Lochaber fisheries experts welcome sea lice report

There are more than 250 salmon farms in Scotland

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Fisheries experts in Lochaber say the publication of a hard-hitting scientific report proves Scotland is no different from other countries when it comes to salmon farm pests killing thousands of wild fish.

Commissioned by Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TC Scotland), the report was compiled by the Norwegian Institute of Nature Studies -Norway’s leading institution for applied ecological research – and examines all available and up-to-date research on the impact of sea lice from salmon farms.

The scientists concluded the combined results from more than 100 scientific studies provided evidence of a ‘general and pervasive negative effect’ of sea lice on salmon and sea trout populations in intensively farmed areas of Ireland, Norway and Scotland.

Welcoming the report, S&TC Scotland director Andrew Graham-Stewart said the study made it clear the Scottish salmon farming industry would be facing the same problems as that of other countries.

‘This report substantiates our view that it would be very odd indeed if the Scottish situation was markedly different to elsewhere,’ he said.

‘We do, after all, have the same sea lice, which all too often Scottish salmon farm operators are incapable of keeping under control, and the same wild fish.’

Scotland has more than 250 salmon farms and, at the last count, Lochaber had 23, with more than another dozen on Skye.

Dr Diane Baum, biologist with the Torlundy-based Lochaber Fisheries Trust, which was set up more than 20 years ago to monitor and protect populations of native wild fish in the region, agrees the institute’s report lends weight to the arguments against current salmon farming practices.

‘The report is not so much new evidence as an accumulative view pulling together international studies. A lot of research has been done in Norway, and Ireland but Scotland has been lagging behind,’ she told the Lochaber Times.

The review of more than 100 scientific papers found that up to 50,000 wild salmon die as a result of the parasites in Norway.

Dr Baum said Norway and Ireland had found fish farming was having an effect on wild fish populations.

‘We have not had the resources or effort here in Scotland put into this issue, but there is no reason to think Scotland would be any different from Norway and Ireland,’ she said.

Dr Baum hopes this spring’s upcoming Holyrood parliamentary inquiry into fish farming practices will make a difference.

‘This issue definitely needs to be looked at. Change needs to come from the top because, at the moment, no-one seems to want to take responsibility for dealing with it,’ she said.

However, Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, said it was a stretch to describe the report as new and claimed much of it was existing research that had been rewritten.

‘We are as aware as S&TC of the state of wild salmon stocks and have consistently pointed out scientific research has suggested any impact of sea lice from farms on wild populations is minimal,’ he said.

‘It is interesting, however, that there is no acknowledgment of the impact of climate change, which is undoubtedly having an effect on wild and farmed fish health.’

Mr Landsburgh’s comments were echoed by Steve Bracken, business support manager at Marine Harvest Scotland, who said salmon and sea trout were also declining in areas of Scotland where there are no salmon farms.

‘This suggests considerably more research needs to be carried out on the causes, which are most likely linked to climate change and a lack of available food for wild salmon at sea,’ said Mr Bracken.

Highlands and Islands Green Party MSP John Finnie said the Norwegian study will be considered when the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, on which he sits, opens its inquiry later this year.

‘While recognising the employment fish farming has brought to many rural areas, and the need to have sustainable local sources of food, the Scottish Green Party supports a moratorium on any further fish-farm developments pending the outcome of this inquiry,’ he said.