Keep watch over fish farms, urges campaign

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A Seil couple whose online petition to stop cruelty to dolphins has more than 31,000 signatures are stepping up their campaign urging people to keep watch over fish farms.

Marine biologist David Ainsley and wife Jean who run Sealife Adventures are calling on people who are boating, diving, kayaking, swimming or walking near fish farms to use action/GoPro cameras to carry out surveillance for illegal use of acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs).

Porpoise can be found off Scotland’s west coast and have a Special Area of Conservation in the Inner Hebrides and Minches. Photograph: Lewis Drysdale

If people record a series of metallic clicks they are being urged to send a two-minute recording to addwatchcampaign@gmail.com

‘We will use your information to keep pressure on Marine Scotland to enforce the laws protecting porpoise, dolphins and whales,’ they said on their change.org page.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation said there are currently no ADDs in use at Scottish farms but that it would consider redeploying newer devices compliant with Marine Scotland and the U.S. (MMPA)

Scottish Sea Farms says there are a few instances where they do use ADDs.

Scottish Sea Farms Head of Sustainability & Development Anne Anderson said: ‘In the few instances where we do use ADDs to help safeguard our salmon from predation, we use only those devices that are certified as being in compliance with the proposed Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA) and current Marine Scotland guidance.’

Information from Scottish Sea Farms however says it is not illegal to operate such devices if they do not give rise to disturbance, harm or injury.

A spokesperson for Mowi fish farms said it does not use acoustic deterrents at its farm sites. ‘We will continue to research and implement safe and effective predator deterrent methods that protect the health and welfare of our salmon,’ he said.

The Ainsley’s petition also reminds people involved not to take any risks if they and to keep well outside the buoyed area of farms.

Scottish Sea Farms said the clear instruction to other marine users to keep outside the buoyed area of salmon farms was greatly appreciated in terms of people’s personal safety and that of farm teams and livestock.

Earlier this month The Oban Times reported how marine scientists found unpleasant noise from ADDs may unintentionally harm other species such as harbour porpoises.

The study by scientists at Dunstaffnage-based Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) made its findings based on data from 2017 and combined noise from ADDs from 120 fish farms covering an area from Cape Wrath to the Clyde.

Scientists behind the report are urging marine policy makers and the aquaculture industry to consider the potential large-scale impact that farms emitting excess noise together could have on the eco-system. Although newer ADDs are now available, the cumulative noise of these devices and configurations has not yet been assessed.

Last week SSPO published a new statement  saying any deployment of next generation devices by Scottish salmon farmers must be done ‘with confidence that no harm will be caused to protected species’.

It added: ‘It is critical, however, that farmers have deterrents available to protect livestock from seal predation should it be necessary. Salmon farmers in Scotland recognise and welcome the value of further research to refine and enhance acoustic devices that can protect farmed fish without disruption to other species. This includes working with several academic institutions to develop the science in this field.’

Mrs Ainsley said the campaign had gathered evidence that proved ‘beyond any doubt’ the ongoing use of ADDs. She added although there is no evidence of that from farms around the Oban or Sound of Mull area yet, watch still needs to be kept.

‘That these issues have to be policed by citizens – rather than regulators given proper resources, remit and teeth – is a national shame for Scotland,’ she added.