Fish-farm sea lice out of control at the worst possible time for migrating juvenile wild salmon and sea-trout
Conservation body calls for decisive action
The latest aggregated sea lice data, published by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), shows that in the first quarter of 2014, sea lice numbers on farmed salmon were still out of control in a number of regions. Worryingly, the second quarter of every year is when the main migrations to sea of juvenile wild salmon and sea-trout occur. During this period they are at their most vulnerable to damaging and often fatal infestations of sea lice emanating from fish farms.
The latest SSPO quarterly sea lice report (for January to March 2014) reveals that average lice numbers were over thresholds, often very considerably over, in 14 out of 30 regions for which data is reported by the industry.
Particular hotspots, for the fifth quarterly report in a row, include ‘Kennart to Gruinard’ in Wester Ross where there are seven farms operated by two companies, Wester Ross Fisheries Limited and Scottish Sea Farms Limited.
Although three of the sites were fallow during the latest quarter, the farms at Ardmair, Corry and Tanera (two sites, 1 and 2) collectively breached industry sea-lice standards and will have been producing juvenile sea-lice in numbers that would threaten the survival of any migrating young wild salmon and sea-trout leaving the rivers of Wester Ross for the first time.
This will almost certainly include wild salmon from the Special Area for Conservation on the Little Gruinard River, where Atlantic salmon are strictly protected under European law.
Sea-lice have been over the threshold in this part of Wester Ross for 15 straight months now. Despite three area-wide sea-lice treatments last year, and one this year, and a staggering 32 other treatments for lice in 15 months, the industry here still cannot get its sea-lice problem under control.
Other regions – Inchard to Kirkaig North, Kishorn and Carron, Loch Long and Croe, Morar to Shiel, Skye and small isles (North), Awe and Nell (Argyll), Add and Ormsary (also Argyll), Mull, Islay and Jura, the east of Lewis, North Uist, South Uist and Shetland East – also had sea lice levels well over the thresholds for treatment, threatening migrating wild salmon and sea-trout with lethal infestation.
Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)), said:
“In Norway, the fish farmers have been read the riot act over lice. In Scotland, they have been invited to trade dinners and cosy chats. All the assurances and promises made in recent months by the Minister, for example during the passage of the Aquaculture and Fisheries Act through Holyrood, ring rather hollow.
There are regions of Scotland where the fish-farmers demonstrably cannot control sea-lice on farmed fish. The industry also includes serial offenders, who seem either unwilling or incapable of controlling their sea lice but, collectively, the industry does not seem prepared to deal with its own ‘bad apples’.
In both cases, the Minister must now act. For him to say that he is keeping the situation ‘under review’ is no longer credible. He should direct Scottish regulators to require prolonged fallowing of entire regions where sea lice are out of control (and not just the odd farm for a few weeks). Then there should be a thorough examination of whether fish-farming can continue in these regions.
Given the particularly appalling track record in Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom, the S&TA is already very clear that we should now stop current farming fish in Two Brooms completely”.
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA(S) Aquaculture Campaign, said:
“What is very concerning is that each new set of data suggests increased sea lice resistance to the cocktail of drugs used to control sea-lice. It also seems in some regions the use of wrasse as ‘miracle’ cleaner fish has been rather over-hyped.
We would ask Ministers again to consider ordering a cull of all the fish in the very worst affected regions – for example, between Kinlochbervie and Gruinard Bay. This is the kind of decisive action taken by the Norwegian authorities when they were faced with a similar problem. This should then be followed by the fallowing of these farms until such time as a proven solution is identified.
The question is whether Ministers are prepared to provide any protection whatsoever for wild salmon and sea-trout in the worst affected regions, or whether they will continue to protect the salmon farmers, come what may”.
Paul Knight, S&TA’s CEO and Co-Chair of the NGOs attending the 31st Annual Meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO), added:
“This set of data is especially topical as the NASCO meeting is showing a stark difference in the attitude of Scotland and Norway in lice management.
Norway seems determined to take tough decisions in an attempt to protect wild salmon, while the Scottish Government consistently turns a blind eye to industry failures to adhere to internationally recognised environmental standards.
Meanwhile, the SSPO continues to be in denial over the impact of sea lice emanating from fish farms on wild fish.
There is little doubt that Scotland is out on a limb amongst its NASCO colleagues by failing to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the dangers of poorly operated aquaculture.”
Why are sea lice on fish-farms such a threat to wild salmonids?
The negative impact of sea lice, produced in huge numbers by fish farms, on wild salmonids (salmon and sea trout) is widely accepted by fisheries scientists including the Scottish Government’s own Marine Scotland Science (see Note).
Most recently, a new paper published in 2013 by a group of fisheries experts from Norway, Canada and Scotland re-analyses data from various Irish studies and shows that the impact of sea lice on wild salmon causes a very high loss (34%) of those returning to Irish rivers (see Note 5)
Most importantly, there is clear evidence that both wild salmon and sea trout are in decline in Scotland’s ‘aquaculture zone’, whereas, generally, populations have stabilized on the east and north coasts where there is no fish-farming (see Notes).
The SSPO reports giving aggregated sea lice data from fish farms are available for download via this link: http://scottishsalmon.co.uk/fish-health-management-report-january-to-march-2014/
Marine Scotland Science (2013) Summary of information relating to impacts of sea lice from fish farms on Scottish sea trout and salmon – 4th April 2013 – see www.standupforwildsalmon.org. Note that Marine Scotland Science acknowledges that compliance with the thresholds within the Code of Good Practice is not necessarily sufficient to ensure that juvenile sea lice emanating from the fish farms do not damage wild fish.
See also S&TA (2013) Recent research and findings on the impact of salmon aquaculture on wild salmonids – see www.standupforwildsalmon.org
M Krkosek, C W Revie, B Finstad and C D Todd (2013) Comment on Jackson et al. “Impact of Lepeophtheirus salmonis infestations on migrating Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L., smolts at eight locations in Ireland with an analysis of lice-induced marine mortality” – Journal of Fish Diseases.