The power of bugs – Designing measures to properly capture the health of our rivers

Wednesday 8th November was a very exciting day, as entomology experts from around the UK came to our workshop to discuss the potential for biometric measures (environmental 'scores' calculated from water insect samples) to extend evaluation of our watery places beyond the broader, less specific brush of the Water Framework Directive.

Following on from our fantastic breakthrough on the Itchen (read more here), as part of our Riverfly Census campaign we are working to achieve localised, bespoke targets for more rivers across the UK.

The census, now in its final year, has already shown the tremendous value of analysing water insects to gauge a river's health - different species have different tolerances to pollution, so their presence or absence gives a very accurate environmental picture.

Dr Nick Everall of Aquascience, our lead consultant throughout the Riverfly Census project, and Shirley Medgett of Hampshire Environment Agency kicked off the day by presenting how we arrived at the bespoke targets for the Itchen. This set the scene for discussions on how to instigate a similar process for other rivers.

A room full of scientists - and no blood was spilt!
A room full of scientists - and no blood was spilt!

Currently the UK uses a tool called the 'Water Framework Directive' (WFD) to rank our rivers from High to Poor. This Directive is good for spotting dramatic degradation in our waters but is not so good at picking up the more subtle, but still significant stressors threatening our water life.

This lack of detail was motivation for us to go beyond WFD and use a combination of data from our census and, where possible, historical data to set bespoke targets.

We organised the workshop with the goal to use some of the UK's top experts in the field to help us decide which of the insect biometric measures, or which combinations of them, had potential to be made bespoke. In the afternoon session we also discussed overlap of measures across river types and what the potential thresholds of these measures could look like.

Much complicated ground was covered, but thanks to the expertise and enthusiasm of those who attended, S&TC is now armed with better knowledge to start the local conversations around the science that will ensure measuring health on our rivers is as effective and intuitive as possible. Proper measuring means proper management and, as a result, our rivers, fish and water life will have the bright future they deserve.

Massive thanks to everyone who made the day possible!

 

For more information on the Riverfly Census email lauren@salmon-trout.org or click the button below:

Scottish salmon farming’s ‘liciest’ farms named and shamed

Data reveals astonishingly high sea lice levels, Scottish Government regulation of salmon farms shown to be wholly inadequate.

Today, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland names and shames the liciest fish-farms in Scotland.

Following the formal decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner (http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/uploadedFiles/Decision142-2017.pdf ) 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, S&TC Scotland has now received the information in question.

It shows that sea lice numbers are running out of control in much of the industry for extended periods and failures by individual farms to operate with lice numbers below Scottish Government’s trigger levels are routine.

A new sea lice regime, announced by the Scottish Government with great fanfare at the June 2016 inter-governmental North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization meeting, has been operating since October 2016.

Scottish Government’s new trigger levels of 3 adult female lice per farmed salmon (at which point a “site-specific escalation plan” to reduce lice numbers is required) and 8 adult female lice per farmed salmon (at which point, enforcement action may be ordered to harvest early, reduce biomass or cull-out a farm) are already very considerably more generous to the fish-farmers than the industry’s own longstanding Code of Good Practice (CoGP) sea lice treatment levels of 0.5 or 1 lice per fish, depending on the time of year.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TC Scotland, said:

“Many of the individual farms’ sea lice numbers, which have long been hidden within regional aggregated ‘averages’ published by the industry, are far worse than we envisaged. Sea lice numbers on farmed fish across much of the industry are of epidemic proportions.

More worrying, the Scottish Government’s flagship new policy appears to be a sham, little more than a cynical ‘widening of the goalposts’ to the industry’s advantage, a policy with no teeth.”

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

"The data that Scottish Government didn’t want anyone to see shows that salmon farms have been permitted to operate with breathtakingly high lice numbers for weeks or months on end. To date, no meaningful enforcement action, such as the ordering of culls or immediate reductions in fish-farm biomass, has been taken against serial offenders.

The Scottish Government has a legal duty to protect and conserve wild salmon and sea trout, but this data shows it is failing to rein in the biggest threat to wild salmonids.”

Key findings from the published data include:

The list of those farms that breached the 3 and/or 8 trigger levels includes farms from all the large fish farming companies and most smaller ones.

Note: The figures cover the period extending from week 43 in 2016 (November) to week 35 in 2017(end August) inclusive. The first number following the name of a farm refers to the number of reported weeks with adult female lice counts between 3 and 8, and the second number refers to the number of reported weeks above 8).

The worst performing company in the Scottish Islands and overall worst performing company in Scotland was Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd. Its farms’ figures were – North Papa (14 & 12), North Havra (14 & 6), Spoose Holm (17 & 8), Leinish (13 & 6), Score Holms (18 & 11), Gob na Hoe (17 & 6), Corlarach (12 & 5), West of Burwick (13 & 5), Langa Isle (East) (10 & 8).

Mr Graham-Stewart commented:

“Grieg Seafood’s lamentable record exemplifies the very widespread failure to control sea lice in the Shetlands. It is no wonder that mature wild sea trout are being wiped out in these islands.”

The worst performing company in the West Highlands was The Scottish Salmon Company. Its concentration of farms in Loch Fyne (Argyll) include figures of – Quarry Point (6 & 5), Ardcastle Bay (15 & 6), Strondoir Bay (3 & 3), Gob a Bharra (6 & 0) and Furnace Quarry (0 & 7).

Furnace Quarry farm was allowed by Scottish Government inspectors to continue to operate despite an astonishing sequence of seven weeks, with adult female lice numbers ranging from 15 to 23 per farmed fish.

