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The Salmon & Trout Association [Scotland] says that yet again, figures from the salmon farming industry itself reveal that sea lice numbers are out of control in parts of the west coast and western isles.

S&TAS is calling on Ministers to show leadership with decisive action in Wester Ross where sea lice numbers have been consistently over thresholds for no less than a full year.

The latest aggregated sea lice data, published by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation [SSPO], shows that in the fourth quarter of 2013 sea lice numbers on farmed salmon were massively out of control in a number of areas.

The SSPO quarterly sea lice report, for October to December 2013, reveals that average lice numbers were over thresholds in 13 out of 30 areas for which data is reported by the industry.

STAC

Particular hotspots – yet again –  included ‘Kennart to Gruinard’ in Wester Ross, where there are seven farms operated by two companies, Wester Ross Fisheries Limited and Scottish Sea Farms Limited. The monthly lice count on farms in this area was between five and ten times the threshold between October and December last year.This is no modest overrun but evidence of a situation running seriously amok.

Lice have been over the threshold in this area for an entire year now, despite three area-wide treatments, a staggering 25 other treatments for lice – and constant publicity drawing the Scottish Government’s attention to the abuse of the set threshold.

Other areas with severe lice problems detailed in this report include:

  • Badachro to Applecross [Wester Ross],
  • Awe and Nell [Argyll]
  • Add and Ormsary [also Argyll]

Argyll’s isles of Mull, Islay and Jura and the Western Isles’  east coast of Lewis, North Uist and South Uist also had sea lice levels well over the thresholds for treatment.

Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chair of the Salmon & Trout Association Scotland, says: ‘All the assurances we have received about Wester Ross ring hollow when you see these figures. Indeed, they make a mockery of the platitudes voiced by sections of the fish-farming industry.

‘A year’s worth of figures makes it crystal clear that the industry includes serial offenders who are simply incapable of controlling sea lice.

‘What is needed here is a complete clear out of all fish from the worst affected farms for a prolonged period.

‘Given the particularly appalling track record In Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom, we also need to consider whether we should now stop farming fish in Two Brooms completely.

‘We warned that a failure to relocate poorly-sited farms in combination with increased sea lice resistance to the cocktail of drugs used to control them would end in disaster.

‘We would ask Ministers again to consider ordering a cull of all the fish in the very worst affected farms. This is the decisive action taken by the Norwegian authorities when they were faced with a similar problem – and the fallowing of these farms until such time as a proven solution is identified.

‘The question remains whether Ministers are prepared to provide any protection whatsoever for wild salmon and sea trout in the worst affected regions.’

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TAS Aquaculture Campaign, says: ‘In November last year we called upon Ministers to introduce, without delay, statutory controls on on-farm sea lice numbers to protect juvenile wild fish from lethal infestations.
We also need farm-specific sea lice data to be published so we can identify exactly the problem farms.

‘The longer Ministers delay and prevaricate, the worse this situation is getting.’

Why are sea lice on fish-farms such a threat to wild salmonids?

S&TAS says that the negative impact on wild salmonids [salmon and sea trout] of sea lice produced in huge numbers by fish farms 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-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.

Most importantly, there is clear evidence that both wild salmon and sea trout are in decline in Scotland’s ‘aquaculture zone’. This is in clear contrast to the general stabilizing of the populations on the east and north coasts – where there is no fish-farming.

Conclusions

The SSPO’s own figures on sea lice infestation in salmon farms  demonstrate a situation beyond the control of the industry itself  – patently a ‘dirty industry’ – and beyond the exercise of the Scottish Government’s necessary regulatory powers.

An overrun of five to ten times the set threshold is astronomical. The lack of decisive action by a notably weak environment minister is of profound concern.

The evidence of serial repetition of extreme overruns of the regulatory threshold for sea lice infestation in salmon farm cages raises the serious question of whether this situation in not only beyond the control of the core bodies concerned – but beyond their will to control it?

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