The West Coast Tracking Project is a unique study delivered in partnership between Marine Scotland, Fisheries Management Scotland and the Atlantic Salmon Trust which aims to better understand how our young salmon smolts use the West Coast of Scotland, with the ultimate goal of better protecting them.

Following the herculean effort of launching the project in Spring 2021, the work is starting to indicate migratory patterns and preferences, including how individual smolts move through sea lochs and their speed of travel. The early findings also show that our salmon smolts disperse widely along the west coast and migrate using many different routes.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “I welcome the initial results of this innovative and ongoing project that is increasing our understanding of salmon migration routes.

“The revival of salmon populations and the habitats they depend on will provide multiple benefits to society and the rural economy.

“While we take a suite of measures across Scotland that are tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, we continue to argue for greater collective action across the international arena that will reverse the decline of this iconic species.”

This ground-breaking three-year project uses cutting edge technology to follow our salmon smolts from their home rivers, through Scotland’s coastal waters and out to the continental shelf in the North Atlantic, filling in key knowledge gaps about their swimming behaviour and how they are using our coastal waters. This vital work will help to inform the future regulation of coastal developments, such as aquaculture and offshore renewable energy installations, so that we can better protect this iconic species.

During the project’s first year (2021), over 1,200 salmon from ten rivers were tagged with acoustic tags, which emit regular high frequency ‘pings’. Over 200 underwater listening stations were deployed in strategic locations spanning across the west coast of Scotland, including between Skye and Uist. The young salmon smolts are detected by a uniquely identified ‘ping’ from the acoustic tags, providing an insight to the smolts’ movements and a wider understanding of their migratory journey.

Mark Bilsby, Chief Executive Officer for the Atlantic Salmon Trust, comments on what we know so far:
“There has been a momentous effort from everyone contributing to this project. It’s great to finally shed light on the previously unknown behaviour of our young smolts and how they use this complex environment. Seeing people who care deeply about the future of wild Atlantic salmon come together has been incredible and the ability to share resources and knowledge has only strengthened the project for the benefit of wild fish.”

Continuing into year two to strengthen our knowledge, work is well underway to deploy equipment by the project partners and teams from the network of Fishery Boards and Fisheries Trusts, supported by the University of Glasgow.

Welcoming the project’s second year, Dr Alan Wells, Chief Executive of Fisheries Management Scotland said, “The West Coast Tracking Project is a wonderful example of partnership working which will allow us to better protect our precious wild salmon. Learning from the results of year one, in year two we will build our understanding of the timing and speed of salmon migration through sea lochs as well as the routes taken in areas with marine developments, such as aquaculture and offshore renewables. The resulting information will directly inform planning and regulation.”

These first results from year one of the project are a huge step forwards in understanding how our young salmon use Scotland’s coastal waters and provide essential knowledge needed for more wild salmon to not only survive, but thrive, in our rivers and at sea.

The West Coast Tracking Project is funded by The Scottish Government, Salmon Scotland and the Atlantic Salmon Trust.