Why you should go salmon-free this Christmas

A Christmas favourite it may be; but there is nothing festive nor joyous about farmed salmon.

Salmon is considered by many to be a Christmas staple, its murky journey from net-pen to plate concealed behind tinsel-clad wrapping and slick marketing.

Two parliamentary inquiries have this year confirmed the need for rapid change in salmon farming, which is causing widespread environmental destruction and the devastation of wild fish. We have campaigned for these changes for years; but what can be done until this happens...?

And for the uninitiated, what are the issues with farmed salmon? Our CEO, Paul Knight, explains why farmed salmon is best avoided - at Christmas, and until the industry changes...

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Why you should go salmon-free this Christmas

This year’s reports from two Scottish Parliamentary Committees - Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR), and Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) – following their inquiries into salmon farming, are both unequivocal; we have to adopt a far more precautionary approach to salmon farming to stop it damaging wild salmon and sea trout populations.

Quite apart from the many millions of farmed salmon dying in their cages every year through disease, parasites and the negative effects of both physical and chemical treatments for sea lice, the stark fact is that politicians from all Scottish political parties agree that Scotland’s already beleaguered wild migratory fish stocks need to be protected from the impacts of open-net salmon farming on Scotland’s west coast and Islands.

These reports vindicate Salmon & Trout Conservation’s strong campaigning over many years – the ECCLR and REC inquiries only came about because of our official Petition to Scottish Parliament in 2016 – and confirm what most of us have known for years. The challenge for us now is to drive through the Committees’ recommendations so that Scottish Government introduces, as a matter of urgency, far stronger regulation of the salmon farming industry.

This includes more sensitive siting of farms, well away from wild salmon and sea trout migration routes. One of S&TC’s key objectives received prominence in the REC Committee report - the incentivisation of companies to invest in closed containment units that physically and biologically separate farmed salmon from the natural environment and wild fish.

However, that all takes time. So what can we do?

Take a stand for wild fish

What we, as consumers, can do right now is to drive home the message to salmon producers by refusing to buy any farmed salmon products this Christmas (or indeed at any time until the industry becomes environmentally sustainable).

Forget ‘organic’ salmon (here's why), or any other marketing gimmick that tries to tell you these fish are farmed responsibly.

Read more: Organic Farmed Salmon - Let's Get Real

As it stands today, all open-net salmon farming can cause problems. None are truly environmentally sustainable.

❌ There is always the very real risk that any farm can suffer from too many sea lice parasites, which then release huge numbers of sea lice larvae into sea lochs, where they attack wild fish.

❌ Any farm can also suffer human error or storm damage that allows large numbers of farmed salmon to escape and breed with wild salmon and dilute natural gene pools.

❌ And then there is the fouling of the sea bed around cages...

❌ And those millions of dead salmon that never make it to the market because disease or chemical treatment, or just plain bad husbandry, kill them first.

❌ And more...

Urgent action now required

As the Scottish Parliamentary Committees have now identified, the Scottish Government has to act fast and decisively to save the worst parts of the industry from itself and, in doing so, save wild fish. Action now help ensure that wild salmon and sea trout are genuinely protected in Scotland.

Until then, we can send a clear message to salmon producers, just as Scottish Parliamentary Committee members have this year - current salmon farming practices are just not acceptable anymore, and the industry must evolve quickly if it is to win back the public’s confidence to buy its products again.

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So, this Christmas (and until standards improve) take a stand for wild fish by taking a hard pass on any farmed salmon. Use the power you have - the power of the mighty Pound.

S&TCS warmly welcomes the Rural Economy Committee’s report on salmon farming

S&TCS warmly welcomes the Rural Economy Committee’s report on salmon farming

Scottish Government must now act quickly to put in place greater protection for wild salmon and sea trout.

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) has warmly welcomed the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee’s report on salmon farming, published today.

The report builds on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee’s report published in March.

