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Electro-fishing for non-native fish

13th June 2005

The latest survey on the extent of non-native fish species in the Spey and Dee river systems in the Cairngorms National Park has just been completed thanks to an innovative technique called ‘electro-fishing’.

Results in the Spey river system found that non-native golden orfe, asp and juvenile tench were present at the Grantown Skating Pond and juvenile non-native roach and rudd, and a huge tench were found in Loch Beag near Aviemore. More positively, only Pike were found at the Nethy Pool.

On Deeside, no evidence of non-native species were found with eels, brown trout, pike and perch landed on Loch Davan and Loch Kinard near Ballater.

The survey of around 350 fish was carried out using an electro-fishing boom-boat which temporarily ‘stuns’ the fish to enable easy collection and then a species identification to take place. This technique virtually eradicated fish mortality rates during the survey.

Cairngorms Local Biodiversity Action Plan Officer, Stephen Corcoran said: “The emergence of juvenile fish in Loch Beag indicates the existence of a breeding population. This has important consequences as growing numbers of non-native fish threaten the indigenous species by competing for food; eating their young or eggs; and potentially introducing disease, viruses and parasites. Only native fish were found in the Deeside study area which is good news for this river system.”

The survey, which is part of The Cairngorms Non-Native Fish Project has been carried out with the help of staff at the Spey Research Trust and the Dee Fishery Board, with a view to establishing baseline survey information on fish populations in the Cairngorms.

It also aims to bring together fishery proprietors, pike and salmon anglers, conservationists and other interested parties to develop a local strategy to stop the deliberate and accidental release of non-native course fish in the River Spey and River Dee catchments.

The Spey Research Trust’s Ecologist, Bob Laughton said: “We would ask everyone involved in the management and use of all river systems in the Cairngorms National Park and beyond to take the right precautions to avoid introducing either non-native or diseased fish. Disease and parasites can be introduced by contaminated live bait, the stocking of lochs and ponds with fish, on fishing gear or in canoes, and we would ask all anglers, proprietors and canoeists to be vigilant.

“Local people with ornamental garden ponds and small fishing ponds can also help by ensuring adequate safeguards to prevent fish escaping and avoiding the deliberate release of fish into natural ecosystems. Developing wildlife ponds is a good alternative.”

The project has been supported by the Cairngorms LEADER+ Programme, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Spey Research Trust, the Dee Fisheries Board, the Pike Angling Club of Great Britain, the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Stuart Black, Board Member of the Cairngorms National Park Authority said; “We must take the necessary steps to educate everyone from anglers to estates about the threats posed by non-native fish species as after climate change, this is the next biggest threat to local biodiversity.  We must conserve and enhance these river systems as not only are they major contributors to the local economy but they represent some of the most natural and cleanest rivers in the country, attracting international designations, and should be preserved for future generations to enjoy as well.”

Preparation of a Code of Practice for pike fishing, and an information leaflet will be prepared soon to inform anglers, pond owners and proprietors of the dangers of introducing  non-native fish or other non-native species.