Amabel Hamilton, chief executive of seaweed grower Atlantic Mariculture, with farmed kelp.

Salmon Scotland funds kelp help for wild fish

Seaweed shelters project is among seven sharing £117,000 handout 

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A series of Highland coastal kelp shelters are among seven major environmental projects being supported by Scotland’s salmon farmers to help save wild salmon and sea trout.

More than £118,000 has been granted to organisations this year through trade body Salmon Scotland’s Wild Fisheries Fund to address long-term species decline.

The fund is part of a £1.5 million commitment from Scotland's salmon farmers to support the conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of wild fish numbers.

Atlantic Mariculture, a seaweed farmer based at Ardtoe on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, has been awarded £43,102 to deploy specially designed ‘kelp shelters’ for wild salmon and sea trout.

Inshore forests

Five inshore forests will be created with seaweed grown on ropes along the west coast near the Rivers Shiel and Moidart – both key ecosystems.

Habitat loss and rising river temperatures primarily due to climate change have impacted on wild salmon and sea trout populations throughout the UK and all over the Scottish coastline.

Salmon Scotland said salmon farming companies, which only operate on the west coast, launched the fund to help find solutions, engaging constructively with the wild fish sector and taking meaningful action to save wild salmon. 

Plugging the dam

Previously called the Wild Salmonid Fund, more than £190,000 has already been invested since 2021 including a £35,000 grant to save the leaking Fincastle Dam on West Harris, helping preserve an important salmon fishery.

The fund is co-ordinated by fishery manager Jon Gibb, who is based in Fort William and has championed a constructive relationship between the farm-raised salmon sector and fisheries and angling groups.

The other six projects awarded funds this year are:

  • Ayrshire Rivers Trust: £15,543 to undertake a restoration project that will aim to address riverbank erosion at the Netherton Burn.
  • Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association: £23,000 to fund habitat improvement at 12 sites along the River Fruin aiming to remove fish migration barriers, plant trees, and stabilise banks.
  • Loch Lomond Fisheries Trust: £12,381 to engage with young people in Garelochhead, providing practical workshops on fisheries management, bankside strengthening, and tree planting.
  • River Eachaig Fishery Syndicate: £11,084 for ecological improvements to the riverbed at the Lamont pool on the Cowal Peninsula, in South Argyll.
  • River Ruel Improvement Association: £10,000 to tackle erosion and minimise the entry of fine sediment into the river on the Cowal Peninsula through tree planting and fencing to mitigate livestock trampling.
  • Obbe Fishery: £3,000 to repair an ageing South Harris sea dam wall, introduce an underwater camera for monitoring fish runs, and add and clean spawning gravel in feeder streams.
From left: Jon Gibb (co-ordinator, Wild Fisheries Fund), Tavish Scott (chief executive, Salmon Scotland), Finlay Mackinnon (ghillie, Borve Lodge Estate), Roddy Macdonald (director, West Harris Trust), and Neil Campbell (director, West Harris Trust), at Fincastle Dam, which was repaired with money from the salmon sector.

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott said: “Salmon farmers are determined to address the ongoing decline in wild salmon populations, which are one of Scotland’s most iconic species.

“Wild salmon numbers worldwide have been decreasing for the past century, and it is crucial to rely on scientific knowledge to understand the real challenges impacting them.

“The main pressures on wild salmon and trout include habitat loss and rising river temperatures during their return to freshwater rivers for breeding. We actively contribute to reversing this decline by supporting community-led projects to restore our rivers and lochs, making a positive global impact.

“Salmon farmers take great pride in sharing their expertise to maximise salmon survival and financially support the protection of Scotland's wild species.”

An exceptional opportunity

Jon Gibb, co-ordinator of the Salmon Scotland wild fisheries fund, said: “The wild fisheries fund is a rare and exceptional opportunity for communities to access vital funds aimed at improving their local rivers and lochs.

“It’s fantastic to support a variety of innovative projects dedicated to conserving and enhancing the habitat, particularly for a species facing extinction in certain areas.

“Wild salmon are currently facing a deep and dire crisis, and the aquaculture sector can play a vital role in mitigating their decline.”

100-metre shelters

Kelp forests are known to provide food and security for many fish species, and it’s hoped that Atlantic Mariculture's planned ‘shelters’ will offer crucial rest stops for migrating sea trout, benefiting the wider marine ecosystem.

Atlantic Mariculture will deploy five 100-metre-long shelters, growing sustainable brown kelp species native to the area, providing a dense environment for sea trout, and repurposing historical salmon netting stations where possible.

The sites will be closely monitored throughout the two-year project using underwater drones, divers, cameras, and specialist sensor equipment.

Research grant

Amabel Hamilton, chief executive of Atlantic Mariculture, said: “Atlantic Mariculture is delighted to have been awarded a research grant to examine how kelp shelters can enhance habitats for sea trout in the coastal waters around Moidart. 

“Sea trout have endured a difficult few decades, and thanks to the Salmon Scotland wild fisheries fund, we can now explore how to support this native and sensitive indicator species using cultivated Scottish kelp.”

The River Eachaig is a significant sea trout fishery, but it has been impacted by severe bank erosion and collapse. As a result, the pools are becoming shallower and less productive.

Severe erosion

Bob Younger, of the River Eachaig Fishery Syndicate, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen as one of the successful applicants for Salmon Scotland’s wild fisheries fund.

“A vital section of our fishery is currently experiencing severe erosion, and the funding will greatly assist in constructing a ‘green revetment’ to consolidate and regenerate the riverbank.”

Surveys have revealed a decline in the young trout and salmon population in the River Ruel, attributed to bankside erosion caused by water abstraction and tree loss, aggravated by livestock trampling in the area. To address this, improvement works will involve a ‘green revetment’ technique, forming a sloping structure on the bank, allowing vegetation and the riverbed habitat to recover.

Andrew Barker, of the River Ruel Improvement Association, said: “Under the guidance of the Argyll Fisheries Trust, in collaboration with dedicated local volunteers, we have embarked on a comprehensive habitat improvement initiative. 

“We are extremely grateful for the invaluable financial support provided by Salmon Scotland’s wild fisheries fund, without which much of this important work would not have been possible.”