Sea lice numbers on salmon farms double in a single year

Total sea lice numbers on salmon farms double in a single year.

Industry and official SEPA data underline how the rush to expand salmon farm production is massively increasing the risks to wild salmon and sea trout.

“A moratorium on salmon farm expansion is now more essential than ever”

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

Data recently published by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) shows that the average adult female sea lice count per fish on salmon farms increased from 0.25 in April 2018 to 0.49 in April 2019 – an increase of 96%.

Over the same period the total amount of salmon in Scotland’s farms rose by almost 25%, from 97,000 tonnes to 122,000 tonnes, according to data published by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). The 122,000 tonnes figure is the highest on record.

By combining the above data sets and with the fair assumption that the average size of the fish across all farms is unchanged year-on-year, it is evident that total adult female sea lice numbers in April were more than double the total for a year earlier.

Multiplying (total biomass in 2019 / total biomass in 2018) by (average lice per farmed fish in 2019 /average lice per farmed fish in 2018) shows that, in April 2019, the production of juvenile sea lice by fish farms is likely to have been between two and three times higher than that in April 2018.

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

“The absolute number of adult female sea lice on farms is of far greater relevance as regards the impact on wild salmon and sea trout than the average number of lice per farmed fish.It is these adult female lice on the farms that produce the lice larvae that then infest wild fish in the sea lochs.There can be no doubt that there has been a dramatic year-on-year increase in total adult female sea lice numbers on Scotland’s salmon farms. The available data indicates there was a huge escalation in the production of sea lice larvae, at the most critical time in the spring when juvenile salmon migrate from their rivers to sea and are most vulnerable to fatal sea lice infestations.”

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TCS, added:

“The massive increase in sea lice numbers is a major concern. The situation is now far worse than it was during last year’s Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry. In the circumstances, a moratorium on salmon farm expansion is now more essential than ever, if further damage to wild fish survival is to be avoided. Scottish Ministers need to act now and stop kicking the necessary decisions into the long grass”.

Permissions for new salmon farms or salmon farm expansions are continuing on a regular basis. For example, in Argyll and Bute alone there have been ten planning decisions in favour of salmon farming expansion since the publication of the ECCLR Committee report in March 2018. Another three applications are awaiting decisions.

Following a warmer than average winter, salmon farming industry sources are predicting severe problems with sea lice on fish farms in Scotland this autumn. They report that sea lice levels have been highly challenging this summer with no end in sight.

They also report that some companies are choosing not to treat their fish for sea lice because of high levels of other disease and gill health problems, which weaken farmed salmon and reduce their ability to survive the chemical and physical treatments for sea lice.  This will almost certainly inflict even more damage on wild salmon and sea trout.

FULL MEDIA ASSETS (WITH VIDEO): http://bit.ly/SeaLiceDoubleAssets

ENDS

Issued by Corin Smith. comms@salmon-trout.org (T: 07463 576892).

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) Just what is the problem with sea lice?

Adult wild salmon are well 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 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 wild migratory salmonids; research has shown that an infestation of ten to 12 lice 10 is likely to have fatal consequences. 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.

3) Research indicates that a 1,000 tonnes salmon farm with an indicative adult female sea lice count of 5.0 per fish could be producing as many as three billion sea lice larvae per month. Open cage salmon farming allows unhindered free flow of sea lice into the wider marine environment.

Response to MOWI decision to close Loch Ewe salmon farm

Mowi (previously Marine Harvest) has announced that it is to close its highly contentious salmon farm in Loch Ewe, Wester Ross.

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

“We welcome Mowi’s decision to close the Loch Ewe farm. There can be no doubt that the decision is a vindication of S&TCS’ long campaign to end salmon farming in this enclosed sea loch, which has devastated sea trout stocks in iconic Loch Maree, previously the best sea trout fishery in western Scotland. Our film, ‘Eaten Alive – End of an Era’ on the demise of the Loch Maree sea trout fishery was pivotal in this campaign. (http://bit.ly/30ojQIU)

The other factor in Mowi’s decision is clearly the farm’s failure to reduce its benthic impact. As a consequence, SEPA has cut the farm’s permitted biomass very substantially, thus diminishing its commercial viability. 
Mowi has signalled its intention to move the biomass elsewhere. If Mowi wishes to apply for a biomass increase at another location, then that should be judged on its own merits. Indeed, it would be disingenuous to try and link it to the closure of Loch Ewe. Furthermore it is vital that any biomass increase elsewhere avoids migration routes for wild salmonids.

