Sea-bed monitoring under Scottish salmon farms reveals breaches of Environmental Quality Standards at nearly one in five fish farms for residues of sea-lice treatments toxic to lobster, crabs and prawns

Information obtained by the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)) from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) under freedom of information shows that nearly one in five fish-farms using Slice (emamectin benzoate) for sea-lice treatment, which reported results to SEPA, show samples in excess of Environmental Quality Standards designed to protect wild flora and fauna from the toxic effects of sea–lice chemicals.

Data from 146 fish–farms which used Slice between January 2011 and September 2012 were obtained by the S&TA(S).

At 28 of those farms (19.1%), Environmental Quality Standards were breached¹. The list of the 28 farms is in the Annex. The results are broadly in line with an earlier study by the S&TA(S) based on data obtained under freedom of information data covering 2005 to 2010 –
At the time, the Minister responsible, Stewart Stevenson MSP, stated that "should an EQS for sea louse chemicals be breached following the use and discharge of the substances to treat sea-lice at fish farms, SEPA would take various steps to rectify the situation – for example, through a variation of licence conditions limiting the further release of these substances until residue levels reduced to below those identified safe levels."²

Matters do not however appear to be improving and, to date, the S&TA(S) is unaware of SEPA varying the conditions of any fish–farm licence to reduce chemical residues in line with the then Minister’s assurance.

Is any particular fish–farmer worse than any other?

15 of the 28 fish-farms with samples in breach of Environmental Quality Standards for Slice are operated by Marine Harvest (Scotland) Limited.
Although Marine Harvest is the biggest operator in Scotland of salmon farms and is shortlisted for the Stewardship Award at tonight’s Crown Estate sponsored “Marine Aquaculture Awards 2013", this is a higher than expected number of breaches from Marine Harvest farms. The S&TA(S) queried this with SEPA who replied that “the results are unlikely to be impacted by an artefact of the reporting or recording process".

The reasons for the apparent problem associated with Marine Harvest fish farms is not known but one possibility might be that efforts being made by Marine Harvest to reduce on-farm sea-lice numbers are having the unwelcome consequence of increasing the likelihood of breaches of chemical residue Environmental Quality Standards in sea lochs.
This would be a problem for wild crustaceans, which are particularly susceptible to Slice, and therefore also to lobster, crab and creel fishermen operating in the loch systems where salmon farms are using emamectin benzoate.

Hughie Campbell–Adamson, Chairman of the S&TA(S), said:

"What this shows is that not only is SEPA yet to get control of the chemical residue issue, but the apparent issue at Marine Harvest farms, which of course is yet to be bottomed out, could be due to efforts being made to control sea–lice on the farmed fish.

If it does turn out to be the case that efforts to control sea-lice are having a negative effect elsewhere, it may be impossible in practice to adequately control sea–lice on very high tonnage fish farms, down to a level which does not cause an unacceptable parasitic load on wild fish, while at the same time avoiding a threat to wild crustaceans, such as lobster, prawn and crab, upon which many inshore fishermen rely for their livelihoods.

The answer is clear. Again, the S&TA(S) would urge both Marine Harvest and the Scottish Government to start the move towards closed containment of all salmon farming."

The Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) Aquaculture Campaign is conducted on behalf of the Salmon & Trout Association

¹Breaches occur either at the cages, where the Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) is set at 7.63 micrograms per kilogramme of emamectin benzoate, or at the edge of the allowable zone of effect (AZE) at 100 metres, where the EQS is 0.763 micrograms per kilogramme.

²Scottish Parliament Written Answer, 14 December 2011, given by Stewart Stevenson MSP

Click here: Seabed Chemical Pollution Annex