Argyll News, 21 Nov 2013: Latest salmon farm industry figures show ‘truly shocking’ sea lice numbers in north-west Highlands

Latest salmon farm industry figures show ‘truly shocking’ sea lice numbers in north-west Highlands

Argyll News, 21 Nov 2013


The July to September 2013 quarterly report from the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), shows that in the third quarter of 2013 [Q3] sea lice numbers on farmed salmon were massively out of control in the north-west Highlands.

Average lice numbers during September on farms between Kinlochbervie in the north and the Applecross peninsula in the south were between 9 and 12 times over the industry’s own threshold.

In order to protect migrating wild salmon and sea trout in the spring of 2014, the Salmon & Trout Association Scotland [S&TAS] believes that these numbers require an immediate cull of all the salmon on the affected farms -and are calling on the Scottish Government to take this action as a matter of urgency.

The Norwegian authorities in the Vikna district of Nord Trondelag have recently done just this for the same reason.

The SSPO report confirms ‘out of control’ lice numbers in the following areas:
•Inchard to Kirkaig North – 8 salmon farms – all run by Loch Duart Limited, the self-styled ‘sustainable salmon company – were over the industry’s own lice threshold for all three months in the third quarter; and in September, the monthly lice count on farms in this area was over 9 times the threshold, despite 13 separate lice treatments carried out at four farms in this period.
•Kennart to Gruinard – 7 farms – operated by two companies, Wester Ross Fisheries Limited and Scottish Sea Farms Limited, were over the threshold for all three months. In September the monthly lice count on farms in this area was over 9 times the threshold.
•Badachro to Applecross – 4 fish farms – operated by Marine Harvest (Scotland) Limited and the Scottish Salmon Company: the average lice count on farms in this area in September was 12 times the industry’s own threshold.

Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TAS, says: ‘We have been warning the Government for years that the headlong rush for expansion, combined with increased sea lice resistance to the cocktail of drugs used to control them, would end in disaster.

‘This report confirms that, in the north-west, we have now reached that point.

‘The numbers are truly shocking and by any definition the salmon farmers in these areas have lost all control.

‘There can now be no excuse for Scottish Government Ministers to continue to prevaricate. Ministers must now order an immediate cull of all the fish in the affected farms – the kind of decisive action taken by the Norwegian authorities two months ago when they were faced with a similar problem – and the fallowing of these farms until such time as a proven solution is identified.

‘Failure to do so will amount to undeniable confirmation that Ministers are simply not prepared to provide any protection whatsoever for wild salmon and sea trout.’
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© Andrew Graham Stewart

The above photograph shows the underbelly of a wild juvenile sea trout, smothered in sea lice eating away at its flesh. This fish was caught in June 2013 in Little Loch Broom, within two miles of Wester Ross Fisheries’ salmon farm at Ardessie.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA(S) Aquaculture Campaign, says:

‘In light of these appalling figures, we challenge Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, and Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for the Environment, to point us in the direction of a single scientist from their own Marine Scotland Science department who is prepared to stand up and say that such numbers do not present a devastating problem for wild fish.’

‘The situation is now so serious that we need a response direct from a Minister.

‘The system of light touch regulation of salmon farms has failed. Ministers must now introduce without delay statutory controls on on-farm sea lice numbers to protect juvenile wild fish from lethal infestations.

No-one should be fooled the industry’s recent re-gurgitated announcement that wrasse will solve the sea lice issue on farms. Wrasse have already been employed in parts of the north-west and clearly they have not worked.’

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 Government’s own Marine Scotland Science.

Most recently, a new paper published in 2013 by a group of fisheries experts from Norway, Canada and Scotland re-analysed 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.

Most importantly, there is clear evidence that both wild salmon and sea trout are in decline in Scotland’s ‘aquaculture zone’ – whereas, generally, populations have stabilized on the east and north coasts where there is no fish-farming.

The top photograph is of sea lice on an Atlantic salmon, is by 7Barrymore and is in the public domain.

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