The closure of the Loch Ewe farm will give Loch Maree’s sea trout the opportunity, for the first time in three decades, to thrive and grow in Loch Ewe without being infested with parasitic sea lice originating from the Loch Ewe farm”. 

For more information on S&TC's salmon farm reform campaigns: www.salmon-trout.org/campaigns/salmon-farming/

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Scottish Director 

For Scottish Enquiries contact: director@salmon-troutscotland.org

Recent Press Coverage:

STV News: http://bit.ly/STCLochEwe

https://www.independent.co.uk/../mowi-close-loch-ewe-sea-lice

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/…/fish-farm-giant-to-clo…/

ARTIFISHAL & Patagonia Inc

"The thing that has struck us at the screenings we have attended is that the audience is far from being just anglers – it has been great seeing so many younger folk there and hearing their reaction to the issues"

Paul Knight, CEO Salmon & Trout Conservation

In 2019 one of Patagonia's core global campaigns has been highlighting the need for the protection of wild salmon populations around the world from the damaging impacts of commercial hatcheries and open cage salmon farming.

The campaign has centred around a feature length film "Artifishal"  which has been supported by a large public relations effort.

Patagonia Inc said: 

"Artifishal is a film about people, rivers, and the fight for the future of wild fish and the environment that supports them. It explores wild salmon’s slide toward extinction, threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms, and our continued loss of faith in nature."

The film has been toured around major European capitals and is now being shown by local activist groups in smaller towns and villages.

Accompanying the film has been a petition which is to be delivered to the governments of Scotland, Norway, Ireland and Iceland later in the year.

https://you.wemove.eu/campaigns/stop-europe-s-dirty-fish-farms

Salmon & Trout Conservation has supported the campaign throughout and participated as the lead NGO in the UK. Each film screening is book-ended with a hosted panel discussion of experts and a Q&A with the audience. S&TC staffers, Paul, Nick, Andrew and Corin have attended dozens of events between them throughout the UK and Europe. Largely speaking to issues around the impacts of open cage salmon farming in Scotland, but often ranging into areas of consumer activism, protecting wild waters and the process of forcing change from reluctant governments.

The audience members at screenings reflect Patagonia's demographic and have been overwhelmingly younger, environmentally active, consumer conscious and non fishing. The discussions, engagement and vocal consensus about the concerns being raised demonstrate that S&TC's campaigns do have very broad appeal and resonate strongly with consumers. This tells us a lot about how to build public support for the issues we are concerned with. Patagonia's global reach (over 1.5m followers on facebook and instagram) combined with their deeply held convictions on protecting wild places, activism and making change, has taken S&TC's message to people and places we would have struggled to reach ourselves, and at a scale that is internationally significant.

S&TC's credibility on the issues combined with Patagonia's credibility with consumers is proving to be a potent symbiotic relationship.

Corin Smith, Communications Consultant for S&TC said:

"Working with Patagonia Inc has been a significant coup for S&TC. Our highly visible collaboration to end open cage salmon farming has both government and industry deeply concerned. Touring with "Artifishal" has taught us a huge amount. Not least it has clearly demonstrated that our wider environmental attitude to campaigning, highlighted through consumer issues, has the potential for broad public appeal and engagement over the longterm."

Artifishal (Europe) By Numbers (up to June 2019)

Nearly 140,000 signatures! https://you.wemove.eu/campaigns/stop-europe-s-dirty-fish-farms

12 million -- Total reach for all film and campaign related content on social media through Patagonia sponsored ads

192 -- Number of PR pieces so far

> 197.5 million -- Total PR readership for these pieces

Meanwhile…

Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland have secured a date to deliver the "Stop Europe's dirty fish farms" petition to the Scottish Government with Patagonia Inc

Patagonia's short film about salmon farming in Iceland went online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vgmpdwOgvs

Media highlights

'We're the bad guy': inside the shocking new film about wild fish (The Guardian – review of the film at the Tribeca film festival).

