The COMPASS project (Collaborative Oceanography and Monitoring for Protected Areas and Species) aims to development marine observational and data management capabilities across the region of Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Western Scotland.  The project will include the wider programme of fish tracking to assist in defining the habitats used by outward migrating Atlantic salmon and resident sea trout.  This will be undertaken through a network of moored acoustic receivers spanning the border in the North East of Ireland, on the coasts of County Louth, through Carlingford and Counties Down and Antrim. These receivers listen for small acoustic transmitters attached to samples of the salmon and sea trout populations. The research was funded by the EU European Regional Development Fund’s Interreg VA programme.

The critical issue for both salmon and sea trout species is population decline, without full knowledge of the cause. These species are closely related and are present for some of their lifecycle in the same rivers and coastal waters, but there is an emerging need for very different population management strategies due to differing life history strategies and ranges used in the marine environment.

COMPASS monitors the migration success of the fish when leaving rivers and coastlines before moving into the open ocean. This will hopefully shed light on potential causes of mortality – whether linked to human activity, predation, or environmental conditions. Additionally, by determining the length of time the fish track the coast before moving offshore this project will inform decisions on the usefulness of looking further out to sea in future projects.

RS Aqua have worked very closely with the researchers involved on the COMPASS project providing technical support and all the necessary Vemco tracking gear. Vemco is the largest worldwide supplier of acoustic telemetry fish tracking equipment.  COMPASS will use over close to 400 tags and 60 receivers over the 3 years of the project.

December 2019 update from COMPASS

‘The new evidence was established after researchers tagged salmon smolts with coded transmitting acoustic tags in the Castletown and Boyne rivers in County Louth during the spring of this year. Three of these tagged salmon were picked up on listening devices in the coastal seas as they travelled northwards out of the Irish Sea towards the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the smolts was recorded in Scottish waters, some 80 kilometres north of the Inishowen Peninsula. This smolt had travelled an estimated 250 kilometres in just over a month, one of the longest distances recorded for a salmon tracked at sea en route to its feeding grounds in the North Atlantic. Two more salmon smolts were tracked as far as receivers located off the Northern Ireland coast, further confirming the northward migration of the fish through the Irish Sea.’