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New fish counter on the Ettrick allows Tweed’s valuable  Spring Salmon population to once again be monitored

The Tweed Foundation – with financial assistance from the Scottish Government – has just installed a state-of-the-art VAKI fish counter at the top of the fish pass at Philiphaugh which will enable the study and monitoring of the upstream migration of adult Salmon and Trout of the Ettrick Water, allowing accurate counts upon which management decisions for Tweed’s Spring Salmon stocks will be formulated.  Dr John Armstrong, Head of the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory, Marine Scotland Science, officially opened the new counter on Friday, 18thMay.


Dr John Armstrong, Head of the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory, Marine Scotland Science and James Hunt, Biologist with The Tweed Foundation survey the new fish counter

The new fish counter situated in the fish pass at Philliphaugh, Ettrick Water

Environment Secretary, Roseanne Cunnigham, said: “I congratulate The Tweed Foundation on opening this state-of-the-art counter, to which the Scottish Government contributed £50,000 of funding, and will be an important addition to the counter network in Scotland, supporting Marine Scotland’s long-term objectives.

“The new fish counter on the Ettrick Water is the first of its kind in the UK, and will enable more accurate monitoring and better management of salmon and trout on the Water.

“We look forward to continuing our work with The Foundation as the new data is gathered and analysed, and improving our understanding of stocks in the Tweed catchment area.”

The opening was celebrated by first a facsimile of a fish, and then a bottle of Champagne, swimming up through the fish counter.

Tweed Foundation Benefactors celebrate the opening of the new fish counter by spotting fish travelling through it on the big screen

In April 2018, following months of preparation, monitoring and work, a new three-scanner VAKI infra-red counter system was installed in the fish pass at Philiphaugh on the Ettrick Water – the first of its kind in the UK. The first fish – a Salmon – was recorded through the counter on Tuesday 10thApril.

The Ettrick catchment is the primary destination for Spring Salmon in the River Tweed catchment, with over half of the River’s Spring stock heading up this river system each season to spawn.

The VAKI fish counter is situated at the top of a new Larinier fish pass, which The Tweed Foundation and the River Tweed Commission helped to fund, and is situated next to the Philiphaugh Hydro Power installation. The improved fish pass is much easier for fish to locate and ascend over a range of flows and this, together with the new fish counter, will enable more fish to reach their spawning grounds and allow for more informed management.

James Hunt, Biologist with The Tweed Foundation, said, “The information collected from the fish counter is not only important for local, Tweed, management decisions but also to assist Marine Scotland in its long-term strategy to develop a fish counter network throughout Scotland. Accurate fish counter totals will strengthen current Salmon stocks’ management relative to spawning escapement targets so that Salmon stocks can be more accurately assessed and appropriate management decisions taken.”

A close-up of the new fish counter being submerged in the fish pass. The large box is the video camera facility, allowing The Tweed Foundation to identify fish to species

The Foundation’s Director, Fay Hieatt, noted, “It has long been our ambition to be able to re-establish a fish counter on the Ettrick, to monitor Tweed’s major Spring Salmon population, which is so important in supporting Tweed’s early fishing season.  Fish counters are enormously costly to install and maintain, and we are indebted to the Scottish Government’s Marine Scotland for their support in this project. Data and knowledge sharing is definitely the way forward in managing Scotland’s valuable Salmon resource and we are pleased to be working in partnership with Marine Scotland Science to enable this to happen.”

Images from the new Ettrick fish counter: not only being used by fish!
  • The particular geography of the Tweed, split as it is in to five major tributaries, has allowed a better assessment of Spring Salmon stocks than would have been possible in a river of a different form. Work on Radio-tracking salmon the Ettrick and Whiteadder tributaries (as well as data from fish counters on these rivers) has shown them to be the main sources of Spring Salmon and from these and other information it is possible to estimate that there are only around 5-7,000 Spring Salmonfor the whole Tweed catchment of some 5,000 km2. The Spring stock is extremely fragile, so there are too few for the rod fishery to be allowed to kill, given the greater susceptibility of capture of Spring Salmon (up to 40%). In addition to these two major spawning areas for Spring Salmon, some much smaller zones have been identified in other headwaters, the fish of which could be in very small numbers indeed and so at particular risk from a net fishery.
  • Based on the information gathered from the original Tweed Foundation fish counter on the Ettrick, the River Tweed Commission introduced a Catch and Release policy on the River Tweed. Rod anglers have been returning Spring fish on Tweed since 1998, with a return rate of 98%. In some years this fish counter showed that Catch & Release by anglers was the only reason that sufficient Salmon reached their spawning grounds in Spring to fully stock the next generation.
  • From 1997-2009, The Tweed Foundation operated a VAKI fish counter located at the top of the old fish pass at the Philiphaugh Cauld, near Selkirk providing a data series of annual totals for Salmon and Trout. These data allowed the total number of eggs being deposited upstream of the counter to be calculated and compared with the total number estimated to be needed. In some years, only fish released by anglers allowed this target to be met.
  • The old counter had to be removed in 2009 due to hardware problems and the construction work that took place for the Hydro installation in the cauld at Philiphaugh.
  • In September 2014, the Philiphaugh Hydro Installation was completed, and part of the installation included a 1.8 m wide Larinier fish pass next to the turbines, and for which The Tweed Foundation and the River Tweed Commission provided financial assistance. This allowed The Tweed Foundation to start planning for a new fish counter, when funding could be sourced.


The Tweed Foundation is the freshwater fisheries trust for the River Tweed catchment. It protects and enhances the fish stock in the Tweed, and has been at the forefront in bringing a more objective scientific and professional approach to freshwater fisheries management for the last 35 years.

This fish counter has been provided with the support of The Scottish Government

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