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard: ‘Denying climate change is evil’ (The Guardian – interview also features the film Artifishal)

Outdoor gear, food retailer Patagonia harshly criticizes aquaculture, hatcheries in "Artifishal" (SeafoodSource – great interview with Artifishal producer Dylan Tomine)

Salmon Farming Exposed – BBC Panorama program on salmon farming in Scotland and subsequent articles like this one. Some of the best recent coverage of the issue and features Corin Smith from Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland.

We still have a few more months of "Artifishal" to go with a number of screenings in Scotland and the UK between now and September.

For dates near you check out: https://eu.patagonia.com/eu/artifishal-screenings.html

Thanks to Becky, Lisa Rose, Lisa D, Mihela and the rest of the team at Patagonia Inc. And of course Yvon, his vision, passion and conviction are game changing.

We continue!!!

Salmon farming being supported by hands-off regulation and taxpayers’ money

FOI reveals hands-off regulation of salmon farming’s environmental impactand the lavish use of taxpayers’ money to support the industry

 Freedom of Information requests made by Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Marine Scotland, the Fish Health Inspectorate and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have shown the extent of Scottish Government use of taxpayers’ money to fund the salmon farming industry and the very light touch regulation of its environmental impact.

Weak regulation - SEPA

Information supplied by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (note 2) shows that only two applications for marine fish farm licences, issued under the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR), have been refused in the last five years and, over the same period, there have been no enforcement notices served for any failure to comply with the CAR licence and no prosecutions.

SEPA’s own annual compliance assessments show that Scotland’s aquaculture sector saw overall compliance levels drop during 2017 to 81.14%, against 85.75% in 2016 – meaning almost 20% of farms breached their CAR licences in 2017 (note 3) with 56 of the country's 297 licensed fish farms rated "poor", "very poor" or "at risk".

Over the last five years, 147 benthic surveys under salmon farms have been rated as ‘unsatisfactory’ which SEPA itself categorises as “an indication that the emissions arising from the site in question are of a scale that is beyond the assimilative capacity of the local environment. This classification may relate to impacts on benthic fauna or sediment chemistry, unacceptable infeed medicine residue concentrations, or a combination of these parameters”.

This is completely at odds with the assurance of Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s Chief Executive, who said last year that compliance is“non-negotiable”for fish farms (note 4).

Weak regulation – Fish Health Inspectorate and Marine Scotland

Information provided by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate(note 5), that polices farms for parasites and diseases, and investigates escapes of farmed fish, shows that, in the last five years, the FHI has served only two enforcement notices under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, relating to the failure to control sea lice on fish farms - at the Ardmaddy farm in 2015 and at Score Holms in 2017.

There have been no prosecutions of fish farms or fish-farm well-boat operators in the last five years for failure to have adequate measures in place to control sea lice to protect wild fish – this despite a huge number of fish farms breaching the Scottish Government’s 3 and 8 average lice trigger levels since their inception in 2017.

Calling time on weak regulation?

No wonder that the recent Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee Inquiry into Salmon Farming in Scotland (note 6) concluded this year, per Recommendation 2, that “The Committee strongly agrees with the view of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLR) Committee that… the “status quo” in terms of regulation and enforcement is not acceptable” and, per Recommendation 60, that the Committee, “considers that there is a need to raise the bar in Scotland by setting enhanced and effective regulatory standards to ensure that that fish health issues are properly managed and the impact on the environment is kept to an absolute minimum”.

 The Committee also recommended that, “a comprehensively updated package of regulation should be developed by Marine Scotland and other regulatory bodies…”

 Importantly, the vital wild fish protection part of that package is expected to be announced by Scottish Government in June.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TCS, said:

“The almost incredibly soft touch regulation that has been applied by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Fish Health Inspectorate, and the closeness of the relationship between Marine Scotland and the industry, paints an unhealthy and unsustainable picture that the REC Committee of the Scottish Parliament decided could and should not continue.