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

“This Report is a strong vindication of the campaign S&TCS has spearheaded for some years now, and the arguments we have been putting forward, often in the face of sharp criticism from both the industry and Scottish Government alike.

We are pleased to see that the REC Committee has recognised that the law is currently insufficient to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the damaging impacts of salmon farming.

We now look to Scottish Government to grasp the nettle and move quickly to legislate to improve markedly the protection of wild salmon and sea trout from the negative impacts of salmon farming.”

Key conclusions and recommendations in the REC Committee’s report include:
  • “….if the industry is to grow, the Committee considers it to be essential that it addresses and identifies solutions to the environmental and fish health challenges it faces as a priority” (Recommendation 1)
  • “….urgent and meaningful action needs to be taken to address regulatory deficiencies as well as fish health and environmental issues before the industry can expand” (Recommendation 2)
  • Sea lice triggers to be “…challenging” and Government urged to “set a threshold that is comparable with the highest international industry standards” (Recommendation 15)
  • “…a move away from a voluntary approach to compliance and reporting with regard to sea lice infestation” (Recommendation 16)
  • In relation to breaches of sea lice levels, “enforcement action… has not been sufficiently robust to date. It is therefore of the view that if the revised compliance policy is to be effective it must be robust, enforceable and include appropriate penalties” (Recommendation 17)
  • Sea lice data in real time to be published in real-time, made mandatory and “the data provided should be that which is required to inform the regulatory and enforcement regimes, as opposed to that which the industry itself takes it upon itself to produce” (Recommendations 19 to 21).
  • “the Committee is….of the view that a precautionary approach should be taken which will seek to minimise the potential risk to wild salmon stocks wherever possible” (Recommendation 40)
  • “the Committee suggests that the siting of salmon farms is key to managing any potential risk to wild salmon stocks and ensuring that the sector is managed responsibly” (Recommendation 41)
  • on the issue that none of the existing regulatory bodies currently has responsibility for the impact of salmon farms on wild salmon stocks, “the Committee believes that clarity must be provided by the Scottish Government as to how this apparent regulatory gap will be filled and which agency will assume responsibility for its management”. (Recommendation 44)
  • “The Committee shares the view of the ECCLR Committee that the siting of farms in the vicinity of known migratory routes for wild salmon must be avoided” (Recommendation 45)
  • “The Committee is of the view that a…precautionary approach must be taken in Scotland to assist in mitigating any potential impact of sea lice infestation on wild salmon. It therefore recommends that there should be an immediate and proactive shift towards siting new farms in more suitable areas away from migratory routes and that this should be highlighted in the strategic guidance on the siting of salmon farms”. (Recommendation 46)
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, said:

“Scottish Government has a clear duty to safeguard the coastal environment and those species, including wild salmon and sea trout, that depend upon healthy coastal ecosystems.

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”.

This year’s 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.

Suffering salmon: A temperature-gauge for our worryingly low water-flow

By our Head of Science and Policy, Dr Janina Gray. The original article was written for Countryside and Wildlife Link.

What would a third dry winter mean for wildlife and habitats?

Worryingly low water flows are of major concern to much wildlife, particularly salmon which rely on flowing rivers to travel to estuaries to spawn.

As our minds start focusing in on Christmas after a warm summer and mild autumn, the elephant in the room not receiving much attention at the moment, is the continued dry weather which could drive us into a 3rd dry winter. Whilst we are all enjoying a November that doesn’t involve the typical 3 inches of mud to contend with, what does this mean for the environment?

Environment Agency (EA) data shows river flows, as of 30 October, are below normal or notably low for most of the south and west of England and all but 4 EA areas are classified as in prolonged dry weather. Reservoirs in the Pennines and south west are still at risk from lower than normal levels going into winter. And the continuing dry autumn and consequent high soil moisture deficits, look set to result in a continued delay of winter groundwater recharge in southern and eastern counties.

