The Orkney Trout Fishing Association held an open day at the site of its new hatchery at Kirbister Loch on Sunday the 29th of March. This was an opportunity for interested parties to view firsthand the sterling work undertaken by the Hatchery Committee and a dedicated band of volunteers. It was well attended and a steady stream of visitors made for a busy afternoon.

Robbie Hewison(Scottish Water) Jim harcus, Geordie Skea and Ken Kennedy

Following Scottish Water’s decision to decommission and auction off its Water Treatment Works at Wideford in Kirkwall,late in 2008, at first, things looked grim for the future of an OTFA Hatchery, as no obvious site came to mind. Scottish Water, who, under various previous names, OIC Water Dept and NOSWA, had always been very supportive of the OTFA in their efforts to enhance the trout population of Orkney, again came good, and following some negotiations, a lease for the Old Pumphouse at Kirbister was agreed. The timing of accepting the lease meant that there was little time to lose if continuity of fish rearing was to be maintained for 2008/2009. The Hatchery Committee, driven on by its Convenor Jim Harcus, decided that they should at least try and install some equipment and see how they fared.
What followed in the months of September and October was a monumental effort from various people to remove the egg rearing trays and tables from Wideford, install them at Kirbister and then secure a water supply to them. The civil, mechanical and electrical engineering was carried out by Colin Sutherland, Ken Kennedy, and Raymond Miller. Diving work at the water intake chamber was expertly taken care of by Brian Foreman and the overall project was managed by Jim Harcus, all OTFA members. The installation of pipework and expert advice on filtration systems etc was handled by Robbie Hewison, the local Scottish Water, Treatment Operator at Kirbister Water Treatment Works. Without his help and enthusiasm, it is doubtful whether the hatchery would have been ready in time. As it turned out, the completion coincided with a spell of heavy rain which allowed the spawning teams to gather the required eggs to fill the hatchery.

A good turn out of visitors inspect the trays

The work did not finish there. A rota of workers was drawn up, (and there is still room for further volunteers), to tend the hatchery during the ensuing months, removing dud eggs and general cleaning. The fruits of all their labours were there for all to see on Sunday, with in excess of 70,000 very healthy fry on show, awaiting delivery to the lochs. This year, permission has been granted by the Scottish Office to stock the lochs of Bea and Roos in Sanday, Burness in Westray, and Echna, Skaill and Clumly on the Mainland. The fry will be distributed between these lochs in the coming days.
As a point of interest, this is the fourth site used for an OTFA Hatchery. The first one, in 1930, was in a shed at the rear of the National Bank in Kirkwall, (RBS as we know it today). The second one was sited in an old air raid shelter at the Willow Burn in Kirkwall in 1946 following the war years.The third site was at Wideford Water Treatment Works where it stayed in one shape or form until 2008. One hatchery stalwart was still there on Sunday showing visitors round, Geordie Skea has been closely involved with all hatchery work since the 1950’s, and is still as enthusiastic now as I imagine he was then, people like him are what voluntary organisations like the OTFA depend on.

These unfed fry from Swannay Burn Eggs are around 4 weeks old and almost ready for stocking
Photos by Jim Adams


Wideford Hatchery

The first OTFA hatchery was started in 1929 by Messrs. D Kemp snr. and P Spence. It was small in comparison to today's set-up being a two box affair housed in the cellar below Mr. Spence's home, with the water supply coming via the bathroom.

Wideford Hatchery (photograph by Jim Adams)

Hatchery Building at Wideford

Twice the hatchery was relocated after that finishing up in an old air-raid shelter at Papdale where the Infant and Primary school's are now situated. Throughout the first forty years of it's existence D Kemp snr.remained an active hatchery committee member until his death in 1970.
The Stromness branch of the OTFA had their own hatchery at Queen
Street in Stromness. This was run under the convenorship of Mr. C
Ritch assisted by amongst others Mr. A Bullen.Kirkwall had capacity for
80,000 eggs with Stromness hatching 30,000 approximately.
In 1970 the hatchery was relocated to a site just outside Kirkwall at Wideford Hill Reservoir. During the first fifty years many hundreds of thousands of fry both brown and sea trout were stocked in burns and lochs throughout Orkney. Fish were even transported to Shetland.
After yet another move, this time across the road within the same complex the present hatchery was built in 1984.

Stewart Wood and Jim Harcus (photograph by Jim Adams)
Stewart Wood and Jim Harcus

George Skea and Peter Miller were now at the helm and this was to prove a highly productive period for the OTFA. Instead of releasing fry only, George and Peter were keen to grow fish on to fingerling size which would greatly enhance their chance of survival. After much trial and tribulation they had success and managed to rear 20,000 approx. per annum for release in the Spring of each season.
Orkney has some large water such as Harray Loch, which are looked upon as self sustaining, but many of the smaller lochs had little or no stock. All this changed during the 1908's when previously virgin waters were stocked with fingerling trout. The results were to say the least phenomenal. After a period of three to four years trout in the 3-4lb. class were common with larger specimens both caught and lost. I have no doubt this boosted the tourist trade on some of the outer islands of Orkney.