 We look forward to the Scottish Government announcing very shortly robust measures to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the damage that has been, and is still being, caused by salmon farms”

The use of taxpayers’ money to support salmon farming in Scotland

At the same time as applying the softest of soft touch regulation, the Scottish Government has also been using significant sums of taxpayers’ money to fund the industry.

Over the last 10 years, the Scottish Government has provided £2 million to the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF) by way of annual grants (note 7).  It was the withholding of information about one SARF project - that had showed unexpected negative impacts from the use of the sea lice treatment, Slice, in salmon farms, on wild lobster and prawns - that led to five formal decisions of the Scottish Information Commissioner in favour of S&TCS and against SEPA and Scottish Government (note 8).

The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre was awarded further grants during 2016 and 2018 from the European Fisheries Fund, totalling £3.9 million (note 7).

Further grants totalling £1.5 million were given by Scottish Enterprise to the salmon farming industry between 2011 and 2018 to a range of fish farming companies, including two of the bigger companies active in Scotland, The Scottish Salmon Company, and Scottish Sea Farms (note 7), both of which are highly profitable and thus entirely capable of absorbing the cost of such routine expenses as “website development” and “international market development”. Grants for “international market development” are said by Scottish Government to consist of assistance to companies (travel, accommodation etc) to attend international trade events, trade missions etc.

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise also awarded grants to the salmon farming industry totalling £3.9 million between 2010 and 2018 (note 10) for anything from the redevelopment of fish-processing facilities to attendance at Asian trade fairs.

Of particular note is Scottish Enterprise providing £1,075,000 of Scottish Investment Bank investments to Loch Duart Limited over the period 2012 to 2016, to support the company’s sustainable farming practices” (note 7). Despite this investment, in 2019, Loch Duart Limited agreed with the Advertising Standards Authority to stop using claims of sustainability, having described itself as “the sustainable salmon company,” which prompted complaints (note 9). Overall, the relatively small firm of Loch Duart Limited has received, from various government and official sources, a total of £3.25 million over the last 10 years. According to its accounts to year end March 2018, Loch Duart made a profit of £2.6 million and paid £555,981 to its directors.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TCS, said:

“Given the amount of taxpayers’ money that has been poured into this industry over the last decade, the public has a right to expect the Scottish Government to put into effect all the recommendations of the REC Committee Report, and quickly. If the Report is allowed to gather dust, the Scottish environment and wildlife will continue to suffer.

 We call on the Cabinet Secretary to make it crystal clear to the fish farmers to expect tough regulation and not to rely on the old cosy relationship with government and regulators to protect it from proper scrutiny”. 

Supporting images available here: http://bit.ly/2x34mNH (Credit: Corin Smith)

Ends

 Issued by comms@salmon-trout.org(T: 07463 576892).  

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) FOI response to S&TCS from SEPA 15thMarch 2019

 

3) See http://media.sepa.org.uk/media-releases/2018/environmental-compliance-of-scottish-business-exceeds-90-for-third-year-in-a-row.aspx

 

4) See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45752796

 

5) FOI response to S&TCS from FHI 11thMarch 2019

 

6) Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Report into Salmon farming in Scotland, 9th Report (Session 5), 2019

 

7) FOI response to S&TCS from Marine Scotland 7thMarch 2019

 

8) Scottish Information Commissioner’ decisions – at https://www.itspublicknowledge.info/ApplicationsandDecisions/Decisions/Decision_Listing.aspx

 

Decision 043/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Information relating to the use of sea lice medicine

For applicant             26 Mar 2018

 

Decision 013/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Correspondence with Marine Scotland

For applicant             31 Jan 2018

 

Decision 010/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Report on the environmental impact of sea lice medicine

For applicant             29 Jan 2018

 

Decision 199/2017

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Information concerning sea lice medicine

For applicant             30 Nov 2017

 

Decision 191/2017

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Ministers

Report on the environmental impact of sea lice medicine

For applicant            20 Nov 2017

 

9) See https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/rulings.html?q=Duart#informally-resolved

 

10) FOI response to S&TCS from HIE 8thMarch 2019

 

NASCO 2019

“With S&TC’s Chairman, CEO, Head of Science and Scottish Director actively involved in NASCO, we are playing a genuinely influential role within international wild Atlantic salmon conservation politics”

The 2019 NASCO meeting was held in Tromsø, Norway, this year and was preceded by a 2-day Symposium for the International Year of the Salmon - Managing the Atlantic salmon in a rapidly changing environment.

