Important spawning grounds for wild salmon are set to be opened for the first time in 70 years after a dam on one of Scotland’s “big four” rivers was named as a barrier to fish migration.
Anglers have welcomed the move, which they say will help boost populations of wild salmon and sea trout in the upper part of the River Spey.
For years we have been concerned about the negative impact of Spey Dam and its water regimeRoger Knight
Official re-classification of the Spey Dam at Laggan by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency means efforts must be made to allow better passage of the fish by 2027 under European rules.
A special fish ladder has been in place at the dam since it became fully operational after the Second World War. However, ongoing surveys have shown fish are being stopped in their tracks both when travelling upstream to breed and downstream to reach the sea.
Angling is a key industry in the region, supporting hundreds of jobs and generating more than £11 million for the local economy.
Roger Knight, director of the Spey Fishery Board (SFB), said the designation means a solution must be found for what has been a long-standing problem for salmon.
He said: “For many years we have been concerned about the negative impact of Spey Dam and the water regime associated with it.
“These concerns have been amplified by the step-change in juvenile populations as a result of the dam – there is an abundance of juvenile salmon immediately below the dam, in stark contrast to the scarcity of juvenile salmon above it. In fact, in 2014, no salmon fry at all were found above the dam.”
The current fish ladder has also caused other problems, with some salmon dying as a result of being trapped.
“In addition, fish are barred from accessing the historically important River Markie tributary,” added Mr Knight.
A Sepa spokesman said it was too early to define what work might be undertaken.
He added: “However, this partnership approach will allow us to identify and prioritise measures for improving fish spawning conditions throughout the upper Spey.
“The process will also give us the opportunity to address any specific concerns with the River Markie tributary and the screening of fish at the Spey Dam itself.”