Catastrophe of salmon farm ‘sea-lice soup’ hits juvenile salmon and sea-trout across huge area of the west coast and western isles

S&TA(S) congratulates local council for principled planning decisions to safeguard wild salmon and sea-trout but castigates Minister for allowing wild salmon catastrophe to continue on his watch

At the worst possible time of year for wild fish, yet again industry figures show sea-lice have been out of control at many Scottish salmon farms. The latest aggregated sea lice data, published by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) (Note 1), shows that in the second quarter of 2014, sea lice numbers on farmed salmon were still out of control in almost half the thirty regions for which data is reported by the industry.

The second quarter of every year is when the main migrations to sea of juvenile wild salmon and sea-trout occur. During this period, wild salmon and sea-trout are at their most vulnerable to damaging and often fatal infestations of sea lice emanating from fish farms (Note 2).

Particular hotspots, for the sixth 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.

Collectively, the farms in this region breached industry sea-lice standards and will have been producing juvenile sea-lice in numbers that will in all probability have threatened the survival of any migrating young wild salmon and sea-trout leaving the rivers of Wester Ross for the first time this spring. This will almost certainly have included wild salmon from the Special Area for Conservation on the Little Gruinard River, where Atlantic salmon are supposedly strictly protected under European law

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA (Scotland) Aquaculture Campaign, said:

“Sea-lice have been over the threshold in this part of Wester Ross for 18 straight months now. Despite extended fallow periods applied in Wester Ross and twelve treatments for sea-lice in the three months of April to June 2014, the industry here still cannot get its sea-lice problem under control. Clearly the use of wrasse as ‘cleaner fish’ in this region is not the panacea that it is often said to be.”

Mr Linley-Adams continued:

“We now have 18 months of evidence which shows that either the fish-farmers in Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom can’t or won’t manage their farms properly to control sea-lice or that some characteristic of Wester Ross simply makes it an inappropriate place to farm salmon.

Either way, the fish-farms in Two Brooms must now go.

This is now a litmus test of the attitude of the Scottish Government to wild salmon and sea-trout on the west coast. Is it lawful for Ministers to do nothing to protect populations of west coast wild salmon and sea-trout in Two Brooms for the benefit of the fish-farmers?”

Other regions that continue to have sea-lice issues include Inchard to Kirkaig North, Loch Long and Croe, Skye and small isles (North), Awe and Nell (Argyll), Add and Ormsary (also Argyll), Mull, Lewis, North Uist, South Uist and Shetland East with sea lice levels up to ten times over the thresholds for treatment, threatening migrating wild salmon and sea-trout with lethal infestation.

Highland Council congratulated for decisions showing local concerns for wild salmon and sea-trout

In stark contrast to the Minister’s lack of action, the Highland Council appears now to be standing up for wild salmon and sea-trout on behalf of the local communities it represents and which care passionately about their wild fish.

Refusing planning permission this August for a massive 10-cage salmon farm in Loch Slapin on the Isle of Skye, the Highland Council concluded that “it is the sea-lice impacts on wild salmonids in particular, given the historical problems in this loch system, which is of main concern” describing the likely effect on wild fish populations as “unacceptable” (Note 3).

Also in August, the Highland Council defended a 10 year time-limit placed on an existing salmon farm in Loch Torridon and refused the fish-farmers’ application for permanent planning permission, stating that since the farm was first given permission “nothing substantive has changed to lessen sea-lice impacts on wild salmonids” and that “high sea lice levels present at a time when peak values would not be expected is of concern regarding their potential impact on wild salmonids” (Note 4).

Shamefully, Marine Scotland did not object to either application and appears to be ignoring the advice of its own fisheries scientists at Marine Scotland Science, who have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that “scientific evidence from Norway and Ireland indicates a detrimental effect of sea-lice on sea trout and salmon populations” (Note 5). There is, of course, no evidence that Scottish wild fish are somehow less susceptible than their Norwegian or Irish relatives or that Scottish sea-lice are less of a threat.

Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)), said:

“The S&TA is delighted to see local authorities taking on their responsibilities for the sea-lice issue at last. We applaud the Highland Council for grasping the issue.

Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom have a similar track record of appalling fish-farm sea-lice problems as Loch Slapin, so the question is will the Minister follow the Highland Council’s lead and direct the closure of the Two Brooms fish-farms?

If those farms applied to the Council for planning permission now, it seems highly likely that they would not be granted that permission. The fish-farmers have had ample time to show they can control sea-lice, but the parasites are still rampant on the Two Brooms farms.

It is simply not credible for the Minister to reply that he is still ‘keeping the situation under review’ or offer some such other platitude. He must now act and close the Two Brooms farms.”

Why are sea lice from 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 5).

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 6).

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 been relatively stable on the east and north coasts where there is no fish-farming (see Note 7).



2) Just what is the problem with sea lice? Adult wild salmon are perfectly adapted to coping with a few sea lice. Background levels of these parasites occur naturally in the sea. However the advent of salmon farming, particularly in fjordic sea lochs, has led to a fundamental change in the density and occurrence of sea lice in parts of the coastal waters of the west Highlands and Islands. Even one or two mature female sea lice per fish within a set of cages housing hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon amounts to a rampant breeding reservoir pumping literally billions of mobile juvenile sea lice out into the local marine environment. The consequences when wild salmon and sea trout smolts, the metamorphosing fragile skin of which is not adapted to cope with more than the odd louse, migrate from local rivers into this “sea lice soup” are devastating.

A burden in excess of 13 pre-adult sea lice is known to compromise severely the survival of juvenile migratory salmonids. Lice feed by grazing on the surface of the fish and eating the mucous and skin. Large numbers of lice soon cause the loss of fins, severe scarring, secondary infections and, in time, death. Quite literally, the fish are eaten alive. Badly infested salmon smolts disappear out to sea, never to be seen again. In contrast afflicted sea trout smolts remain within the locality and they, together with the impact of the deadly burdens they carry, are more easily monitored through sweep net operations.

3) Highland Council Handling Report and Refusal of Planning Permission 12th August 2014 for new marine fin-fish farm – Atlantic salmon – comprising 10 x 120m plastic circular cages, mooring grid and 220 tonne capacity concrete feed barge –

4) 14/01868/S42 Section 42 application for non-compliance with condition 5 of permission 11/04228/FUL – ten year time limit – Marine fish farm – Atlantic salmon. Site NW of Sgeir Dughall Loch Torridon Diabaig Torridon. See

5) 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 . 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

6) 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.