As the damage being caused to wild salmon and sea trout in Scotland continues, the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)) has analysed aggregated sea lice data published by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), in its first two quarterly sea lice reports (see links in Note 3).
In June 2013 over one third of salmon farms (47 farms) on the Scottish mainland and in the Hebrides were in areas where average sea-lice numbers exceeded the industryâ€™s own limit for sea lice. In each of the previous five months at least one quarter (35 farms) were in this category.
In three key fish-farming areas, the SSPOâ€™s â€˜averaged dataâ€™ showed sea lice numbers in excess of the industryâ€™s own limits for sea lice for every month from January to June 2013:
- â€˜Inchard to Kirkaig Northâ€™ – eight active salmon farms, all run by Loch Duart Limited, the self-styled â€œsustainable salmon companyâ€. Between February and April the average monthly lice count on Loch Duart farms was more than three times the industryâ€™s own threshold and never went below twice that threshold in any month.
- â€˜Kennart to Gruinardâ€™ – seven farms operated by two companies, Wester Ross Fisheries Limited and Scottish Sea Farms Limited. Between February and June the average monthly lice count on farms in this area ranged between four to more than nine times the industryâ€™s own threshold
- â€˜Isle of Harrisâ€™ – 12 fish-farms operated by three different companies including The Scottish Salmon Company and Marine Harvest (Scotland) Limited. Between February and June the average monthly lice count on farms in this area was at times more than five times the industryâ€™s own threshold..
Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TA(S), said:
â€œThe SSPO reports confirm that, in at least three key fish-farming regions of Scotland, sea lice numbers are out of control and consequently the fish-farm companies are failing to protect wild fish from the devastating effects of the release of vast numbers of juvenile parasitic sea lice into west coast sea lochs.
We have a simple question for the SSPO. Why have companies such as Wester Ross Fisheries and Loch Duart not been expelled from SSPO membership when they fail so consistently and dramatically to keep sea lice numbers within the limits they have signed up to? If the SSPOâ€™s Code of Good Practice on sea lice is to retain any credibility, then surely serial offenders like Wester Ross Fisheries and Loch Duart should be excluded from the salmon farmersâ€™ trade organisationâ€.
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA(S) Aquaculture Campaign said:
â€œIn light of the appalling sea-lice numbers that companies such as Wester Ross Fisheries Limited and Loch Duart Limited have been reporting, we would ask Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for the Environment in the Scottish Government, what he intends to do about this.
Specifically, when is the Minister going to introduce statutory controls on on-farm sea lice numbers to protect juvenile wild fish from picking up lethal infestations in the sea-lochs?
The SSPOâ€™s reports also expose just how wrong Scottish Government was when it refused earlier this year, against the better advice of all west coast local authorities, all wild fish groups and its own Scottish Environment Protection Agency (see Note 7), to include a requirement in the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill for all fish-farms to publish weekly sea lice count data by law. The supposed confidential interests of the fish-farmers were allowed to trump the public right to know what is being released by the salmon-farmers into the wider environment potentially causing huge damage to wild fish conservation.
However, the Scottish Government still has the power under the Aquaculture Act 2007 to order the publication of farm-specific data and we call upon them now to use that powerâ€.
Why are sea lice on fish-farms such a threat to wild salmonids?
The negative impact of sea lice, produced in huge numbers by fish-farms, on wild salmonids (salmon and sea-trout) is widely accepted by fisheries scientists including the Scottish Governmentâ€™s own Marine Scotland Science (see Note 8).
In Ireland, the Government of Irelandâ€™s agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland, is crystal clear as to where the problem lies (see Note 9):
â€œThe presence of salmon farms has been shown to significantly increase the level of sea lice infestation in sea trout in Ireland, Scotland and Norway. These lice infestations have been shown to follow the development of marine salmon aquacultureâ€¦.studies from Ireland, Scotland and Norway have shown that in bays where salmon farming takes place the vast majority of sea lice originate from salmon farmsâ€¦â€¦â€
Most recently, a new paper published in 2013 by a group of fisheries experts from Norway, Canada and Scotland re-analyses data from various Irish studies and shows that the impact of sea lice on wild salmon causes a very high loss (34%) of those returning to Irish rivers (see Note 10).
Most importantly, there is clear evidence that both wild salmon and sea trout are in decline in Scotlandâ€™s â€˜aquaculture zoneâ€™, whereas, generally, populations have stabilized on the east and north coasts where there is no fish-farming (see Note 11).
*Image showsÂ A wild juvenile sea trout, smothered in sea lice (the brown dots), eating away at its flesh. This fish was caught in June in Little Loch Broom within two miles of Wester Ross Fisheriesâ€™ salmon farm at Ardessie
Issued on behalf of the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) by Andrew Graham-Stewart (telephone 01863 766767 or 07812 981531).