The potential impact of wave farms on migrating salmon in Scotland’s waters is being being examined by scientists.
The Pentland Firth is a major route used by Atlantic salmon when they leave rivers for the open sea, and later return to breed.
The Crown Estate is funding the research into the impact of renewable energy projects – earmarked for the firth – by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
The Crown Estate owns 50% of Scotland’s foreshore and almost all the seabed out to 12 nautical miles.
It has leased a number of locations in the Pentland Firth to companies for the development of wave and tidal energy devices.
Researchers at UHI are investigating the potential risks the machines pose to young salmon, known as smolts, and adult fish.
The possible threats include fish colliding with the equipment and the devices disrupting migratory routes.
The study forms part of wider collaborative work between UHI and the Crown Estate. It has included research on fish farming and the production of marine biofuels.
The two organisations signed a partnership agreement on Tuesday night to “reinforce” their work to “maximise the benefits” of the renewables industry to people in the Highlands and Islands.
James Fraser, principal and vice-chancellor, said the salmon study aimed to fill a gap in scientists’ understanding of the fishes’ migratory behaviour.
He said: “One aspect of the research includes the migratory routes used by salmon, for which there are large gaps in our knowledge. Funding from The Crown Estate over the last year has enabled us to develop methods that improve our ability to estimate the probability that migrating salmon (as juveniles or adults) will interact with developments for renewable energy in coastal waters.
“The university is delighted to sign this collaborative agreement with The Crown Estate. The university partnership of 13 colleges and research centres is unique in encompassing both further and higher education and in covering the whole of the Highlands and Islands, including Moray, Perth and Kinross.
“Working with The Crown Estate, we believe our highly trained staff and world class researchers can play a key role in supporting the transformation of the Highlands and Islands’ economy through the development of the renewable energy industry.”
Gareth Baird, the Crown Estate’s Scottish Commissioner, said the body had worked with UHI over a number of years, adding: “The Crown Estate has worked with the University of the Highlands and Islands over a number of years, funding various aquaculture and marine biofuel research projects with the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI near Oban and, more recently, a research study in to the behaviour of wild salmon in the renewable energy province of the Pentland Firth, with the Environmental Research Institute at North Highland College UHI in Thurso.
“This memorandum of understanding between the university and the Crown Estate further strengthens these existing working relationships and provides new opportunities for broader and more diverse ways of working together in the future.”
The partnership aims to “maximise the benefits to the people of the Highlands and Islands from the low carbon energy revolution in the area”.