Figure 1a) river flow (relative to time of year) 30 October 2018

1b) EA areas in relation to dry weather

For fish and our chalk streams the impacts of low flow will start being felt now. Reduced groundwater will severely impact the resilience of our chalk streams, and the low flows will increase siltation and die off of water crowfoot, which is a crucial part of the ecosystem.

Reports around the country suggest this year is looking catastrophic for salmon. Salmon spawning should be occurring between now and end of January, but low flows in the summer and up to now, have meant salmon arriving in our estuaries are delayed or just never entering freshwater. They need sufficient flow to encourage them to run, and many in-river obstacles (even fish passes) only allow access above certain water heights.

If the fish do manage to make it upstream, past all the predators (from which they have less cover to hide), the loss of wetted area will severely impact the whole year classes of juveniles, forcing them to lay eggs in sub-optimal locations.

If the low flows continue to May 2019, this will also impact downstream salmon and sea trouts molt migration, as well as coarse fish and lamprey spawning for the same reasons.

These are of course not the only impacts of low flows; others include:

  • Salinity incursions to rivers will kill freshwater organisms.
  • Pollution incidents in rivers will have a greater impact due to lack of dilution
  • Dried heathlands, grasslands, peat lands and forestry will have increased risk of fires.
  • Decreased wetted areas in ponds, lakes and in rivers combined with low flows will adversely impact on aquatic insects and amphibians.
  • Decreased wetted areas will impact breeding bird populations.

Low flows and, indeed, droughts are natural events and healthy habitats and species populations tend to be resilient to them. However, with only 14% of our rivers currently classified as healthy and salmon populations in a dire state, the potential impact of these weather events this winter is very worrying. We can do little about changing weather patterns, except to address man-made impacts, but we can collectively lobby government to take excessive water abstraction – and its solutions – more seriously, especially the need for water companies to find new sources of water that have less impact on the environment.

That means solutions which will include increasing demand management, improved natural and man-made water retention in catchments and, where necessary, reservoirs or desalination plants. Above all, we have to make sure that government departments, Ofwat etc fully appreciate that ground waters and many of our rivers just cannot take existing levels of abstraction, let alone the increases expected in areas of massive new housing and infrastructure construction. We must continue to press ever harder for government commitment to protecting the water environment, and a new, enlightened approach to abstraction policy seems a great place to start.

Follow @drjaninagray and @SalmonTroutCons

“Organic” farmed salmon – let’s get real

“Organic” farmed salmon

Similar scenarios play out at dinner tables up and down the UK, particularly during the festive season.

Salmon, either smoked or “fresh”, is served and the host, feigning environmental awareness, announces along the lines of:

“Don’t worry, we are always very responsible – we only ever buy ‘organic’ salmon.”

But is eating “organic” farmed salmon really environmentally responsible?

The blunt and unequivocal answer is, no!

“Organic” salmon is a con. It is simply a marketing ploy‎, aimed at the naive and ignorant well-heeled, especially those who frequent the more prestigious supermarkets and food emporiums, to persuade them to pay a premium price for something that is almost the same as bog standard farmed salmon.

The only real difference is that “organic” salmon is stocked in open net cages at a lower density. There is no separation between the farmed fish and the wider environment; fish faeces, in vast quantities, still pollutes and destroys the integrity of the seabed.

“Organic” salmon farmers still use all the same chemicals, including lice treatments, thus killing other crustaceans in the vicinity.

The problems with lice and escapes are just as prevalent in “organic” salmon - hence the impacts on wild fish are identical.

The Soil Association’s indefensible endorsement of any farmed salmon undermines the credibility of, and indeed is an indelible stain on, the organisation’s reputation.

So, the next time you hear a smug announcement from your host that the salmon being served is so-called “organic” and therefore by implication “is ok to eat”, I suggest giving it a wide berth.

At the same time, you should tactfully explain that he or she is being duped and, if they give a damn about the environmental damage all salmon farming, including that purporting to be “organic”, causes (especially to wild salmon and sea trout in the west Highlands and Islands), they should not allow such dross of sham pedigree to besmirch and contaminate their table.

