Highlands & Islands

Energy firm completes new salmon hatchery at Contin

Salmon at hatchery
Image caption An egg-laden salmon at the new hatchery

One of the UK's largest power firms has completed a new salmon hatchery which has the capacity to release millions of fish into a Highlands river.

SSE has spent £750,000 on the unit at Contin in Easter Ross.

The company has a historic responsibility to keep the Conon River system stocked with fish.

Hydro schemes built in the area 60 years ago, and now operated by SSE, destroyed important spawning beds in upriver tributaries.

To replace the lost spawning beds, a hatchery has been operating for about 50 years.

Simon McKelvey, of the Cromarty Firth Fishery Board, who is in charge of the hatchery project, said salmon played an important part in healthy river ecosystems.

'Minimise impact'

He said that by operating a hatchery, it was possible to continue having salmon in the Conon River.

Egg-laden female fish are caught in fish traps and "stripped" of their eggs which are then artificially fertilised.

In February, a high proportion of the eggs are taken from the hatchery and placed in holes dug into the river's bed and they are left to incubate.

Image caption SSE has a long-standing responsibility to keep the Conon stocked with salmon

Mr McKelvey said: "At every stage we are trying to mimic what the salmon would be doing naturally."

Alastair Stephen, a biologist at SSE, said: "We are effectively filling in one part of the life cycle. We are trying to minimise the impact we are having on the genetic make-up of the fish stocks.

"We catch as many of the fish as we can in the traps we have and strip the fish, in hopefully as natural a way as possible, before putting the fish back in as eggs or fry."

Mr Stephen said it was not just a legal obligation, but a moral responsibility, to look after salmon stocks on the Conon River.

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