Scotland's dismal environmental record on salmon farming exposed at international salmon conference

13/06/2016

Scottish Government has laxer standards on control of sea lice parasites than any other salmon farming country in the North Atlantic

Scotland came under heavy fire and was publicly shamed last week at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the inter-governmental North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) over its continuing failure to have in place effective regulation to control numbers of deadly sea lice parasites on salmon farms – in order to prevent deadly infestation of vulnerable wild salmon and sea trout.

The Meeting in Germany included a full day Special Session “Addressing impacts of salmon farming on wild Atlantic salmon” and delegates from over 20 countries focused on the differing regulatory regimes.

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

“It is abundantly clear that Scotland lags far behind all the countries in the North Atlantic with salmon farming industries, including Norway, Canada, Ireland and the USA, when it comes to protecting wild fish from the impacts of salmon aquaculture. The contrast between the strict statutory controls elsewhere and the paucity of regulation in Scotland is extreme.”

Mr Graham-Stewart continued:

“When it comes to the most serious threat to wild salmonids, sea lice produced by the billion on salmon farms, Scotland essentially relies on what are little more than gentleman’s agreements and unenforceable codes of good practice with the industry which have no status in law. In contrast, the Faroese have almost zero tolerance of any build-up of sea lice and the Norwegians accept no more than 0.5 lice per farmed fish. Yet the Scottish regime now allows up to an astonishing eight lice per farmed fish before any serious remedial action must be considered.”

Paul Knight, CEO of Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) and co-Chair of the NASCO NGOs, elaborated:

“It was very noticeable amongst the NGOs present that, although none of them thought their respective Governments were doing enough to protect salmon from aquaculture, they were all astonished at just how lax Scotland is and how the Scottish officials appear deluded that their latest plans for supposedly tougher regulation will provide any meaningful protection to wild salmon and sea trout. The NASCO forum is purely about the protection of wild fish, and Scotland is presently at the bottom of the heap in terms of limiting the impact of aquaculture on its wild salmon stocks.”

Hughie Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TCS, added:

“It is a sad state of affairs when Scotland has considerably weaker regulation than even the Faroes. Anyone who has seen immature salmon and sea trout in the west Highlands and Islands being eaten alive by these sea lice will understand that the Government’s comprehensive failure to introduce proper protection for our wild fish is Scotland’s shame.”

The latest sea lice data for January to March 2016, published by the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation (SSPO) on 20 May, confirms that the industry is still failing to control the parasites in many areas, indeed there is no sign of any real improvement. As the graph below shows, the trendline for the percentage of total industry production capacity above the Code of Good Practice threshold (for recommended treatment) is on a steady upward trajectory.

Notes:

1) A 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 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.

2) In 2015, fisheries scientists from Norway, Scotland and Ireland reviewed over 300 scientific publications on the damaging effects of sea lice on sea trout stocks in salmon farming areas, and examined the effect of sea lice on salmon, concluding that sea lice have a potential significant and detrimental effect on marine survival of Atlantic salmon with potentially 12-29% fewer salmon spawning in salmon farming areas. The researchers concluded that: “Salmon lice in intensively farmed areas have negatively impacted wild sea trout populations by reducing growth and increasing marine mortality. Quantification of these impacts remains a challenge, although population-level effects have been quantified in Atlantic salmon by comparing the survival of chemically protected fish with control groups, which are relevant also for sea trout. Mortality attributable to salmon lice can lead to an average of 12−29% fewer salmon spawners. Reduced growth and increased mortality will reduce the benefits of marine migration for sea trout, and may also result in selection against anadromy in areas with high lice levels. Salmon lice-induced effects on sea trout populations may also extend to altered genetic composition and reduced diversity, and possibly to the local loss of sea trout, and establishment of exclusively freshwater resident populations.” See Thorstad , E , Todd , C D , Uglem , I , Bjorn , P A , Gargan , P , Vollset , K , Halttunen , E , Kalas , S , Berg , M & Finstad , B 2015 , ' Effects of salmon lice Lepeophtheirus salmonis on wild sea trout Salmo trutta – a literature review ' Aquaculture Environment Interactions , vol 7 , no. 2 , pp. 91-113 . (at https://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/handle/10023/7295)