Fishing The Fly Scotland Forum

Hamish Young

Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« on: 07/03/2014 at 10:30 »
The other evening the committee of the local angling club on the River Beauly met; as we do almost every month.
Amongst other matters discussed a query was raised about kelts - or the lack of them being seen in any part of the lower river.

Now some of you will appreciate that the Beauly is part of the Affric/Beauly hydro electric scheme which is run by SSE, it is one of the more significant hydro schemes in Scotland. Significantly there are two dams at Aigas and Kilmorack on the main river itself which were built on the sites of falls/gorges when the scheme was being assembled in the late 40's early 50's. Both of these dams have Borland type fish passes installed. Essentially, these operate much like the locks on a canal and 'lift' the fish from low to high or vice versa. In theory.
Now clearly a dam across a river is a serious obstruction or obstacle to the migration of fish. So the obstruction/obstacle must 'eased' in some way to allow fish access to the watercourse above the obstacle and that's why we have fish passes. OK, we all get that.

I wonder just how many of you would have been amazed/incredulous when I discovered that SSE have no automatic system in place to open the sluices at the top of the dams to allow spent fish to return to the sea. None. Nowt. Feck all. This year many, many kelts have not been able to return to the sea as their passage is blocked by the sluice gates at the top of the dams. They have been hit heavily by predators and plenty of fish (I hear) are just going belly up.
Now how do you suppose they normally get released downstream to get back to the sea :?

Would you be amazed, as I was, to discover that the Beauly DSFB has to ask SSE to open the sluices in early season to allow passage of fish :? They only do it on request when it is reported to them that there is a need, there is no automatic process in place. Now locally a request has duly been made in the past 24hrs and the sluices will be opened over the next few days - this is good news, but it should be an automatic process.

But I would have expected, after 50+ years of being responsible for water control and the migration of fish on the Beauly system, that this would have been nailed by now. It is utterly ridiculous, in my personal opinion, that a special request must be made to SSE to open the sluices to allow for the migration  of spent fish back to the sea. It's a nonsense :!

What about the smolts you might ask :? In theory these are unaffected as they go through the turbines.

This mornings rant is now done, but I would be intrigued to know if other forum members would have expected better from the caretakers of our rivers.

H :cool:

Will Shaw

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #1 on: 07/03/2014 at 10:57 »
Bloody hell Hamish, that's amazing.  :z10

Hamish Young

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #2 on: 07/03/2014 at 12:17 »
I am still dumbstruck by it all Will, I just find it utterly incredible that this is where we are today.

H :z10

Rob Brownfield

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #3 on: 07/03/2014 at 12:26 » when I put on here about kelts being washed down the river and coming back the following year, I was told the percentages were tiny, maybe 2%. a check online showed that this was indeed the case for Scottish Salmon.

So my question is, and don't take this the wrong way...but, do they need to regularly open the slucies if those fish being taken down stream are going to die/not come back anyway?

On the flip side, ss openning the sluices probably costs a great deal of money/reduces the levels above the damn, I can see why it is not done automatically, whether there are fish there or not. So, would the Salmon Board not be best placed to recommend an openning when a group of fish are waiting?

You say they have been doing this for 50 are the catch rates (compared to what is happening all over scotland)..are they consistant with other rivers? If so, then it cannot be having an impact, if not and the river has shown a decline over the last 50 years that is greater than other rivers, then you have proof and can lay hard facts on the table to get it changed.

Just a thought and in no way said to discredit your heart felt concern.

Ben Dixon

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #4 on: 07/03/2014 at 12:29 »
I'm not surprised about this, at all.  Fairly standard on most hydro rivers.

Go make some enquiries about the Conon Hamish, I heard the smolts are taken down in buckets but not sure how true this is.

I'm not surprised but do not understand how this is allowed, I thought it was a criminal offence to interfere with the passage of migratory fish in either direction.

Maybe you should write to Richard Lockhead Hamish?



Rob Brownfield

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #5 on: 07/03/2014 at 12:33 » Page 18 onwards (Beauly page 23)

Catch returns and fish counter numbers (if applicable) for all the major rivers since 1952... Beauly took a tumble in the late 90's (change of operation mode for the sluices?) but has made a recovery.

Hamish Young

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #6 on: 07/03/2014 at 12:55 »
Fair observations in the first post there Rob.

In my experience we are seeing greater numbers of kelts 'kicking around' after spawning than we ever used to so, in this instance, I am not particularly concerned what the natural mortality figures are once they go back to sea. However, I am concerned that 'we' as managers of the artificial habitat are not giving those fish that have survived spawning the opportunity to get back to sea when should be.

As to figures and percentages well there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics :wink Anyone can say that study 1 has shown X but another think tank turns round and says the same study shows Y, if you need an example of that you only have to look at the differences between the Salmon farming industry figures and the anti-salmon farming lobbyists. Whilst I would never deny mortality rates of kelts will be high I would not be keen to say the overall percentage is as low on some rivers as is suggested.

Also.... we're not just talking about Salmon here. Sea Trout were once a major part of the Beauly system and their numbers have definitely dropped since the hydro schemes were installed as have the numbers of spring salmon. I'll not deny there are other possible reasons for the drop in numbers, I'd be an idiot (or a politician, or both) not to take these things into account before expressing my dissatisfaction at the news that kelts are not being let down except at request.

