Scots team to study mysterious decline of salmon at sea
MARINE scientists in Scotland have been awarded a £100,000 grant to try to unravel the mysterious and massive decline in stocks of Atlantic salmon at sea.
Over the past decade, major investments in stock conservation and the adoption of catch-and-release policies on Scotland’s principal salmon rivers have led to improvements in the prospects of survival for salmon in fresh water, vital to the future of the country’s 73 million angling industry.
But there is now consensus among both scientists and fishery managers that the major decline in Atlantic salmon stocks has been because of poor survival rates at sea.
The Pitlochry-based Atlantic Salmon Trust yesterday announced the grant to enable vital research on salmon behaviour at sea to begin next spring, in the hope that scientists can identify the reasons behind the critical decline in stocks in the wild.
The funding, the largest grant that the conservation body has ever made, will be used primarily to study the impact of predators, fish farming and trawling on the stocks.
The results of the research will be fed into a major internal research programme on salmon at sea, named SALSEA, due to get under way in 2006 under the auspices of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, the international treaty organisation dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon stocks.
The Scottish research team will be led by Dr Dick Shelton, the trust’s research director, who will be working closely with the Institute of Marine Research in Norway and the Marine and Freshwater Laboratories of the Scottish Executive’s Fisheries Research Services.
Dr Shelton said yesterday that despite a welcome improvement in the salmon’s freshwater environment, allied with stringent measures to conserve and restore stocks, numbers had fallen by more than 50 per cent in the past 30 years.
He continued: "Just as the improved management of salmon rivers has flowed from a thorough understanding of the fish’s freshwater requirements, so the time has come to apply the same approach to the salmon’s needs at sea.
"It has become abundantly clear that a better understanding of the problems facing salmon at sea offers the best chance of the decline being reversed."
Seymour Monro, the executive director of the trust, said: "We believe that the research that we are backing is potentially the most important ever carried out on salmon.
"Only once we have identified the main threats to salmon survival at sea will we be in a position to work on solutions, with the aim of restoring salmon numbers to the levels of abundance that used to be the norm."
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