New report from salmon farming’s biggest company confirms that Scotland is the “dirty man of global aquaculture”
Marine Harvest’s performance on sea lice control in Scotland is drastically worse than any of its other worldwide operations
Newly published data in the 2016 Annual Report from Marine Harvest, the world’s largest salmon farming company, shows that its Scottish salmon farms lag very far behind its operations elsewhere in the world in controlling the devastating sea lice parasite.
The Report includes a graph indicating that 69 % of Marine Harvest sites in Scotland were above the industry’s Code of Good Practice trigger levels for treatment of sea lice in 2016. The highest figure elsewhere was in Canada where just 13 % of sites were above the national trigger level for chemical treatment.
The graph, as published in the Marine Harvest Annual Review, confirms that the situation in Scotland is deteriorating year on year. No other Marine Harvest operation shows such a trend.
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), said:
“The situation in Scotland compared to other countries is truly shocking and a damning indictment of Scottish Government’s failure to regulate salmon farming effectively. This is incontrovertible proof that Scotland really is the dirty man of global aquaculture. It lays bare Scottish Government’s complacent mantra that the industry here is well regulated and sustainable. Ministers must surely now cease peddling ‘alternative facts’ when it comes to the industry’s environmental performance.”
The quarterly sea lice figures published by SSPO confirm other companies are as bad as, and in some instances worse than, Marine Harvest at controlling sea lice. In recent months the figures for Loch Fyne (Argyll) and Loch Roag (Lewis) have been particularly poor, but Marine Harvest has no farms in either location. The Scottish Salmon Company has ten farms in Loch Fyne and seven farms in Loch Roag.
The Marine Harvest 2016 Annual Report is also candid as to the reasons for Scotland’s desperately poor performance. Marine Harvest’s CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog is quoted:
“Poorly managed fish farming systems can lead to a high frequency of diseases and increased use of antibiotics or other medicines, including medication to combat sea lice, the industry’s main challenge at present. We know that two important drivers in this regard are a too high density of fish farms and too rapid growth in a small area.”
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, added:
“With Marine Harvest warning against too high density of farms and too rapid growth, the Scottish Government’s growth targets – of doubling the size of the industry by 2030 – look increasingly dangerous to the environment and to the industry alike.”
In 2015 S&TCS raised a formal Petition to the Scottish Parliament, which seeks to change the law, firstly to require immediate culls or harvesting of farmed where sea lice numbers have effectively gone out of control and secondly to give fish farm inspectors the legal duty to control sea lice on fish farms, expressly to protect wild fish populations from juvenile sea lice infestation from marine cage fish farms. The Petition is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
Issued by Andrew Graham-Stewart (telephone 01863 766767 or 07812 981531) on behalf of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland.
Notes for editors
1) Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) was established as the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) in 1903 to address the damage done to our rivers by the polluting effects of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, S&TC UK has worked to protect fisheries, fish stocks and the wider aquatic environment for the public benefit. S&TC UK has charitable status in both England and Scotland (as S&TCS) and its charitable objectives empower it to address all issues affecting fish and the aquatic environment, supported by robust evidence from its scientific network, and to take the widest possible remit in protecting salmonid fish stocks and the aquatic environment upon which they depend. www.salmon-trout.org www.salmon-troutscotland.org
2) Scottish Government action required
Fisheries scientists – including the Scottish Government’s own scientists - are firm in their conclusions that sea lice produced on fish-farms harm wild salmon and sea trout, both at an individual and at a population level. However, S&TCS believes that these threats are not being addressed by effective regulation and control of sea lice numbers on fish-farms in Scotland, which are essential to protect wild fish populations, many already significantly reduced. In 2015, the S&TCS raised a formal Petition to the Scottish Parliament, which seeks to change the law, firstly to require immediate culls or harvesting of farmed where sea lice numbers have effectively gone out of control and secondly to give fish farm inspectors the legal duty to control sea lice on fish farms, expressly to protect wild fish populations from juvenile sea lice infestation from marine cage fish farms. The Petition is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
3) 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 or largely enclosed 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 huge numbers 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” can be devastating.
Carrying an unnaturally high burden of 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.
The 2016 paper Aquaculture and environmental drivers of salmon lice infestation and body condition in sea trout (Shephard et al, Aquaculture Environment Interactions) analysed a 25 yr dataset of lice counts from >20 000 sea trout sampled from 94 separate river and lake systems in Ireland and Scotland at varying distances from marine salmon farms and concluded that “sea trout captured closer to salmon farms had significantly higher levels of lice infestation, and that this effect was exacerbated in warmer years. Sea trout sampled closer to salmon farms also had significantly reduced weight at length (impaired condition), with the strongest impact in dry years.