Scottish Ministers ordered to disclose names of Scotland’s ‘liciest’ salmon farms to Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland

The Scottish Information Commissioner has this week published a formal Decision that Scottish Ministers unlawfully tried to withhold information naming fish farms that had breached Scottish Government trigger levels for the numbers of adult female sea lice on farmed salmon.

http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/uploadedFiles/Decision142-2017.pdf

Late last year and this year, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TC Scotland) made a number of requests for information for details of those farms that had notified Marine Scotland that the new Scottish trigger levels, announced to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization in 2016, had been exceeded, but Scottish Ministers had declined to provide the information, on the basis that to do so would cause “substantial prejudice” to the interests of the fish farmers which had provided the information.

Scottish Ministers argued that the salmon farmers feared that information on the performance of individual fish farm sites could be used to undermine commercial contracts through undue media pressure, or to call for local authorities and other regulators to revoke consent for sites reporting higher sea lice levels. Scottish Ministers supported the industry in those fears.

After two separate and detailed referrals by us, the Scottish Information Commissioner has now ruled that arguments put forward by S&TC Scotland, for full disclosure of the names of the ‘liciest’ fish farms in Scotland, were correct, and that the Scottish Ministers had unlawfully tried to prevent public scrutiny.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor for S&TC Scotland said:

“We are delighted that the Commissioner has made it so plain to Scottish Ministers that they cannot lawfully continue to shield the Scottish salmon farming industry from proper public scrutiny.

For years, we have been arguing that farm specific sea lice information should be made publicly available and, indeed, have been supported in that by local authorities on the west coast and in the Western Isles, and by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

It is to Scottish Ministers’ shame that it took a formal legal referral to the Scottish Information Commissioner from a conservation charity to make them recognise the obvious legitimate public interest in identifying poorly-run poorly-managed fish farms, so that consumers can avoid buying fish from those farms and those suppliers.

As soon as we have the information, S&TCS will publish the list of Scotland’s liciest salmon farms and will be asking supermarkets to stop selling salmon from those farms”.

Latest industry aggregated figures show the sea lice problem is getting worse

Across the industry as a whole, the upward trend in failure of salmon farms to control sea lice and stay below the Code of Good Practice (CoGP) threshold of 1 or 0.5 adult female sea lice per farmed fish continues. The graph below, drawn up using SSPO data, shows that regions covering 61.4% of total farmed salmon production in Scotland were over CoGP thresholds in June 2017, the last month for which aggregated sea lice data has been published.

Sea_lice_stats

Even for that 1/3 or so of the industry that does remain below CoGP thresholds for sea lice, Marine Scotland scientists recognise “that adherence to the suggested criteria for treatment of sea lice stipulated in the industry CoGP may not necessarily prevent release of substantial numbers of lice from aquaculture installations”.

Parliamentary Inquiry due in early 2018

A formal Petition, at http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01598 , lodged in the Scottish Parliament in February 2016 by S&TC Scotland, seeking protection for wild salmonids from sea lice from Scottish salmon farms, has resulted in MSPs launching an Inquiry into the salmon farming industry in Scotland.

The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee of MSPs agreed at Holyrood in July (at http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11034), to conduct a full-blown Inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland and the issues raised in S&TC Scotland’s Petition.

Guy Linley-Adams continued:

“S&TC Scotland looks forward to the Parliamentary inquiry at which we intend to argue strongly for a change in Scottish law to protect wild fish and the wider Scottish marine environment from the worst effects of salmon farming

We now call upon Scottish Ministers to rethink radically their approach to the salmon farming industry, to end the knee-jerk support of the industry in the face of frankly awful environmental performance, and to stop trying to protect it from legitimate criticism.

We have shared our ideas for change with Marine Scotland and hope Scottish Ministers will now work with environmental and conservation bodies to map out a sustainable future for the industry that no longer damages the precious Scottish marine environment and the species within it.

We also call upon the industry itself to end both its tobacco-industry style denials about the damage it causes and the ‘tit for tat’ accusations it repeatedly makes, in favour of embracing the positive change that must now come”.

 

Issued by Andrew Graham-Stewart (telephone 01863 766767 or 07812 981531) on behalf of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland. For more information please contact guy@linley-adams.co.uk, 07837 881219 or 01432 379093.

Further information on the S&TC Scotland salmon farm reform campaign is available on www.salmon-trout.org

Mounting evidence of need to modernise salmon farming – collapse of salmon run in South-West Highlands

This year’s run of salmon in the most closely monitored river in Argyll is on course to be the lowest on record. The salmon count on the River Awe has hit an all-time low after 30 weeks of the season.

