Electrofishing used in Edinburgh conservation project

Conservationists have been using a novel technique to save fish in a Scottish river as part of a major project to improve migration routes for spawning salmon and other species.

Jamie Ormiston, from the River Forth Fisheries Trust Conservationists who have been using a novel technique to save fish from a Scottish river during a major project to improve migration routes for spawning salmon and other species. Pciture: Neil Hanna Photography

A team of specially-trained electrofishing operatives has been called in to stun and catch fish stranded during major engineering works at a popular Edinburgh landmark, then carry them to safety.

The 200-year-old Fair-a-Far weir at Cramond was built to serve an ironworks during the industrial revolution.

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A special pass was added to the 30m structure in the 1970s to allow fish to travel upriver to reach their breeding grounds.

Despite this, however, the weir has remained a major obstacle for species such as salmon, trout, eel and lamprey.

Now a £500,000 operation has begun to demolish the old fish pass and replace it with a more effective modern equivalent.

It has involved damming the River Almond to allow access for plant machinery, potentially leaving resident fish stranded.

So experts have been carrying out weekly rescue missions that involve electrofishing areas downstream of the weir, catching any specimens found there and transporting them upstream to continue their journey. The rescuing will continue for the next couple of weeks while the temporary dam is in place.

The measures are part of the £6.7 million RiverLife: Almond & Avon restoration project, spearheaded by the River Forth Fisheries Trust and the City of Edinburgh Council.

Jamie Ormiston, community engagement officer for RiverLife, said: “The Fair-a-Far weir is an iconic structure, part of the river’s history, and people love it.

“We didn’t want to remove the weir but the existing fish pass was not fit for purpose so the decision was made to rip it out and build a new one.

“It’s hoped this will allow fish to make their way to important spawning grounds.”

The weir was built in 1790 to provide a new water source for the iron works at Fair-a- Far mill, but had to be extensively repaired after it was almost completely washed away during unprecedented floods in 1935.

Project co-ordinator Kate Comin said: “The work at Fair-a-far weir in Cram­ond is just the beginning of the barrier improve inment works on the River Almond.”