Getting to grips with rare fish
STEPHEN NORRIS The Galloway Fisheries Trust has launched a campaign to protect a rare migratory fish found in just a single Galloway river.
Sparling used to run up all major watercouses in the south-west but overfishing now means the Cree is its final refuge.
Thousands of sparling make their way up the river to spawn over the course of a few days each spring.
The beautiful siver fish – which grow up to a foot long and smell of cucumber – can often be viewed from the banks during their spawning migration.
Poor public knowledge of the fish prompted the trust to take action – and hopes are high its Saving the Sparling project will boost conservation efforts.
Sparling project officer Courtney Rowland said: “To be able to predict the arrival of the sparling the trust monitors daily river temperatures from February 1.
“This year the sparling arrived on February 22 after unprecedented warm weather raised river temperatures to 8°C to trigger the spring migration.
“During the early hours of the 24th a small team ventured out in the dark along the banks of the river Cree in search of the rare fish.
“It didn’t take long to spot a small shoal of several hundred gathered in the main riffle section above the bridge at Newton Stewart, seeking refuge behind large boulders to rest.
“We think the main spawning event occurred a few nights later when the numbers of sparling were in their thousands.” Ms Rowland is working hard across Galloway communities to bring sparling back into focus through local events and education.
She visited eight primary schools including all year groups of Palnackie, Dalbeattie’s eco group, P6 at Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkcowan’s eco class, Minnigaff P2/3, P5 at Penninghame and St Ninian’s junior and senior classes.
All pupils enjoyed playing sparling themed games and most even got to meet a live sparling.
Ms Rowland has also held volunteer events along the Cree to give people the opportunity to see live sparling as well as learn new skills in predator identification and observation.
She said: “I have been working alongside the volunteers at Newton Stewart Museum to design an exhibit dedicated to this wonderful and rare species of fish to go on display until the autumn.
“We will also be hosting an evening showing of the Sparling Film at the museum on May 1 at 6pm and 7pm.”
Out of 15 original populations in Scotland only three remain – the Cree, the Forth and the Tay.
Tay and the Forth sparling are much smaller and grow to only 20cms.
Sparling were historically important for Galloway which at one time supported large commercial fisheries during springtime.
Up to six tonnes were caught annually in the 1970s and 80s – equivalent to roughly 45,000 sparling.
The fish form large shoals in the Solway Firth but need freshwater to spawn.
They migrate to the upper tidal limit of the Cree to reach the fast flowing riffle sections which maximise dispersal of eggs.
After spawning the sparling either die or return downstream to the firth where they will remain for the rest of the year.
The Saving the Sparling Project has been funded by the European Fisheries Management Fund, the Scottish Government and the Holywood Trust.
Places for the film showing are limited and can be booked on 01671 403011 ar at [email protected]lowayfisheriestrust.org.
Anyone with sparling knowledge or memories is also encouraged to get in touch.
Fishy tales Palnackie pupils meet a live sparling during one of the school visits held by project officer Courtney Rowland