Reporter acknowledges threat to wild fish stocks of sea lice emanating from salmon farming
The Salmon &Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)) has welcomed the decision this week by the Scottish Government’s Reporter to dismiss an appeal by The Scottish Salmon Company against planning permission for one of its salmon farms being limited to ten years.
In March 2012 Highland Council granted planning permission to The Scottish Salmon Company for a new salmon farm at Sgeir Dughall in Loch Torridon (Wester Ross), one of the most intensively farmed sea lochs in the north-west. This permission was limited to a period of ten years in order to “allow alternatives to controlling sea lice to be provided within that time in recognition of the ongoing concerns with regard to the impacts on wild fisheries, whilst allowing the operator time to find alternative culture techniques for the site, for example, closed containment”.
The company appealed against this condition on several counts, for example arguing that “The site has now been operating for 18 months and it can now be demonstrated that the concerns, raised both by individual objectors and the Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board, have not been realised.”
This statement is at odds with the figures published by the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, which demonstrated that sea lice numbers reached the very high level of an average 12 adult female lice per farmed fish in Loch Torridon in September 2013.
The Scottish Government Reporter has now dismissed the appeal, stating that the “imposition of a time limit on the duration of this permission cannot be regarded as unreasonable”. See http://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=115376&T=20
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA (S) Aquaculture Campaign, said:
“In supporting and upholding this temporary planning permission, the S&TA(S) is delighted to see that the Reporter has recognised that the possible damage to wild salmonids from fish-farming could be significant.
Importantly, the Reporter also agrees that the Aquaculture Act 2007 cannot be used to control sea lice on fish farms for the benefit of wild fish or to reduce emissions of sea-lice into the wider sea loch environment.
The S&TA(S) has been asking Scottish Government to change the law on this specific and critical point for some time.
Ministers must now provide inspectors with the powers to order early harvest or culling of badly-infested farmed fish, specifically in order to protect wild salmonids.
In the meantime, the Reporter has confirmed that it is local authorities that currently have the statutory function of protecting wild salmon and sea trout from sea-lice emitted from fish-farms.
We look forward to all councils taking a robust approach to fish-farm development, as the Highland Council has in this case”.
The Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board submission to the Reporter argued that: “The Council’s decision to grant time limited permission reflected the considerable uncertainties or ‘known unknowns’ regarding the cumulative impacts on wild salmonids of yet another farm in this sensitive location where there is already a high level of salmon production. The impact on local salmonids will depend on a number of local factors including cumulative impact, local hydrographic conditions and farming practice. Local salmonid stocks are already under great pressure and the ‘time limited’ permission reflects a desire to ensure that a valuable local resource is not permanently compromised.”
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.
In other salmon farming countries, the impact is more readily accepted. The Norwegian Government’s Institute for Nature Research has recently published a detailed review of the available science and has concluded that there is “evidence of a general and pervasive negative effect of salmon lice on sea trout populations in intensively farmed areas”.
The Irish Government’s Inland Fisheries Ireland has also noted that “salmon farming increases the abundance of lice in marine habitats and that sea lice in intensively farmed areas have negatively impacted wild sea trout populations”.
A joint 2013 paper from a group of fisheries experts from Norway, Canada and Scotland re-analysed 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.
1) For further details (including all the submissions) on the Sgeir Dughall case, see http://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx
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) 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
4) NINA (2014) Effects of salmon lice on sea trout – a literature review. Norwegian Institute for Nature Research Report 1044.
5) Inland Fisheries Ireland (2014) Salmon Farms can have significant impact on wild salmon and sea trout stocks. Statement issued 18th September 2014. http://www.fisheriesireland.ie/Press-releases/salmon-farms-can-have-significant-impact-on-wild-salmon-and-sea-trout-stocks.html
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.