PROTECTING & IMPROVING
THE TAY DISTRICT KELT RECONDITIONING PROJECT
The Kelt Reconditioning Project is the largest initiative the Board is involved.
This ground breaking project was established in the early 1990s by Marine Scotland Science. They set up a unique facility at Almondbank in which captive adult salmon which had spawned (kelts) were successfully encouraged to start feeding while still in freshwater. These were fish which would otherwise have died. Instead, they survive, grow and produce eggs repeatedly over a number of years. However, in early 2011, Marine Scotland Science decided to close this facility, which is unique in Europe (kelt reconditioning was only one of a number of research projects being conducted at Almondbank). Therefore, in order to prevent the loss of the Kelt Reconditioning Project, on 1 April 2011, the Board, who had been involved in the project since the outset, took over the former Marine Scotland Science experimental fish rearing unit at Almondbank. Over the remainder of 2011, the Board occupied the facility on a trial basis. It was decided on the basis of that experience that the Board should not only continue to try to run this facility, but expand it. This facility became the central part of the Board’s hatchery policy.
Mature spring salmon are caught in headwater areas just before they spawn by Board staff with help from ghillies and other volunteers and are taken to the hatchery where they are held until stripping. The spent “kelts” are coaxed to recommence feeding while still in captivity, in freshwater. These fish then regain weight and condition and mature to produce eggs again. Most females survive long enough to produce eggs over several successive years. The record is with Dolly, our champion hen fish, who produced eggs for nine years.
It is therefore possible to produce significant numbers of eggs from adult spring salmon of known tributary of origin which would otherwise have been dead. This means that eggs can be obtained from small populations from which eggs could not otherwise be removed.
In recent years this project has yielded approximately 750,000 spring salmon eggs each year, exceeding 1 million for the first time in 2018 and again in 2019. These eggs have proved particularly valuable in allowing us to conduct stocking in a number of areas where juvenile salmon numbers were very low.
An example is the Cononish, the name given to the headwaters of the River Dochart. Up to a few years ago juvenile salmon densities in the Cononish were very low, for reasons which are still not completely clear However, as a result of the stocking the number of juvenile salmon in the Cononish has increased markedly. Without kelt reconditioning we could never have risked removing broodstock from the river to stock such a risky area as the Cononish.
However, the biggest benefit of the project has been in kick starting the salmon population of the newly restored River Garry. For some years before flow restoration, eggs from reconditioned kelts were stocked into the limited flow then available. This meant that immediately from the point that flow was restored in 2017 adult salmon were seen jumping at falls at Struan and some spawned successfully that autumn. Since then the stocking effort has increased and because of the increased flow the number of juveniles present has increased markedly.