 

Views of our Scottish Director, AGS

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

S&TC joins 100 NGOs in Europe-wide #ProtectWater campaign

S&TC is one of 100 NGOs[1 ] joining forces across Europe to tackle proposed weakening of EU freshwater protection laws

As part of #ProtectWater, we are uniting to launch a campaign calling on the European Commission to defend the law that protects all sources of water, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater, during its current review.

Such laws are integral to the future health and abundance of wild fish, especially salmon and trout who urgently need their waters better protected from over-abstraction, barriers to migration and all forms of pollution. To weaken these laws further would certainly speed up salmon and trout's disappearance from our waterways, primarily through a loss of important habitat and a degradation of their water quality.

It is essential to support this law in the UK, as any weakening of this EU legislation will be transposed into UK law post-Brexit and will mean weaker protections for our waters.

Working together to protect water

The #ProtectWater campaign encourages people across the UK and Europe to participate in the European Commission’s public consultation on the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which is running until 4 March 2019.

This is the only opportunity for the general public to express their support to keep water protections strong and effective. To get involved people can simply and quickly sign-up here.

 

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office, said:

‘Member States’ half-hearted implementation of the EU water law is a crime in itself, but their desperate attempts to weaken it - and before the Commission’s fitness check has even concluded - is a step too far.

We urge citizens across Europe and beyond to join forces through the #ProtectWater campaign and make their voices heard.

We all need clean water, and without the Water Framework Directive, this will be under serious threat. Act now to defend the EU water law!’

 

Dr Janina Gray, S&TC’s Head of Science & Environmental Policy, said,

“The Water Framework Directive gives a basic protection for our rivers and waterlife, and has resulted over the years in millions of pounds of investment, mainly from water companies.

Any weakening of the WFD standards would have catastrophic implications for our waterways.

We are looking for Government commitment for greater protection for rivers, streams and wild fish following Brexit, and so ensuring that WFD’ standards remain as they are is of paramount importance to drive this.”

 

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Chair of the Blueprint for Water group in the UK, said: 

The Water Framework Directive has had a massive impact in the UK, including getting water companies to invest billions in cleaning up our rivers and restoring our aquatic habitats.

Protecting this law is essential to defend our basic human right to clean water and for all nature to thrive.’

 

Why are such laws important?

Freshwater ecosystems are the most threatened on the planet [2].

Sixty percent of EU waters are not healthy today because Member States have allowed them to be exploited and damaged for example by unsustainable agriculture, and destructive infrastructure, such as dams.

Shockingly, only 14% of rivers in England are classed as healthy. [3].

Through the WFD, Member States agreed to achieve “good status” for their waters by 2027 at the very latest. 2027 is also the year which the #ProtectWater campaign playfully poses as the fictional ‘expiration date’ for good beer.

Where political will exists, the WFD provides an effective framework for addressing the main pressures facing our waters [4], but Member States need to significantly step up their efforts and funding if the 2027 deadlines are to be achieved.

Results to improve the health of their waters have been few and far between, and Member States are now discussing how the law can be weakened to introduce greater flexibility for themselves.

More information about the #ProtectWater campaign is available at: www.livingrivers.eu or on the S&TC website:

Notes to editors: 

1. The #ProtectWater campaign is led by WWF EU, the European Environmental Bureau, European Anglers Alliance, European Rivers Network and Wetlands International, who together form the Living Rivers Europe coalition and have more than 40 million supporters between them. More than 100 organisations are backing the campaign.

In the UK a coalition of 11 organisations coordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link are supporting the campaign including: Angling Trust and Fish Legal, British Canoeing, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Institute of Fisheries Management, Marine Conservation Society, The Rivers Trust, RSPB, Salmon and Trout Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), WWF-UK and ZSL Zoological Society of London.