Mr Graham-Stewart commented:

“The release of free-swimming stage lice into Loch Fyne from The Scottish Salmon Company’s farms in 2016 through to 2017 would have been astonishingly high. Given the company’s inability to control sea lice in Loch Fyne, and elsewhere, it should face serious penalty.

It is shameless that The Scottish Salmon Company’s managing director was only two weeks ago bemoaning the amount of ‘red tape’ he has to deal with (read here).

It is now also plain why the industry was so determined earlier this year to prevent a fact-finding visit to Loch Fyne by MSPs from the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.”

The worst performing smaller operator was Loch Duart Ltd. Its mainland farms’ figures included Clashnessie Bay (10 & 6) and Loch Laxford (15 & 5).

Mr Graham-Stewart commented:

“Loch Duart’s prolonged failure to control sea lice, despite the company’s over-trumpeted use of cleaner fish, is evidence that cleaner fish such as wrasse or lumpfish are simply not the panacea the industry’s constant spinning suggests.”

 

 The requests for information

Late last year and this year, 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 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.

After two separate and detailed referrals by S&TC Scotland, the Scottish Information Commissioner 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:

“It is now abundantly clear why Scottish Ministers tried so hard to prevent the publication of individual salmon farm figures and thus shield the Scottish salmon farming industry from proper public scrutiny.

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.

The true extent of the failure of salmon farms to control sea lice is astonishing. Claims that the situation is under control are risible and we will now write to the supermarkets asking them to stop selling salmon from the worst-performing 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:

“Scottish Ministers need to rethink radically their approach to the salmon farming industry and to end their unconditional support for the industry in the face of this and other equally shocking environmental data now being revealed about its performance.

Ministers must also stop trying to protect salmon farmers from legitimate criticism.

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 & 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 farming campaign is available at https://www.salmon-trout.org/countries/scotland/

BBC’s ‘Fish Farms of the Future’ – Our Comments on Closed Containment

The recent BBC Costing the Earth programme – Fish Farms of the Future – centred around the issue of farming salmon in tanks on land, many miles away from the sea, and how this could be the answer to the environmental impacts of traditional open net farming prevalent off the West Coast and Islands of Scotland. The programme is 30 minutes long but well worth a listen!

S&TC has been calling for closed containment farming for years. Whether in land based units or in tanks in the sea, as shown in the header photo, these units create a biological barrier between farmed and wild fish, so that sea lice cannot transfer to wild salmon and sea trout smolts and eat them alive, diseases stay in the tanks and are easier for farmers to treat, and waste products can be harvested and processed for fertiliser rather than be dumped on the sea bed.

The cost of these units is coming down very quickly and soon it will make economic sense for farmers to switch to closed containment. When that happens, supermarkets will be able to market genuinely sustainable farmed salmon products, and we will be spared the sort of inane comments uttered in the BBC programme by the representative from M&S – suffice to say we are challenging the supermarket over their totally unacceptable attitude.

The future

The Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into salmon farming and its impact on wild fish, which is the result of S&TC’s recent petition on the subject, is scheduled for early next year and we will be presenting a great deal of evidence from around the Northern Hemisphere. The move towards closed containment in other countries will form an important part of that evidence trail.

So, what seemed a pipedream just a few years ago now appears to be coming down the track rather quickly. Closed containment is indeed a reality, and when it happens, wild salmon and sea trout may once again run Scotland’s West Coast and Island rivers and lochs in the profusion that historically lured anglers from all over the globe. That will support local communities and their economies with genuine jobs for local people – something the fish farmers boast about at the moment, but research suggests that salmon farming employees have a more widespread European component to them than the ghillies, boatmen and hotel staff who used to rely on visiting anglers for their pay packet.

Success from the S&TC auction – funding a better future for wild fish and where they live

We are delighted to report that our recent online, live and silent auctions, which culminated in a spectacular dinner at Fishmongers Hall in London, raised an unprecedented £120,000!

The three separate auctions offered many truly remarkable and rare opportunities to bid for exclusive fishing opportunities, stunning works of art, fishing and feasting packages as well as special shoot days.  Many renowned fishermen and celebrities such as Henry Blofeld also offered wonderful hosting opportunities for keen bidders.

Veronica Kruger, S&TC’s dinner and auction co-ordinator explains:

“I am absolutely thrilled with this total, and immensely grateful to all who participated, not least our generous donors, as well as the equally generous bidders who ensured we achieved the guide prices - very often, considerably above guide. Thank you, everyone, who made this our most successful auction ever.”

This further funding boost enables S&TC to escalate its detailed research programme and policy work to tackle the increasingly damaging effects of river pollution in Wales and England as well as continuing its active campaign in Scotland to resolve the devastating impact of salmon farming on wild salmon and sea trout.

Current salmon farming practices expose wild salmon and sea trout to unnaturally high volumes of sea lice
Current salmon farming practices expose wild salmon and sea trout to unnaturally high volumes of sea lice

Paul Knight, Chief Executive of S&TC says:

"We are all immensely proud of this fantastic achievement and hugely grateful to all those that provided such generous lots as well as those that willingly opened their pockets to support our major fund-raising effort.  We do not receive any Government funding and so every penny raised through the auctions puts us in a stronger position to increase our research capability, challenge policy, implement change and ensure that our rivers are fit for purpose and our wild fish stocks thrive for the next generation."

To everyone who got involved, a massive thank you from all of us at S&TC! Your generosity means we can continue to secure a better future for wild fish and where they live.