Sea-lice parasite numbers above industry’s own ‘threshold’ level at over 30% of Scottish salmon farms inspected in second half of 2011

FOI information starkly contradicts salmon farming industry’s bland assurances

The Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA) has today published yet more worrying evidence of widespread failure to control sea lice in the Scottish salmon-farming industry. An analysis by S&TA of the inspections conducted by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate of marine salmon farms in Scotland between June and December last year (2011), obtained under freedom of information, shows:

– of the marine farms inspected over 30% were breaching the industry’s own CoGP[1] sea-lice standards during the period for which sea-lice records were inspected; and

– either resistance to, of lack of efficacy of, sea-lice treatments was recorded at 17% of sites.

Hughie Campbell-Adamson, Chairman of S&TA Scotland, said: “Contrary to all the bland assurances the salmon farmers’ trade body, the SSPO, give to conservation bodies, to Marine Scotland and to the supermarkets which buy their fish, the information obtained by S&TA shows that sea-lice are not controlled on over 30% of salmon farms and control with chemicals is becoming more difficult. This is not good news for wild fish.
These figures explain why the industry has argued so vehemently against the publication of farm specific weekly sea lice counts in its response to Scottish Government proposals for the forthcoming Scottish Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill, but the case for legislative action is now cast-iron”.

Why are sea-lice a problem ?

After they transfer to sea water, wild salmonid smolts enter bays and sea lochs containing salmon farms that produce an abundance of juvenile sea lice many orders of magnitude above natural background levels. The most recent research, from Ireland[2], has concluded, like very many independent studies before it, that “sea lice-induced mortality on adult Atlantic salmon returns [in Ireland] can be significant, and that sea lice larvae emanating from farmed salmon may influence individual survivorship and population conservation status of wild salmon….”.
There are already reports this summer of very high densities of sea lice larvae in the coastal margins of parts of the north-west Highlands and netting of juvenile sea trout for monitoring purposes has found many to be carrying alarmingly high lice burdens – at levels which are likely to prove fatal.

Relocation and closed containment

The S&TA believes that the fish-farming industry can thrive alongside healthy self-supporting wild fish populations; but only if those existing fish-farms in sensitive locations are relocated away from the wild salmonid rivers and, ultimately, the industry moves into closed containment systems which almost entirely eliminate polluting discharges to the sea and create a ‘biological separation’ between wild and farmed fish.
Paul Knight, CEO at the S&TA said: “There is a fundamental principle at stake here. It should not be permissible for the salmon-farming industry to discharge its waste food, faeces, toxic chemicals, huge numbers of parasitic sea-lice and escaped fish into the marine environment in a way and in locations that cause damage to marine wildlife. Fish-farmers should not assume that the wider environment is theirs to exploit.
Fish-farming is a high input, intensive food production operation. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that there are sensitive locations on the west coast and in the isles of Scotland that are simply not the right place to practice open cage fish-farming. The only pragmatic option is to relocate inappropriately sited farms in the short term and in the medium to long term, to move to closed containment production.
In the interests of the wider public marine environment and the protection of wild fish and shellfish upon which employment on the west coast and in the isles often depends, the Scottish Government must now give a clear political pointer to the industry that relocation and closed containment is the way forward and, if not carried forward voluntarily, will be driven by law”.

Supermarket claims of responsible management or responsible farming

UK supermarket shelves are stocked with Scottish farmed salmon products that claim to be the result of ‘responsible farming’ or ‘responsible management’. S&TA’s findings again call into question exactly how these claims are justified. Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA Aquaculture Campaign said: “In the light of this and other S&TA research into fish-farming, and in the face of industry intransigence, we will increasingly be looking at the claims made on food-labelling about Scottish salmon. The big supermarkets need to realise that the impact of poorly-managed fish-farms on the Scottish marine environment is not something they can safely or legally gloss over any longer. We look to the supermarkets to bring their considerable influence to bear to alter fish-farmers’ behaviour”.

Click here for Excel file/spreadsheet of analysis of FHI inspections of salmon farms from June to December 2011.