S&TC’s Head of Science, Dr Janina Gray, gave a presentation on behalf of the NGOs, covering the importance of using science to support policy making in restoring Atlantic salmon stocks for conservation, cultural, food and recreation purposes.  The presentation was very well received by the 160 delegates and Janina’s main call to action was a challenge to the NASCO governments to politically commit the necessary policies and resources to protect and restore salmon stocks right across their North Atlantic range.

Perhaps the three most important recommendations coming out from the Symposium were that:

  1. The primary objective of salmon management across all NASCO Parties and Jurisdictions must be to produce the highest number of healthy wild salmon smolts possible from all relevant river systems;
  2. We have to change our mindset from purely managing wild salmon stocks to actively conserving them, otherwise extinctions will surely follow;
  3. Wild salmon do not recognise country boundaries and we have to think in terms of protecting the species on a global scale.  For example, fish heading from Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland and the UK, and from USA and Canada, all run the risk of being impacted by open-net salmon farming in other jurisdictions.  NASCO is ideally placed to reach a consensus as to how salmon farming should be operated and regulated to protect salmon across their entire range.

At a Special Session during the actual NASCO meeting, S&TC CEO, Paul Knight, who co-chairs the NGOs, gave a statement urging the Parties and Jurisdictions to undertake a progressive transition from a largely stock management to a protection/conservation regime for wild salmon.

His clear message was that we must aim for full wild smolt production by actioning measures to combat the stressors over which we have potential control – open-net salmon farming, water quality and quantity, intensive agriculture, hydroelectricity, barriers to migration, predation etc.

This will give salmon the best possible chance of surviving their marine phase, where there is far less that we can do to conserve them, except minimise coastal and high seas exploitation and by-catch.

In the questions that accompanied the Special Session, S&TC Chairman, Bill Hicks, received assurance that the annual process whereby NASCO jurisdictions report progress on their salmon management and conservation measures, would be more challenging to governments in future.  This will include NASCO representatives having to defend their actions publicly against questioning from the NGOs, which will enable us to better hold our respective governments to account over wild salmon conservation.

S&TC Scottish Director, Andrew Graham-Stewart, also gave a statement, in which he highlighted the continuing lack of commitment by those NASCO jurisdictions with open-net salmon farming to take the necessary and urgent measures, in line with the clear NASCO guidelines, to address the negative impacts of salmon farming on wild stocks.

His statement elicited several responses from the parties including a commitment from the senior Scottish Government representative who gave an assurance that a significant tightening of regulation of salmon farms is imminent.  This was consistent with the statement delivered to the Scottish Parliament on June 5 by Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, outlining the first steps towards delivering the recommendations from the Parliamentary Committee Inquiries last year, both of which reported that the status quo was no longer an option for the way in which salmon farming is operated or regulated in Scotland.

As well as the NGO statement, the NASCO Council was presented with a list of recommendations from the Symposium.  NASCO President, Jóannes Hansen from the Faroe Islands, confirmed that the Heads of Delegation would discuss the way forward for the forum in the autumn, and that the NGOs would be involved in discussing how NASCO would operate in the future.

So, at the end of an unusually upbeat NASCO meeting, there is the promise of beneficial change for wild salmon conservation across the North Atlantic.  And with S&TC’s Chairman, CEO, Head of Science and Scottish Director actively involved in NASCO, we are playing a genuinely influential role within international wild Atlantic salmon conservation politics, besides all that we do to restore wild stocks within UK river systems.

The RiverFly Census presents the conclusions and policy recommendations from three years of unprecedented species-level research and analysis across 12 rivers from southern chalk streams to the north’s Eden and Coquet.

The scope of the analysis is staggering: we (or rather, our independent scientist, Dr Nick Everall and his team) have sampled 34,000 river-dwelling invertebrates from more than 480 different species. This massive data set of aquatic “wee beasties” has provided hard evidence on the decline of riverfly life and tells a story of the pollution stresses our rivers face. By the Environment Agency’s own reckoning, only 14 % of our rivers are healthy and we reckon it is worse than that.