2. Living Planet Report, WWF, 2016
3. European waters: Assessment of status and pressures 2018, EEA, 2018
4. Bringing life back to Europe’s waters: The EU water law in action, 2018

 

About the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Living Rivers Europe

  • The WFD is one of the EU’s most progressive pieces of environmental legislation. It requires the protection, enhancement and restoration of our rivers, wetlands, lakes and coastal waters, but Member States are currently failing make it work on the ground.
  • Under the WFD, EU governments have committed to ensure no deterioration and achieve good status for the vast majority of all water bodies by 2015, and at the very latest by 2027.
  • Where implemented, the WFD has proved to be effective in achieving its goals of good water status and non-deterioration, successfully balancing environmental, social and economic requirements.
  • The WFD is currently undergoing its standard review in the form of a ‘fitness check’. Every piece of EU legislation goes through this process. The fitness check will look at the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added value of the WFD (and its 'daughter’ directives) and the Floods Directive. It includes the ongoing stakeholder consultation and public consultation.
  • As the Living Rivers Europe coalition, we are working on safeguarding the EU WFD and strengthening its implementation and enforcement. Click here to read the full Living Rivers Europe vision statement.

Hardy partners with S&TC to help conserve wild fish

Hardy partners with S&TC

Salmon & Trout Conservation are proud to announce an exciting new partnership with leading tackle manufacturer, Hardy.

The collaboration will see the two organisations work together on various projects to conserve wild fish and their waters, including the production and auction of two truly bespoke Hardy outfits for S&TC’s glittering Annual Auction this November.

The flagship lot at this year’s auction is an extremely generous contribution from Hardy, with whom S&TC are proud to announce an exciting long-term partnership. Defined by their 1800's heritage and English-made, top quality tackle, such a collaboration combines not just Hardy’s and S&TC’s expertise and heritage, but their mutual passion for protecting wild fish and their habitats.

Conserving wild fish together

As the UK's leading wild fish charity, S&TC has been protecting and preserving our wild fish and freshwaters for over 115 years. Originally tackling the environmental pressures of the Industrial Revolution, S&TC today continue to achieve important successes for wild salmon and trout driven by three highly actionable conservation focuses: water quality, water quantity and protection from salmon farming.

This vision is defined and delivered through S&TC’s independent, science-led and action-driven campaigns. The charity receives no government money, their important work funded entirely by private donations, memberships and fundraising initiatives, such as their Annual Dinner and Auction at Fishmonger’s Hall in London, now in its 10th year.

As prominent wild fish conservationists, Hardy are proudly committed to protecting salmon, trout and the UK's waterways, which their partnership with S&TC is integral to achieving.

 

Exclusive auction lots

In an act of support for the cause, Hardy have generously donated two exceptional lots to the S&TC Annual Auction this year, which are expected to achieve handsome sums for S&TC’s important work:


Unique S&TC Hardy Complete Angler Outfit

  • One of a kind, 001 of 001
  • 1 x Hardy Salmon Smuggler 14'6"#10 rod with limited edition Hardy 'Perfect' reel
  • 1 x Hardy Trout Smuggler 9'0"#5 rod with limited edition Hardy 'Perfect' reel
  • Both to include matching fitted fly lines
  • 1 x Richard Wheatley handmade fly box with assortment of trout flies
  • 1 x Richard Wheatley handmade fly box with assortment of salmon flies
  • Presented in a custom-built leather case by Casecraft UK (case valued at £3k)

Bespoke S&TC Hardy Trout Smuggler Set

  • 1 of 115 S&TC units, to celebrate our 115th year
  • 1 x Hardy Trout Smuggler 9'0"#5 rod with limited edition Hardy 'Perfect' reel
  • 1 x matching fitted fly line
  • 1 x Handmade Richard Wheatley fly box with an assortment of trout flies
  • Presented in an aluminium flight case with laser cut foam liner

Bespoke collector's items

The Hardy Complete Angler Outfit is an entirely unique, never to be repeated, bespoke item, which is currently being handcrafted for S&TC at Hardy’s headquarters at Alnwick, England.

The Hardy Trout Smuggler is equally special; 1 of 115 to celebrate the 115 years that S&TC has been actively conserving wild fish in the UK.

