Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Historical accounts and catch records show that healthy, native Atlantic salmon populations in Skye and Lochalsh were once plentiful in many rivers across the area. Several rivers on Skye were reported to produce over 1000 salmon each on an annual basis, providing jobs and food for the surrounding communities. Recreational angling on these salmon rivers also provided financial income and job security for the tourism industry.

Unfortunately, in recent decades, wild salmon populations have suffered major declines and can no longer support extensive commercial netting practices. Rod catches have dropped significantly and conservation limits determined by the Scottish Government prohibit killing of wild salmon in some rivers in the area, resulting in widespread use of catch and release techniques within the recreational angling community. For more information on specific river regulations click here .

Based on declining population levels of Atlantic salmon in Skye and Lochalsh, SLRT is currently strongly encouraging all anglers to practice catch and release methods for salmon in our rivers regardless of river conservation limits in order to safeguard our local fish for future generations.

There are thought to be multiple factors in both freshwater and marine habitats that are contributing to this decline including overfishing, predation, the Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry and habitat loss.

Atlantic Salmon, skye and lochalsh rivers trust
salmon leaping skye and lochalsh rivers

Salmon are anadromous fish, meaning that adults reproduce (or spawn) in freshwater by depositing eggs in gravel beds. Hen (female) fish disturb the gravel substrate to create a redd where they lay their eggs. Cock (male) fish remain close by doing very little to assist the female in creating the redd but will compete with other nearby males to fertilise the eggs as they are laid by the female.

The ova hatch early in the year (January-February) and feed off their egg sacks but do not leave the safety of their gravel redd until the spring when they emerge as fry and begin to feed independently. Juveniles remain in freshwater for 2-3 years before undergoing a challenging physiological transformation called smolting that allows them to migrate from freshwater into salt water. Smolts develop a silvery colour that distinguishes them from younger salmon that are darker and have clearly defined parr marks. The smolting process and resulting “smolt run” (groups of smolts moving downstream from their juvenile habitat to brackish water) occurs in April-May in Skye and Lochalsh. Once these young smolts enter the ocean, they will travel long distances to find rich feeding grounds.

The amount of time that salmon spend feeding at sea can range from one year (grilse) to four years (multi sea winter fish) after which they will return to their natal river where they were born in order to spawn. It is estimated that only 5% of salmon that leave their natal river return to spawn. A very small percentage of adult salmon will survive spawning and return back to the sea to feed and regain condition before spawning again.

It is estimated that only 5% of salmon that leave their natal river return to spawn.

It is estimated that only 5% of salmon that leave their natal river return to spawn.

Salmon, particularly young individuals, can look similar to brown trout but are distinguished by a few physical features. For example, salmon are considered to be more streamlined than trout, with a thinner tail “wrist”, deeper tail fork and longer pectoral fins.

Atlantic Salmon, skye and lochalsh rivers trust
skye and lochalsh fishing
salmon sketch subject to copyright s. mckenzie

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