Scottish salmon farmer Loch Duart has suffered the loss of 300,000 salmon due to jellyfish, or around half of its fish, it has announced.
A combination of the arrival of jellyfish and poor weather led to the severe losses, which the company has assured will not threaten its survival. A very good year up to this point had meant an excess biomass, which these losses have now eaten away.
“This sort of issue represents the challenge of farming in a wild environment. Agriculture has been around for a long time and has worked out how to deal with most of the major challenges that face it,” the company said.
“Aquaculture is new. Salmon farming is approaching its 50th birthday and we have learnt much but each year brings a new challenge and some new lessons. We will surmount this new challenge and move on. Our company has adapted to many challenges in its existence since 1999 when it was formed.”
On Nov. 19, 2014 a good year for the firm took a bad turn, as a jellyfish called pelagia noctiluca arrived in its Hebridean sites in Loch Maddy.
A small jellyfish about the size and shape of a gooseberry, with brown stinging filaments attached, the creature arrived in large numbers. “We have seen these jellyfish before but not in such large numbers and in each case, though the fish have been disturbed, they have survived the encounter.”
As the jellyfish are small enough to pass through the nets they were able to sting the fish. Because there is little or no warning that these jellyfish are in the area, there was little or no protection that could be afforded. “We live, work and farm in a hostile environment,” the company noted.
“By the purest of coincidences, I had scheduled a visit to the site on the 21st, to see the fish that everyone in the company was raving about,” said current managing director Nick Joy, who will step down in spring 2015.
“Growth and all the health parameters were the best. When I arrived on site it was clear that the team were very concerned. On getting to the pens, it was clear that a serious event had occurred. The fish looked very distressed and were shoaling poorly and slowly. It was also clear that some had died though at this stage, not a significant number.
“My immediate view was that though the fish had been sorely tried, the majority of them would survive as long as the weather gave them some peace to rest.”
Weather then turned against the farmer, a gale from the South East blowing up and trapping salmon unable to swim well. “A very significant number died. We have now removed almost all of the dead fish and only about half remain. Around 300,000 of our wonderful young salmon have died due to this event.”
Whilst the company absorbs and works out how to deal with this blow, its thoughts are with its employees who worked so hard to raise the salmon, it said.
“It is lucky that this generation of fish have had such a successful year prior to this as it means that the loss represents our excess numbers, grown to a higher average weight, added to the sort of losses we might have expected over most of next year. So the company’s survival is not in jeopardy.”
“Clearly we will have to focus closely on health and fish growth to ensure the best performance over the next year.”
A good year gone bad
Only this morning Undercurrent reported on Loch Duart’s return to profit in its most recent financial year.
The company reported turnover of £23.98 million, up 31.18% year-on-year, with operating profit of £1.27m, compared to a loss of £6.25m the previous year.
Loch Duart, which ended a joint venture in Mozambique in the year, reported net profit of £912,312, compared to a loss of £7.71m in the prior year.
The joint venture in Mozambique, to farm cob, had grown fish to the desired market size with good production metrics, such as feed conversion and survival rates, states the accounts.
The fish was also well accepted in the South African market. However, the collapse of the South African rand and the deterioration of the South African rand prevented the completion of a funding round required to expand on the pilot, states the company.