Last year’s total of 807 fish was only slightly above the all-time lowest count. This year it is running at only one third of the 2016 count. If this continues the final total will struggle to reach 400. This would be by far the lowest count of returning salmon to the biggest river in the South-West Highlands since records began in 1965.

River Awe salmon count

The Awe is a short river, draining Scotland’s longest loch (Loch Awe), with a hydro-electric dam at its head. There is a fish lift and a counter in the dam. The flow regime is such that fish can run the river any day of the year; almost all the fish are destined for the headwaters and thus there is a full river count which is almost unaffected by the weather.

Roger Brook, Chairman of the Argyll District Salmon Fishery Board, said:

“The Scottish Government has promoted the continued expansion of the salmon aquaculture industry whilst refusing to implement adequate control on the siting of farms and the levels of sea lice on the farms. We call upon Scottish Government to insist that future farms are sited away from the probable migration routes. The worst existing farms, both in terms of location and lice control, should now be closed.”

Mr Brook continued:

“Rivers such as the Awe are facing an uneconomic future but the government appears to care nothing about our iconic west Highland salmon and the important west coast tourist industry associated with recreational fishing. We are facing a very precarious future.”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TC Scotland) said:

“Since the arrival of intensive salmon farming, numbers of mature west Highland sea trout have crashed. The decline in wild salmon numbers has not thus far been as extreme but it now appears that in the southern section of the west Highlands the decline is accelerating into a free fall. Despite all the warnings regarding the consequences of pursuing the unfettered growth of salmon farming without any meaningful controls to protect wild fish, successive Scottish Governments have blundered on with this policy.”

In an attempt to quantify the effect of salmon farming, a comparison can be made between salmon catches on the East coast of Scotland and the west coast between the Mull of Kintyre and Ardnamurchan Point (South-West Highlands). Between 1970 and 2014 rod catches of salmon on the East coast increased by almost 40%. Over the same time period rod catches in the South-West Highlands declined by 50%. See here.

Juvenile salmon migrating from rivers in the South-West Highlands must run the gauntlet close to lice-producing salmon farms not only in the immediate area but also the whole way up the west coast before they reach open ocean, free of aquaculture. Throughout this coastal migration they are vulnerable to infestation by deadly sea lice. It stands to reason that, the more salmon farms that outgoing juvenile salmon have to negotiate past on their migration to the North Atlantic feeding grounds, the less likely they are to survive.

The other major river in the South-West Highlands is the Lochy, which enters the sea by Fort William. The published rod catch of salmon to the end of July was 33, summed up by the river’s management as “the worst start in recent times.” The catch to the end of July was just 27% of the five year average for the same period.

In June, the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, in response to a formal Petition lodged in the Scottish Parliament in February 2016 by S&TC Scotland seeking protection for wild salmonids from sea lice from Scottish salmon farms, agreed to launch an Inquiry (scheduled for early 2018) into salmon farming in Scotland and the issues we have raised in throughout our salmon farm reform campaign.

We believe that a future is possible where Scottish salmon farming and wild fish can both thrive. In the medium term this can only be achieved by moving farming into closed containment tank systems, thus preventing the spread of disease and parasites from the farms to wild salmon and sea trout. In the meantime effective regulation of farms to protect wild fish is long overdue.

Growth of the Riverfly census to help tackle pollution in Welsh rivers

An increase in the pollution of rivers in Wales has led to the launch of a three-year scientific monitoring programme by Salmon & Trout Conservation to find out exactly how Welsh rivers are doing health wise.

This study is an expansion of our existing Riverfly Census. The results from 12 English rivers over the past two years have showed us that many of the country’s watery places are in a perilous condition.

Richard Garner Williams, our Welsh officer, explains the science:

“Last autumn saw the start of our innovative Riverfly Census monitoring programme in Wales. This highly informative method of analysis aims to assess the health of our rivers through monitoring the diversity of freshwater insect communities. The loss of the aquatic stages in the lifecycles of bugs such as caddisflies and mayflies causes major disruption to the delicate balance of the aquatic food chain, with fish, mammals and bird populations suffering as a result.”

Different invertebrate species have unique tolerances to specific types of pollution. Therefore, the presence or absence of a species provides an excellent indicator of the underlying ecological condition of our rivers and accurately pinpoints potential pollution sources. The threat to our rivers has moved from industrial pollution to a range of more subtle but equally damaging impacts, including the pollution from some forms of intensive agricultural production, which can be toxic to river insects – a vital part of the food chain within rivers.

The three rivers included in the Riverfly Census in Wales – the Clwyd, Usk and Cleddau Ddu or Eastern Cleddau – represent a good geographical spread across the country. Over the next few years we will be able to gather crucial evidence about the condition of these rivers and, when problems are identified, to develop workable solutions to reverse the decline in biodiversity and water quality.

