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Fresh warnings over pink salmon in Sutherland rivers

By Caroline McMorran

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There are new warnings over an alien species of salmon in Scottish rivers - after first turning up six years ago.

Footage of what is believed to be the first recorded sighting on the River Laxford in Sutherland of invasive, non-native, Pacific pink salmon in UK waters this year has been recorded.

It was seen on June 29. The footage was captured by Atlantic Salmon Trust's technical project manager for Project Laxford, Chris Conroy.

The Atlantic Salmon Trust is working in partnership with the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor’s Reay Forest Estate to understand the Laxford catchment and deliver impactful management actions to support wild fish populations.


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Pink salmon pose a risk to our native Atlantic salmon

This dynamic 10-year study, which is also supported by Marine Scotland Science and West Sutherland Fisheries Trust, aims to better understand the River Laxford catchment and to restore the numbers of wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout by improving the quality and habitat of the river.

River Laxford is one of the most remote, yet productive, rivers in the Scottish Highlands, but in recent years their populations have seen a rapid decline, mirroring conditions throughout the world.

Atlantic salmon are an indicator species – a so-called “canary in the coal mine” – and act as a barometer for the health of the whole ecosystem.

This ambitious project is working towards restoring numbers of wild fish populations by improving the quality of the habitat in River Laxford.

The pink salmon sighting was promptly reported to Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS), the representative body for Scotland's District Salmon Fishery Boards, via their Pink Salmon reporting app (https://fms.scot/pink-salmon-in-scotland/).

A pink salmon.
A pink salmon.

"We urge others to report any sightings of Pacific pink salmon which will help inform wild Atlantic salmon conservation efforts," said the trust.

"This early detection is testament to the extensive monitoring systems which have been installed as part of the 10-year landscape scale, ecosystem wide, conservation project on the River Laxford catchment, in partnership with Grosvenor’s Reay Forest Estate, which aims to restore wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout populations."

Anglers have been asked to report catches and sightings of the invasive species.

Pink salmon are native to Pacific Ocean waters but have spread to parts of northern Europe after being released into rivers in Russia in the 1960s.

Anglers have been asked to humanely kill any of the salmon they might catch in Scottish rivers.

Pink salmon, also known as humpback salmon, have been seen in increasing numbers in Scotland since 2017.

Scottish government directorate, Marine Scotland, said 169 were recorded in 2021 - the highest number to date.

In advice to anglers, Marine Scotland said any pink salmon caught should not be released back into a river.

It has appealed for any sightings or catches to be reported to the local fishery board and Pink Salmon in Scotland.

There are concerns the salmon could outcompete native fish species for food and habitat.

The Ness and Helmsdale have been among rivers where pink salmon have been found previously.

The species has a two-year life cycle and usually appear in Scottish waters in odd numbered years.

High numbers were seen in 2017 - 139 - but 20 in 2019 before the record high in 2021, according to Marine Scotland.

Marine Scotland said: "We are closely monitoring this species to gain a clearer understanding of which rivers might be affected.

"Information on the presence of pink salmon gathered in 2023, will help to inform what actions may be appropriate in future years."

The fish have already colonised some rivers in Norway.

The invasive species spawns at a different time of the year from Atlantic salmon.

Fears for Britain's native salmon were first sounded about 11 years ago after several pink specimens were caught in UK waters - despite being 10,000 miles from their natural habitat.

The pink salmon is usually found in the chilly waters off Canada and Alaska where they are part of the staple diet of the grizzly bear. Their translucent eggs also make fine caviar.

The Salmon and Trout Conservation Trust, has also previously warned: "If they do begin to colonise and breed over here that would create a major problem for native salmon which are not doing very well as it is in terms of numbers."

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