FINDHORN Nairn and Lossie Fisheries Trust (FNLFT) has confirmed an increasing seal population is likely to be affecting local salmon stock.
FNLFT director Bob Laughton admits there is “widespread concern throughout Scotland” about a reduction in the proportion of juvenile fish going to sea which return as adults.
He said: “This is currently the focus of co-ordinated research efforts. The Findhorn Board is assessing data and will be discussing options within the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan and with other relevant organisation.
“The Moray Firth Seal Management Plan, which includes local boards and Government agencies, aims to provide a means for managing seals which stray up into rivers an specifically prey on salmonids. Members meet regularly to discuss strategies and approaches.”
Seals eat a wide range of fish species and data from various research projects indicates oily fish such as sand eels make up much of their basic diet. Seals also travel large distances to forage and often feed some distance away from their haul out sites.
However, if close to a salmon river, they are more likely to prey on salmon and sea trout according to photographic, dietary and visual evidence. Mr Laughton added: “With low numbers of salmon and sea trout returning to our rivers at the moment due to low marine survival, compounded by low flows, this is of concern since pressures on the population through predation are likely to be increased.”
FNFLT conduct regular counts of salmon both visually and using a drone.
“The numbers of seals at the mouth of the River Findhorn vary widely,” said Mr Laughton. “During 2016-17, numbers were typically between 150 and 350. This winter and spring the count has increased to over 700. The majority appear to be grey seals.”
He added: “The Findhorn Board is considering the latest set of data. However, research on the river indicates that, while angling catch has dropped in the last two years, juvenile salmon numbers are satisfactory.”