, from historic tales of poaching, angling prowess and sheer fish abundance to the more alarming impacts of salmon farming on wild stocks when things go wrong. These negative impacts were widely publicised on national television over the last year. However, it is not all doom and gloom. The Hebrides is a world renowned angling destination, featuring heavily in film and literature. We punch well above our weight on this front and in a comprehensive study conducted by the Trust over a decade ago it was shown that angling tourism to the Hebrides supports 270 full time equivalent jobs. This is not insignificant.
The Hebrides are blessed with some of the cleanest waters in Scotland with relatively few negative in stream impacts and due to less densely populated areas any impacts are much smaller than more heavily populated areas. The Trust’s research and monitoring of juvenile populations shows that in the freshwater, at least, things are doing well, although reduced adult returning fish means less nutrient deposition in the headwaters waters.
Out in the ocean though something has changed and we all acknowledge this is of concern. Long-term cyclical patterns have shown returning adult salmon populations fluctuating over decades and it is believed this is, in the main, to do with ocean temperature variation and the impact on feeding grounds for the young salmon entering the sea for the feeding stage of life. The concern now is that climate change could interrupt the cycle and cause longer term issues for salmon. Added to this is our continued impact on the environment on which they depend. Now more than ever we need to mitigate for as many of these as possible and ensure the population survives.
We hope as many people attend our events to learn more and to hopefully get energised to help protect the future of the salmon, a magnificent resource for all, not just those who fish for them.