Official photographs of the exclusive lots, which are expected to appeal to collectors and keen anglers alike, are expected soon. In the meantime, you can find out more  on our Hardy page.

 

Find out more and make a sealed bid

The lots are part of S&TC’s exclusive live auction on the 14th November 2018, which is now sold out. However, S&TC are accepting private sealed bids.

Please follow the link below, or contact S&TC’s fundraising manager, Guy Edwards, to find out more and/or submit bids: Guy@salmon-trout.org | 01425 652 461.

Loch Roag Sea Lice: SSPO Defence Falls Flat

Mea culpa……mea what?

On September 3 we issued a news release detailing the deaths, in the Blackwater River (Isle of Lewis), of a substantial proportion of this Hebridean system’s wild adult salmon run.

Wild Adult Salmon Run Decimated By Sea Lice

 

The tip of the iceberg

The corpses removed from the tidal Sea pool were likely just the tip of the iceberg with many more dying out in the sea loch.

The underwater video of a moribund wild salmon, infested with and being eaten alive by many hundreds of sea lice and gasping for oxygen, made for disturbing viewing.

A week later, on September 10, BBC TV One’s The One Show aired a short and graphic film linking the deaths in the Blackwater to very high numbers of lice and mortalities, again recorded on video, at the nearest salmon farm to the river in Loch Roag, the sea loch into which the river flows.

The BBC programme and our earlier news release triggered widespread media attention – and rightly so, as this was undeniable evidence of catastrophic sea lice infestations of both farmed fish and wild fish.

 

Loch Roag sea lice

The only reasonable explanation for the wild fish deaths is that the sea lice, numbering up to 700 on each wild fish, had reached such high levels in the loch because the huge number of lice-infested host fish on the salmon farms had released an epidemic of sea lice larvae into the loch.

The Fish Health Inspectorate, a Scottish Government agency, carried out tests on affected fish and concluded that no other factor was involved.

There can be absolutely no doubt that the source of the infestations was local salmon farms.

On the nearest farm, adult female lice numbers in August reached 13 times the industry’s Code of Good Practice. Incoming wild Blackwater salmon, held back by low water on the river, had been forced to wait in Loch Roag, close to the farms and exposed to sea lice larvae in numbers many orders of magnitude higher than any natural background. They never had a chance.

 

Salmon industry reaction

Two weeks after we broke this story it is perhaps opportune to consider the reaction from the salmon farming industry to this evidence of the devastating impact on wild fish when on-farm lice numbers explode.

One might imagine there would at least be a formal admission by the local farm’s operators (The Scottish Salmon Company, with its registered office in Jersey) that they were at fault, indeed something of a mea culpa.

But no, not a chance.

They and their industry’s spokespersons have shown not the slightest hint of contrition, rather they have fallen back on the usual response of denial and obfuscation.

The industry’s response was encapsulated in an SSPO press release on September 6, containing the following gem:

“Lice occur naturally in places like river mouths, where there is low water flow and a lot of returning wild fish”.

In other words, the SSPO was trying to suggest that the wild fish deaths were simply a natural phenomenon and nothing to do with them!

 

SSPO and The One Show

When the SSPO was formally challenged by a wild fish representative on Lewis for any evidence of similar sea lice infestations, past or present, on wild salmon in rivers, but outside the salmon farming areas, there was stony silence.

On The One Show on September 10 the SSPO’s CEO maintained that only “one or two” fish on the Loch Roag farm were badly diseased and lice-infested. At this point the drone footage of the farm, playing behind her bland assurances, showed a multitude of fish in the cages with white heads, the classic sign of massive sea lice damage!

Interestingly, the only industry voice showing any kind of recognition of the gravity of the situation has been a Norwegian online salmon farming news-site, which castigated The Scottish Salmon Company and the SSPO for their  failure to respond adequately to “proof of such appalling practice”, accusing them of ,

“Weak judgment at several levels, which should necessitate appropriate consequences for the perpetrators”.