FURTHER ENQUIRIES

Corin Smith | Comms

comms@salmon-trout.org (+44 7463576892)

BBC Panorama: Salmon Farming Exposed

“We applaud Panorama’s focus on the abject failure of the regulators in Scotland to carry out their responsibilities."

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland

For example, the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate, that polices farms for parasites and diseases, has in the last five years served only two enforcement notices under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, relating to the failure to control sea lice on fish farms.

Furthermore, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has not, in the last five years, served a single enforcement notice for any failure to comply with Controlled Activities Regulations licences and there have been no prosecutions.

This is taking ‘light touch regulation’ to extremes – a consequence, there can be little doubt, of political direction from above.”

You can view the full BBC Panorama investigation here:

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005hc1

- Andrew Graham-Stewart, Scottish Director 

For Scottish Enquiries contact: director@salmon-troutscotland.org

Header photo credit: BBC Panorama

The Shetland Factor

Many believe salmon farming is an issue exclusive to wild fish in the west Highlands and Hebrides. However, controlling sea lice on farms in Shetland is just as important as our Scottish Director, Andrew Graham-Stewart explains...

The official figures for rod catches of salmon in Scotland during 2018 were published last week. That they were the lowest since official records began was hardly a surprise. There has been a downward trend for several years and last year’s depressing figures were exacerbated and indeed partly explained by extreme conditions; on the majority of rivers most of the summer was unfishable as flows became trickles in the extended drought and temperatures soared. Incidentally it is worth noting that the season was not a universal write-off; despite the conditions, catches on the North Highland rivers were reasonably buoyant (albeit condensed into short periods) and the run registered by the fish counter on the Helmsdale was one of the best for years.

Looking at 'farm by farm' sea lice data

Back in autumn 2017, on the basis of data obtained under FOI (its release by Scottish Government was only forthcoming after our successful appeal to the Information Commissioner), we were able to analyse, for the first time, weekly sea lice numbers on a farm by farm basis; prior to this we only had access to regional monthly averages.

Between November 2016 and August 2017, the period for which the data was forthcoming, the worst performing company in the Scottish Islands and overall worst performing company in Scotland was Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd. For months on end its Shetland farms’ figures were massively above the industry’s code of good practice trigger threshold for treatment; some of the numbers were eye-watering – in one week on one farm the average number of adult female sea lice per fish was a staggering 29.

I commented at the time:

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

What this means for wild smolts

In the last 18 months there has been little improvement in sea lice control by salmon farms on Shetland, where over 20% of Scotland’s tonnage is concentrated. It remains a hotbed of lice production, with the farms consistently pumping out billions of sea lice larvae into the wider environment. What this means is that any wild salmon smolts passing within 20 miles (studies show that elevated levels of sea lice emanating from a farm may be found up to a distance of 31 km) either side of Shetland are highly vulnerable to picking up lethal infestations of the deadly parasites.

There is scant knowledge of the migration route(s) taken by smolts from Scottish east and north coast rivers. But a cursory glance at a map suggests that it is a reasonable supposition that they will pass close to Shetland as they head north towards the feeding grounds of the North Norwegian Sea.

There is a tendency amongst those who manage and/or fish on these rivers, including the Big Four, to view salmon farming as only being an issue for wild fish in the west Highlands and Hebrides. In numerous conversations with east and north coast river managers over the last two years I have raised the scenario that sea lice from Shetland farms may well be impacting their smolt survival. On reflection (most had not considered the possibility) all have agreed that this could easily be a significant factor.

Indeed, from a wild fish perspective, the control of sea lice on farms may be just as important in Shetland (and indeed Orkney), with the possible implications for east and north coast smolts, as it is in the west Highlands and Hebrides.

- Andrew Graham-Stewart, Scottish Director 

For Scottish Enquiries contact: director@salmon-troutscotland.org

Header photo credit: Eva Thorstad

We all have a responsibility to save the ‘King of Fish’

The publication of new Environment Agency byelaws banning the killing of salmon in the North East drift and coastal nets was very welcome news earlier this year and brought to a close a campaign by fisheries organisations that lasted some 30 years.

