- 13 Jan 2020
Freshwater fisheries research has been a Government responsibility in Scotland for many years, dating in particular from 1882 when the Fishery Board for Scotland was set up. This new Board absorbed the functions of the earlier (1862) Commissioners of Scotch Salmon Fisheries, whose Archibald Young became the Board's first Inspector of Salmon Fisheries. Young and his successors studied the biology of salmon and trout as part of their duties and the reports of their work, together with reports by various associates, were published from 1883 onwards.
The origin of the Faskally Laboratory is rather more recent. In April 1948 the Brown Trout Research Scheme started at Pitlochry, two years before the new Loch Faskally was created when Pitlochry hydro-electric dam was completed. The Research Scheme was a joint venture by the then Scottish Home Department (which had inherited responsibility from the Fishery Board for Scotland in 1939) and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board (NSHEB). The geographical focus of the scheme was the Tummel/Garry catchment, the watershed obstructed by the power dams of the Tummel Valley hydro-electric complex.
The Brown Trout Research Scheme scientists under the first Officer-in-Charge, Mr Kenneth Pyefinch, were supervised by a Committee chaired by Professor (later Sir) Maurice Yonge of Glasgow University, their terms of reference being to conduct research into the "factors affecting the number, size and growth of brown trout in Scottish waters of varying types and into measures for improving stock". This generous brief gave the scientists the freedom to investigate practically any aspect of the life of brown trout in Scotland.
At first temporary laboratory accommodation was provided in the gun room of Faskally House but the first laboratory buildings, which were two wooden ex-service huts brought from Orkney, were erected and ready for use by September 1948. One was converted to a simple laboratory and the other used as temporary hostel accommodation for the male members of staff. Transport was originally provided with bicycles, but in August a Hillman truck was delivered, enabling the scientists to cover the entire Tummel/Garry area of 700 square miles. By June 1950 the accommodation hut was converted to a library, offices and further laboratories, including one for chemical work. A few years later more spacious, although still wooden, buildings were erected. The early work of the Laboratory included studies on the growth and reproduction of brown trout, availability of food organisms and experiments to improve trout production in lochs.
In April 1957 the Laboratory, formerly the Brown Trout Research Laboratory, was re-named the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory. However, the old "Brown Trout" name is still widely used by local people and has been adopted as the name of the excellent restaurant at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre; surely the only restaurant in Scotland which is named after a laboratory. The following year a more fundamental change took place when the Supervisory Committee advised the Secretary of State for Scotland that the Laboratory had become established as an important freshwater laboratory and should continue as a direct responsibility of the Scottish Home Department's Director of Fisheries Research. This important decision ensured the continuation of the Laboratory; it also further recognised the need for the Laboratory to take greater account of the more economically-important salmon.
Research on salmon, begun in the nineteenth century, had, of course, continued and had led, in the 1930s, to the drawing up of plans for a "basic salmon research scheme" designed to assess the relative value of artificial and natural hatching and rearing. Following the 1939-1945 war, the supervision of this work transferred from the Salmon Inspectorate to the Director of Fisheries Research, and under these new arrangements an earlier salmon census scheme, which aimed at relating the numbers of spawning fish with those of their progeny under natural conditions, was resuscitated on the River Forss, Caithness. However, although a small laboratory, river watcher's hut and garage were erected there in 1949, the work had to cease in 1950. It was six years before a similar study again got under way, partly in association with the NSHEB on the tributaries of the River Conon and partly on the River Lui. In the interval, some salmon tagging was done and studies were made of furunculosis and other diseases.
With the Faskally Laboratory switching to salmon, work centred on problems caused by hydro-electric schemes, and the exploitation of salmon and sea trout by nets and rods. In 1960 responsibility for both the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory and the Marine Laboratory at Aberdeen passed to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, which was re-named The Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department in January 1991. Subsequently, the laboratory became part of the next-steps agency Fisheries Research Services and is now in Marine Scotland.