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Pink salmon pose a risk to our native Atlantic salmon

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COLUMN: Northern Lines by Dr Keith Williams

Many years ago I was fortunate enough to travel to the Kola Peninsula for a fishing holiday.

It was a great experience although I caught few fish. The target species was Atlantic salmon, but the River Kharlovka supported a few other species that piqued my interest.

Dr Keith Williams.
Dr Keith Williams.

A fellow fisher caught a fine sea-run Arctic charr. We have charr in Scotland but they tend to be diminutive and they do not venture into the marine environment, instead remaining confined to lochs and a few stretches of river.

My fishing guide, the local biologist, pointed out with some embarrassment the presence of dying pink salmon. I was very interested to learn how Pacific salmon had found their way onto the Atlantic seaboard. It transpires that they were introduced into the rivers to create a fishery and associated food source.

Over the years these fish have spread from Russia and colonised Norwegian rivers. They are now increasingly present in Scottish rivers. Their life history is far more rigid than our native salmon which means, for the moment at least, they largely run our rivers every second year. Typically, the month of June heralds the start of the run and ghillies and river managers are presently awaiting their arrival with interest.

Opinion is divided as to whether the presence of this particular non-native invasive species is entirely positive or negative. Some anglers express the view that they are happy to catch any species when fishing, particularly given the paucity of Atlantic salmon these days, whereas others regard them as a nuisance.

Douglas Macleay, vice-chairman of the Kyle of Sutherland Angling Association with a pink salmon caught in the Kyle at Bonar Bridge.
Douglas Macleay, vice-chairman of the Kyle of Sutherland Angling Association with a pink salmon caught in the Kyle at Bonar Bridge.

I personally tend towards the latter camp. From an ecological perspective, they pose a risk to our native stocks via the potential spread of disease and the utilisation of food and habitat resources that would otherwise be available for our native fish.

The Norwegians have deployed traps and other techniques in order to remove as many of the pink salmon as possible, but this utilises considerable resources and is not always feasible.

Whatever our individual views, it is important that we understand as much as possible about what is happening in our local rivers. Fisheries Management Scotland have created online resources to help people identify and report captures or sightings of pink salmon. Alternatively, contact your local fishery board or trust if you come across one of these interlopers.

Dr Keith Williams is a director of Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries.

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