Scotland banned drift netting in 1962 and closed down its coastal nets in 2016, so most UK salmon are now able to reach their rivers of birth unhindered by home-water netting. It was a tremendous way to begin the International Year of the Salmon. However, the same is not true of salmon feeding off the West Coast of Greenland, an area where many of the UK’s multi-sea-winter fish go to fatten up. 

Getting the quotas right

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) was originally established more than 30 years ago to set quotas for Greenland and the Faroe Islands, who between them caught nearly 4,000 tonnes of salmon at the height of their respective commercial fishing industries (Greenland in the mid 1970s and the Faroes early 1980s).  The Faroe Islands have not fished for salmon since 2000, although they reserve the right to do so if the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) ever report again that there is enough of a surplus of fish in the North Atlantic to exploit.

Greenland is much more complicated. For many years, NASCO gave the Greenlanders a subsistence quota of around 20 tonnes of salmon – fish that could be caught and either sold in the local open-air markets or kept for food by the fishermen.  Commercial fishing was not allowed, and export was banned.  Private funds were even given from around the North Atlantic countries with recreational fishing to the Greenlanders to help them re-equip and target different species.

However, monitoring and enforcement of salmon fishing by the Greenland Government was only really tightened some five years ago, when it became clear that the actual salmon catch was veering towards 100 tonnes a year.  To be fair, it is a thankless task trying to oversee any coastal activity in Greenland, as the West Coast communities are so disparate – there is no road connection between them, with travel limited to those with access to either boat or plane.  However, when Government officials started to phone round the fishing community and ask for catch statistics, alarm bells were rung.

The current situation

In 2015, Greenland accepted a quota of 45 tonnes agreed at NASCO.  Unfortunately, some people with little knowledge of the background ridiculed NASCO for the size of the quota, when in realistic terms, it was actually halving the amount of fish that was now known to have been caught in previous years.  Coupled to the new quota was a new management and regulatory system adopted by the Greenland Government which put much greater emphasis on monitoring and reporting.  In 2018, the quota was reduced to 30 tonnes.

The bad news is that Greenland has just reported a catch of 40 tonnes for 2018!  However, rather than a return to the bad days, at least the government has a handle on the fishery now and, if it abides by the NASCO agreement, the 10-tonne excess will be taken off the quota for this season, which is comforting news for our MSW (Multi Sea Winter) fish.

What this means closer to home...

All this regulation and government support at Greenland and the Faroe Islands means that UK governments have an extra responsibility to protect salmon stocks at home.  Good for Scotland and England in taking decisive action over coastal netting, but we still have serious issues to address – open-net salmon farming, agricultural impact on water quality, habitat degradation, water abstraction, barriers to migration, predation – and for that we need a political commitment throughout the UK which is sadly lacking at the moment.

I have some sympathy for Greenlanders who generally have a far better grasp of what ‘sustainable exploitation’ means than we ever have – they still derive much of their protein from natural resources and realise how important it is to manage those stocks effectively.  So when an angler lands a salmon in the UK and has to return it to the water because of byelaws or fishery rules, rather than curse the regulators, spare a thought for the Greenlanders and Faroese and their sacrifice in the name of conservation.

Better still, understand that, as Sir David Attenborough said in our recent video, if we are not to lose the King of Fish for ever, we all have to play our part, in whatever way we can, to help Atlantic salmon through their present crisis. The International Year of the Salmon gives us the opportunity to focus on that very stark warning, and act now!

- Paul Knight, CEO

Scottish Government inertia marks anniversary of Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee’s report into salmon farming

Scottish Government inertia marks anniversary of Scottish Parliament's Environment Committee's report into salmon farming

Industry allowed to persist with business as usual a year after Government was told 'the status quo is not an option'

One year on from the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee’s report on the Environmental Impacts of Salmon Farming, the first part of the 2018 Scottish Parliament Inquiry into the industry, Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) is concerned that the report is being allowed to gather dust by both Scottish Government and the industry.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, said:

“A year ago, the ECCLR Committee, could not have been clearer that any expansion of the industry ‘must be on the basis of a precautionary approach and must be based on resolving the environmental problems’ and that ‘the status quo is not an option’. It is obvious that almost nothing has changed and we fear that the Scottish Government’s game-plan is yet more of the prevarication that has allowed the industry to develop without meaningful regulation and at the expense of the coastal environment and those species, including migratory fish, which rely on healthy coastal ecosystems. Consequently, environmental damage is continuing and indeed increasing unchecked. Scottish Government’s completely unconditional support for the salmon farming industry must end.”