It seems, however, that major parts of Scotland’s salmon farming industry still have fundamental issues with truth and integrity. Plus ca change.

-AGS

Wild Adult Salmon Run Decimated By Sea Lice

Important Hebridean adult wild salmon run decimated by parasites as sea lice numbers on local salmon farms rise and dead farmed fish are taken ashore for burial

Underwater video and photos show graphic evidence of wild salmon covered in parasites

Above: A dead wild adult Blackwater salmon, fatally wounded after its skin has been stripped away by hundreds of parasitic sea lice

A substantial proportion of this year’s wild adult salmon run, into one of the Hebrides’ most renowned rivers, has been killed by a plague of parasitic sea lice

On reaching coastal waters on their route back from the Atlantic, the fish had to pass several salmon farms in Loch Roag. On-farm sea lice numbers have risen this summer and many dead farmed fish have been taken onshore for disposal.

The Blackwater River flows into Loch Roag on the west side of Lewis. At the end of July many dead, dying or distressed adult wild salmon were found in the tidal section of the lower part of the river.

These wild salmon were smothered with many hundreds of sea lice. There is extensive and graphic photographic and video evidence, showing the extent of the infestations and how the sea lice have eaten away the skin of the fish.

All badly damaged fish will eventually die.

This footage, filmed in July in the tidal section of the Blackwater River, shows a very heavily lice-infested and moribund wild adult salmon on the point of expiring:

Blackwater River wild salmon, on their return journey from the Atlantic, must pass through Loch Roag where there are seven salmon farms, all operated by The Scottish Salmon Company (TSSC).

 

There is strong evidence that sea lice numbers on farmed fish have been far too high in the farm cages this summer

Lice breeding on the hundreds of thousands of farmed fish in Loch Roag will have released unimaginable numbers of juvenile lice into the waters of Loch Roag to infest wild fish.

Clearly the fish farmers have had a serious problem this summer.

Numerous special waste skips full of dead fish have been leaving from Loch Roag over the last two months with tankers transporting fish carcasses to North Uist for disposal by burial in sand dunes.

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

“We believe that the explosion in lice numbers on the Loch Roag farms, spreading out into the wider sea loch environment, has had deadly implications for wild fish, as they were waiting to enter the Blackwater.

As the video shows, these fish were literally eaten alive and a large number of adults, that would have bred in the river, have been killed by the lice.

Laboratory tests have failed to find any other possibility. Adult salmon are well adapted to coping with a few lice but, when plastered with hundreds, they simply do not have a chance.”

 

Devastating consequences for wild fish populations

Mr Graham-Stewart added:

“This episode represents exceptionally strong evidence of how lice on fish farms, where many hundreds of thousands of fish are packed close together in cages, can increase rapidly in number and release vast numbers of juvenile lice into the surrounding waters. This can have absolutely devastating consequences for wild fish populations.

The loss of a very substantial proportion of the Blackwater River adult salmon run this year has severe implications for spawning and thus future salmon numbers.

Furthermore, if sea lice numbers were high during May and June, then migrating wild juvenile salmon are likely to have been badly infested, compromising their survival chances.

On top of that, local rural businesses that rely on wild salmon are under threat.”

 

The law is insufficient to protect wild fish

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

“As the Scottish Parliament’s Environment and Rural Economy Committees have both heard this year, the law is insufficient to protect wild fish from this sort of event.

We desperately need MSPs to act quickly to plug this gap in Scottish law.

Currently, there is no regulatory body that is responsible for protecting wild salmon from the impacts of salmon farming and so one of Scotland’s most iconic species is under serious threat.

The Fish Health Inspectorate has been to the Roag farms, but the law means it is only able to involve itself in the health and welfare of the farmed fish, though the truckloads of mortalities that have been seen suggest that it has not been very successful.

 

Notes for editors

The Blackwater River, historically one of the most prolific salmon rivers in the Outer Hebrides, flows into Loch Roag on the west side of the Isle of Lewis, near the Callanish Standing Stones.

