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A fish farm off the coast of Argyll containing more than half-a-million salmon has been damaged during Storm Ellen – sparking concerns about the impact on wild salmon populations.
Strong winds and waves dislodged the Mowi-operated farm at North Carradale off the east coast of the Kintyre Peninsula with photographs from the scene showing misshapen pens.
The farm, which runs to 10 pens, houses a total of 550,000 fish weighing upto 4.2kgs (9.2lbs).
Mowi notified the media in a press statement and said the farm has been secured, but there was no official confirmation on whether any salmon had escaped.
Campaigners have called the incident ‘completely unprecedented’.
Corin Smith, of ISSF, Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlots, said: ‘For an entire salmon farm to come adrift – and this is one of the biggest in Scotland – is completely unprecedented. For wild salmon, this is the ecological equivalent of an oil tanker running aground.’
However, Mr Smith said it did not mean that the fish had escaped and that they may be trapped in the nets beneath the surface.
He said it was unusual that the neighbouring farm ‘Carradale South’ had not been damaged also, but said the largest concern is farmed salmon inter-breeding with highly-evolved wild Scottish fish.
He said: ‘Because of their size the farmed fish will survive a lot longer in the wild. If this was juvenile fish they need to feed constantly to stay alive so after a few days would probably die.
‘But these are farmed fish all derived from Norwegian stock and over time have been adapted to be reared in farms so when they breed with wild fish they introduce all sorts of genetic weaknesses.
‘The best way of comparing it is to say that farmed fish are the equivalent of a body builder and our Scottish wild fish are the equivalent of marathon runners and when you introduce them, the Scottish fish offspring just will not survive as well in our conditions and that’s what drives down the wild population over the long term.’
Mowi Scotland has issued a short statement and said its priority was securing the system.
It said: ‘On August 20, 2020, Mowi’s salmon farm at Carradale North, consisting of 10 circular net pens containing 550,000 salmon (4.2kg), shifted position after its seabed anchors became dislodged during Storm Ellen that has hit the UK and Ireland.
‘The company’s priority at this time is to secure the fish cages in place until Storm Ellen subsides, and to safeguard staff, contractors and fish stock. The company has informed Marine Scotland of the event.’
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: ‘The Fish Health Inspectorate said it is conducting a full investigation with the cooperation of Mowi Scotland to understand the circumstances of this incident, and plan to conduct a site inspection in the coming week.
‘It is too early to draw conclusions at this stage, including whether any fish have escaped. We are clear that the containment of farmed fish in Scotland is of crucial importance to maintaining fish welfare and minimising the potential impact of aquaculture on the marine environment.’
Photograph provided by Mowi Scotland: Carradale North farm secured until Storm Ellen subsides