Salmon farming industry blames wild fish for sea lice infestations

Sea lice on farmed salmon – the ultimate solution

In September, following months of media exposes of salmon farming’s dire environmental failures, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) announced the appointment of a leading political journalist to the newly created role of “Director of Strategic Engagement”.

In the SSPO’s news release, the appointee is quoted as “looking forward to playing my part in helping the industry cement its already excellent reputation for sustainability...”. One wonders just where he has been to reach such a view of the industry’s record!

Now it seems that his first strategic initiative is coalescing. The strategy, designed to deflect criticism when sea lice numbers on farms spiral out of control, is to shift the blame.

Salmon farming industry blames wild fish

Recently S&TCS have been forwarded emails from two industry luminaries, addressed to Scottish Ministers and other influential MSPs. They both make similar points:

Julie Hesketh-Laird, CEO SSPO:

"With respect to lice, our members operating in sea lochs can observe an increased sea lice challenge in an environment in which they coexist with returning lice burdened mature wild salmon."

Ben Hadfield, MD Marine Harvest Scotland:

"We associate returning (wild) adult salmon with a period of enhanced infection rates of farmed stock, which are placed in the sea without a sea lice challenge."

In essence the salmon farming industry blames wild fish. They are saying that wild mature or adult salmon are to blame, indeed that they are the cause of the industry’s sea lice woes.

They clearly imply that we should forget about poor management and/or husbandry on farms and the fact that hundreds of thousands of fish crammed into a confined netted area are a perfect breeding reservoir for sea lice, because wild fish are the problem.

The logical extension to Ms Hesketh-Laird’s and Mr Hadfield’s ludicrous statements is that, in order to eliminate sea lice issues on farms, all wild salmon in the salmon farming areas of the west Highlands and Islands should be exterminated; indeed, do away with wild fish and at a stroke you remove much of the opposition to salmon farming and its expansion.

Salmon farming PR machine

To the industry, sustainability is just a vague PR concept to which cynical lip-service has to be paid.

And, as for the fate of wild fish, on the evidence of recent events, they really do not give a flying fig.

Incidentally, Ms Hesketh-Laird and Mr Hadfield are the industry’s two representatives on Scottish Government’s new Salmon Interactions Working Group, yet another talking shop initiative designed to kick the real issues for wild fish deep into the long grass.

If their input is consistent with their quotes above, then it should be a very short-lived affair.

What next?

We await the report from the current Parliamentary Inquiry into the industry, and wonder what the committee members might think of this seemingly desperate attempt by salmon farmers to lay the blame for their lice issues at the door of wild migrating salmon, a species that has been returning to Scottish west Highland and Island rivers since the Ice Age.

Meanwhile, be assured that S&TC Scotland will continue to fight to protect these fish, and their sea trout relatives, from the ravages of Scottish open-net salmon farming – an industry with an appalling environmental record and an increasingly desperate list of lamentable excuses.

- AGS