The 2018 Parliamentary Inquiry into salmon farming, as conducted by the ECCLR and REC Committees, was triggered by S&TCS' formal Petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee in 2016.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor for S&TCS, commented:

“The ECCLR Committee’s comprehensive report underlined why urgent action was required to protect wild salmon and sea trout. However, Scottish Government has not yet grasped the nettle and moved to legislate in order to improve markedly the protection of wild salmon and sea trout from the negative impacts of salmon farming.”

 

SSPO still failing to publish farm by farm sea lice data in as close to real time as possible

On transparency, the ECCLR Committee’s report was adamant that the industry should publish weekly data on sea lice figures on a farm by farm basis in as close to real time as possible, together with all historic data “from the time records are available”, this to be done
by the end of April 2018.

The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation has not honoured this deadline, nor is it publishing current farm by farm sea lice data in as close as possible to real time, as the Committee required. In contrast it is only publishing monthly sea lice averages per farm more than three months in arrears and it is to the Scottish Government’s shame that they have not amended secondary legislation to force transparency on this most important of issues.

S&TCS briefing as Scottish Government debate the future of salmon farming

TODAY: Scottish parliament to debate the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) committee report on salmon farming

Legislative impact is expected to follow on from today's debate, Wednesday 6th February 2019, for which S&TCS have contributed the following briefing:

S&TCS briefing for MSPs for salmon farming debate Feb 2019

STCS Briefing Addendum - SG's response to REC Report Feb 2019

S&TCS salmon farming debate briefing

S&TCS concerns concentrate on the proven negative effects of salmon and rainbow trout farming at sea on wild salmonids - both Atlantic salmon and sea trout. It has been clear for many years that Scotland’s performance, particularly on sea lice, falls very far short of the internationally agreed NASCO goals.

As a bare minimum S&TCS wishes to see the following five changes in Scotland, all of which were supported by both REC and ECCLR Committees:

  1. The development and introduction of full closed containment farming.
  2. The clear identification of a Scottish public authority charged with the statutory function to protect wild fish from the negative interactions of fish farming.
  3. No expansion of the industry while wild fish interactions remain uncontrolled.
  4. Relocation of existing sensitive sites.
  5. Full transparency and publication of sea lice, escapes, mortalities and disease information.

The Scottish Government response is in danger of allowing the “status quo”, in terms of the regulation and legislation of salmon farms (and transparency in the way that the industry operates), to persist for the foreseeable future.

This would be in stark contrast to what the ECCLR and REC Committees have both advocated after exhaustive examination and consideration. Both Committees identified major shortcomings in the way that the industry is permitted to operate. Action to remedy matters, rather than further prolonged discussion, must now be the priority.

Read the S&TCS briefing in full:

S&TCS briefing for MSPs for salmon farming debate Feb 2019

STCS Briefing Addendum - SG's response to REC Report Feb 2019

Background: 2018 Rec Committee report

The REC committee report was published in November 2018, following the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) committee report.

Read more: S&TCS warmly welcomes the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee’s report on salmon farming

Read more: S&TCS applauds Environment Committee report into environmental impacts of salmon farming

Both 2018 Parliamentary inquires into salmon farming, as conducted by the ECCLR and REC Committees, were triggered by S&TCS’ formal Petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee in 2016.

The 148-page REC report found that urgent action was needed to improve the regulation of the Scottish salmon farming industry and to address fish health and environmental challenges. Commenting on the REC report in November, Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, said:

We applaud the REC Committee’s report, which cuts through many years of Scottish Government and industry spin and prevarication.

The onus is now on Scottish Government to act without delay to implement the Report’s recommendations, giving wild fish much needed protection from sea lice and diseases emanating from salmon farms”.

S&TCS look to the Scottish Government to take action today.