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Can a network of Marine Protected Areas help wild salmon and sea trout in the seas around Wester Ross?

Posted: Monday 6 February, 2012 @ 10:34:19

Wester Ross coastal sea, sprats and a well fed finnock (top photo by Hamish Allen)

[UPDATE: A meeting took place in Gairloch Community Hall on Monday 7th May at 7pm to debate and agree a Third Party MPA proposal for Loch Gairloch. Some adjacent coastal waters including parts of Loch Ewe may be included in the bid. This bid is being led by members of the local Gairloch community. A presentation given at the meeting by Peter Cunningham can be found by clicking here.]


The ecological health and productivity of the coastal seas around Wester Ross are of importance for both wild salmon and sea trout. Investigations by Wester Ross Fisheries Trust together with those of Marine Scotland Science in Loch Torridon have highlighted the damage to sea trout that can be caused by epizootics of parasitic sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis); and also the variation in the ‘condition factor’ (fatness) of sea trout between years. For example, in July 2009 WRFT recorded sea trout with a condition factor of over 1.4 in both Loch Gairloch and Loch Ewe; these were much fatter than those seen in 2010 and 2011. This was most obviously associated with a remarkable abundance of sandeels in early summer 2009. There were also many juvenile Pollack, Coalfish, and Cod in 2009. In late summer 2010 and 2011, large shoals of juvenile Sprat were recorded.


For salmon, the 2010 ‘bumper’ grilse catch and record 2SW salmon catch in 2011 also correlate with the early summer 2009 sandeel glut. Not only were emigrating salmon post-smolts able to feed and grow quickly as soon as they reached the sea; predators of post-smolts (including sawbill ducks, Shag, Cormorant, Gannet, Pollack, seals . . .) had many other fish to divert their attention away from salmon and sea trout in 2009.


Everyone concerned for the future wellbeing of fisheries for wild salmon and sea trout should therefore be interested in on-going work to develop an ‘ecologically coherent’ network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around Scotland. Both salmon and sea trout are on the draft list of Priority Marine Features (PMFs) of conservation importance to Scotland. Although the subset of PMFs that has been used to identify areas where MPAs might most usefully be designated does not currently include salmon and sea trout, protection and restoration of habitats such as eelgrass beds, maerl beds and spawning areas for herring, sandeels and skate that are to shape the MPA network, can also benefit salmon and sea trout.


Around Wester Ross, MPA search areas’ currently include Loch Duich (to complement Loch Alsh SAC); Loch Carron; an area extending from Loch Gairloch to Loch Torridon and part of the Inner Sound; and the Loch Ewe, Gruinard Bay & Two Brooms area [an area of prime importance for Loch Maree sea trout and salmon from many of the most important river systems in Wester Ross]. Prospects for establishing MPAs in these areas will depend upon the outcome of Stakeholder’ workshops, where those with a vested interest in protecting and /or making money within our coastal seas can have their say.


Background information:


The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 provides a framework which will help balance competing demands on Scotland's seas. It introduces a duty to protect and enhance the marine environment and includes measures to help boost economic investment and growth in areas such as marine renewables. The Marine (Scotland) Act has established a new power for Marine Protected Areas in the seas around Scotland, to recognise features of national importance and meet international commitments for developing a network of MPAs.  This complements the MPA power introduced through the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act for offshore waters around Scotland.


For background information on the Marine (Scotland) Act, please visit: .


For the 'draft' list of Priority Marine Features of greatest nature conservation importance in Scottish territorial waters please go to:


For further explanation of how new MPAs will form part of a network of marine protected areas around Scotland, please visit:


For further information on the Scottish MPA programme and information about the latest developments and reports please visit the Scottish Government’s Marine Protected Areas web page: .


A report from the most recent 3rd Stakeholder workshop in October 2011 can be found at:


For background information about the SNH 'Ullapool Approaches' [Gairloch to Loch Broom] Sea Bed survey and search for MPA features please see 'Loch Gairloch MPA?' news item on this website at: .


The detailed SNH Ullapool Approaches MPA seach features survey 2010 report can be downloaded at:


The importance of inshore marine habitats for juvenile fish is highlighted in a recent report by Marine Science Scotland 2011 on the West of Scotland Marine Ecosystem. To download this detailed report, please go to: (note that this is an 8MB file).