Richard Garner Williams continued:

“The results from the 2016 autumn sampling have formed an important baseline for measuring the condition of these rivers in subsequent years. Early results on the Eastern Cleddau and, to a lesser extent the Clwyd, indicate that agricultural pollution may be taking its toll. In contrast, the early results on the River Usk are more promising, but there is never any room for complacency and we need more data over future years to provide an accurate picture.”

Understanding why and to what extent riverfly numbers, such as blue-winged olives, are declining is the first step in the process of safeguarding the aquatic environment. We are using our results in England to help fuel real improvements on our rivers. For example, we have worked with the local Environment Agency on the Test and Itchen in Hampshire to agree bespoke targets for mayfly species to drive improvements. We now want to be just as forensic in Welsh rivers!

Pollution incidents are occurring far too frequently in Wales, especially in the milkfields of West Wales, where waste products from intensive dairy production are having a devastating impact on the freshwater environment. This is a major concern for all of us who care about our rivers and aquatic wildlife. However, the results from our Riverfly Census will help to provide the scientific evidence needed to identify specific problems and to develop workable solutions in order to guide meaningful restoration and avoid further incidents. We look forward to working with Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government and other stakeholders to ensure this happens for the benefit of our rivers and the wild fish of Wales, both now and in the future.

For further information the Riverfly Census in Wales, please contact: Richard Garner Williams on: wales@salmon-trout.org

Vitacress and Salmon & Trout Conservation Join Forces on Water Quality

Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) and Vitacress have joined forces to help reduce phosphate outputs from the watercress industry.

In-river phosphate and invertebrate sampling commissioned by us on the River Itchen, a Special Area of Conservation, has indicated the river is suffering for excess phosphates and fine sediment, from a variety of sources, which has resulted in the river being a shadow of its former self, despite its protected status.

Seizing on the opportunity presented by Vitacress’ plan to bring its Pinglestone Farm on the Itchen back to full commercial production in 2018, S&TC, together with Portsmouth University, will continuously monitor phosphate output throughout the process and work with Vitacress to develop effective farming and water management methods to resolve any issues uncovered by the monitoring.

Paul Knight, S&TC CEO said:

“We believe continuous monitoring of phosphate levels in industry discharges is the only way to fully capture seasonal peaks and better understand the impacts these discharges are having on the river.  We applaud Vitacress for working with us to go beyond the EA’s current monthly spot checks – to properly monitor the impact of the watercress industry on the river environment.  We will work together to ensure this data drives improvements in the rivers ecology, while ensuring watercress is a truly environmentally sustainable product”

Chris Hall, MD of Vitacress Salads said:

“We’re delighted to be working together with S&TC and the University of Portsmouth as part of our ongoing commitment to sustainable farming. The learnings from Pinglestone will be applied across all Vitacress’ watercress farms, and shared with the industry to develop best practice in watercress farming. This fits with Vitacress’ values and our commitment to deliver fresh, tasty, healthy and nutritious watercress whilst protecting the environments in which we farm.”

S&TC’s Campaign and Petition leads to Parliamentary Inquiry into Scottish salmon farming 

A formal Petition, lodged in the Scottish Parliament in February 2016 by Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland, seeking protection for wild salmonids from sea lice from Scottish salmon farms, has resulted in MSPs launching an Inquiry into the salmon farming industry in Scotland.

The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee of MSPs agreed at Holyrood this week to conduct a full-blown Inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland and the issues raised in our Petition.

Guy Linley-Adams, for S&TCS, said:

“We are delighted that MSPs of all parties have shown such concern and interest and we thank them for launching this Inquiry. This will enable us to bring all MSPs attention to what they can do to protect Scotland’s iconic wild salmon and sea trout, and the wider Scottish environment, from the damage it is currently suffering as a result of salmon farming in marine open cages.”

This is a vindication of what we have been saying for some years. It hasn’t always been a very popular message in some quarters, but the message has now got through and MSPs have taken the first steps towards a solution”.

Our Salmon Farm Reform Campaign’s 2016 Petition recommends that the Scottish Parliament should seek to amend the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007 to give Scottish Ministers a statutory duty to inspect farms and enforce sea lice control on salmon farms. This is for the express purpose of protecting wild salmonid fish from juvenile sea lice infestation from marine cage fish farms, and statutory powers to order immediate culls of any marine cage fish farm where average adult female sea lice numbers of farmed fish remain persistently above Code of Good Practice thresholds.

Over the medium term, we argue that those farms consistently failing to control sea lice should be closed or relocated to move the worst performing farms away from salmonid rivers and migration routes. We support a renewed focus on moving to full closed containment of farmed salmon production in Scotland, with complete ‘biological separation’ of wild and farmed fish.