Arguably a competent DSFB (or Trust) would be indeed be the authority one might expect to ask SSE to open the sluices as and when needed. Hydro generation is controlled from Glasgow and not locally. The idea of the Borland pass is that it is pretty much free to run (in terms of cost) when part of a hydro system.

I am trying to find out if the management of this process has changed over the years, my initial findings suggest that they have changed signficantly and since greater automation was introduced ten years ago things have got worse. In other words, in order to be more efficient and generate a greater income with fewer staff some things have been allowed to 'slide' and the passage of fish up (and down) the system is one of them.

More anon - I have a parenting class to go to  :shock


Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #7 on: 09/03/2014 at 13:30 »
Believe there's a similar problem with the Borland pass at Mucomir dam, on the Lochy system as well and also on the Shin. I think it might be about time for a few of the Boards or Associations to get together on this and ask SSE some leading questions. SSE are just too big, and of course, there used to be resident maintenace operators living next to all these dams to keep an eye on the fish passes and what kelts were waiting - not any more. They even used to show visitors/tourists  the salmon going up in the lift twice a day at Kilmorack during the seventies and early eighties. 

Rob Brownfield

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #8 on: 10/03/2014 at 07:40 »
Hamish, I have to say I think the 2% figure seems extremely low. In Norway, where studies have been carried out for many years, every year, on various rivers, they get a return rate of around 30%.

I do see your point though and yes, where an artificial obstruction is in place, we should do all we can to manage the population of fish (no one mentions eels) to ensure they can move up and down as and when needed.

I guess for the hydro lot they are in between a rock and a hard place. Their electric customers are more numerous and they also get fined if they cannot supply enough electrickery to the grid. Maintaining water levels and so on are going to be the priority and their environmental responsibility will always be lower down the list of priorities.

Expect more dams in the future of Salmond gets his way..i believe they have 12 in the "pipeline2 so to speak :(

Hamish Young

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #9 on: 10/03/2014 at 09:29 »
It will be interesting to me to see how this progresses.

By chance I was speaking with an old chum from the West recently and fishing came up in discussions (as it always does) including matters dam/borland/smolts/kelts etc. Seems the Lochy has been having real issues of late since automation took over - indeed, as noglaks posts - all of the principal hydro systems with automated or remotely operated borland fish passes have had issues with fish movements.

I was particularly interested in the findings of local fisheries scientists in that part of the world about Sea Trout smolts. Now I know from my own experiences that Sea Trout smolts are generally larger than their Salmon chums and it seems they've not been able to get through the turbines at Mucomir.... so when they get stuck at Mucomir unable to continue their downstream migration they either get hit by Loch Lochys big predatory browns or get turned into smolt sushi. Nice.

So, with all of this 'evidence' of events I wondered how all of this sat in relation to the European Water Framework Directive (EWFD). Now in a nutshell this is essentially European legislation that sets out the ground rules for the introduction of an integrated approach to the management and sustainable use of river systems.

In Scotland, with our unique fisheries management systems, this was always going to be problematic to introduce but it turns out that on the back of the EWFD a piece of legislation was introduced in 2011 called "The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations" which in turn is a re-write of legislation introduced in 2005 which was also a re-write of the 2003 legislation (you get the idea, it's got a complicated history). Anyway, these regulations introduced controls of significant relevance to hydro systems via a licensing programme which requires tighter control on previously unregulated water abstraction and impoundments.

The practical upshot is that all hydro development works or change schemes require a Controlled Activities Regulation (CAR) authorisation for abstractions, impounding works (weirs and dams) and any other engineering works associated with the scheme - but the legislation cannot be retrospectively applied. The legislation is actually much farther reaching than just hydro schemes but interestingly there is a link with SNH, (everyone's favourite folks) as any new works or major changes which could impact species listed as 'European Protected Species' require a further licence from SNH driven by The Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended)..... oh, and it would have to go through planning too. The SNH list can be found here by the way: if you want to know which fish are on it I'll save you the trouble of reading it, the listed fish are the Whitefish, Sturgeon, Barbel, Vendace, Twaite Shad, River Lamprey, Grayling, Atlantic Salmon and the Allis Shad.

Anyway, lists of protected species aside what is the relevance of all this legislation :?
Well it suggests to me that in the short term very little can be done under this legislation to improve the lot of migratory fish (as I said in the first post Rob, migratory fish includes eels :wink) where there are existing hydro schemes. However, where there are changes or all new schemes the full letter of the law comes into force. Or does it..... it might be possible (and remember, I'm a layman not a legal expert) for the Scottish Government to bypass the legislation for the common good.

Ultimately SSE have a duty of care and must satisfy the new broader water framework led legislation. Wherever there is the intention from SSE to alter the discharge regime they must provide new fish passes and fish screens to improve the ecology. Great. But.... this will be done only when it does not reduce the overall amount of renewable energy.

Honestly it's all a wee bit confusing. I'm interested in seeing the fish get a fair chance and the best 'fair chance' we can give them I can't determine yet if all this legislation gives them a fair chance or if it allows things to stay the same just better bound up in red tape.

I'll do some more digging.

H :cool:

Rob Brownfield

Re: Unbelieveable - just utterly bewildering
« Reply #10 on: 10/03/2014 at 13:38 »
Soooo, SNH have an illegally introduced fish on the "Naturally occuring" and "protected" list.  ZX2

Back to the original post...some intetresting stuff there Hamish.


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