The Scottish Salmon Company (TSSC) operates all seven salmon farms in Loch Roag. The parent company is TSSC PLC, registered in Jersey. The largest shareholder (with 72%) is SIX SIS AG, a Swiss company.

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.

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.

S&TCS’ formal petition to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 has led to first the Petitions Committee, then the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee, and finally the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee examining the problems that the salmon farming industry in Scotland is experiencing on-farm and causing to the wider marine environment, including wild fish. The ECCLR Committee report issued earlier this year agrees with S&TCS that there are significant concerns over impacts upon wild salmon and sea trout in the aquaculture zone of the west coast and in the western and northern isles of Scotland. S&TCS understands that the report of the REC Committee into salmon farming in Scotland will be published in the early autumn.

Some key findings of the ECCLR Report on the Environmental Impacts of Salmon Farming:

There appears to have been too little focus on the application of the precautionary principle in the development and expansion of the sector”. 

 “If the current issues are not addressed this expansion will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage to the environment”. 

 “The Committee is deeply concerned that the development and growth of the sector is taking place without a full understanding of the environmental impacts”. 

 “Scotland’s public bodies have a duty to protect biodiversity and this must be to the fore when considering the expansion of the sector.  We need to progress on the basis of the precautionary principle and agencies need to work together more effectively.”

 “…further development and expansion must be on the basis of a precautionary approach and must be based on resolving the environmental problems.  The status quo is not an option.”

 “The current consenting and regulatory framework, including the approach to sanctions and enforcement, is inadequate to address the environmental issues.  The Committee is not convinced that the sector is being regulated sufficiently, or regulated sufficiently effectively.  This needs to be addressed urgently, because further expansion must be on an environmentally sustainable basis.” 

We rely on your support to protect wild fish and the places they live.

By donating or joining as a member you will be making a huge contribution to the fight to protect the UK's waters and ensure a sustainable future for wild fish.

Plastic Rivers

Plastic Rivers: An overlooked but essential element of the global plastic problem

We are all familiar with the shocking plastic-related headlines and imagery that has filled our media channels over the past year: sea turtles with straws up their noses, the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and fears about plastics in our seafood.

But our plastic problem begins upstream.

Plastic pollution is frequently described as an ‘ocean epidemic’. Although this is the truth, microplastics are much more than an ocean specific issue. Microplastics are everywhere; soil, air and our rivers - but for the most part these are overlooked.

 

80% of marine plastic comes from freshwater

Around 80% of marine microplastics come from freshwater run-off, meaning there is a whole period where microplastics persist in rivers before they are flushed into the ocean.

It is essential we stop seeing rivers simply as plastic ‘couriers’ and answer the big question: what impact are these plastic particles having on life in freshwater?

 

What impact is plastic having on freshwater life?

Evidence from the marine environment suggests microplastics may be considered contaminants of emerging concern in freshwater.

It is already known that there is an energetic cost associated with ingestion of microplastics by organisms. That is, plastic consumption effects the very survival of our freshwater wildlife because it changes their inate behaviour.

For example, when plastic particles are consumed, they mimic fullness, so animals stop eating and suffer from poor nutrition.

There is also potential for ecotoxicological harm, as plastics act like sponges, absorbing chemicals in the water. Once eaten, these chemicals can be released from the plastic into whatever has eaten it. And so forth, up the food chain.

 

How does river plastic affect wild fish?

For salmon and sea trout, we know chemicals in water have a directly negative effect on completion of their life cycles, particularly the phase where they transform to become ready for life at sea.

So it is logical to ask an important question: are these damaging chemicals becoming more available to these fish - and in higher doses - through the ingestion of plastic particles?

New research is being commissioned and investigations are being made into understanding and controlling the freshwater element of plastic pollution.

Wastewater treatment plants (a large input of microplastics that come from domestic and industrial sources) are currently not designed to remove microplastics effectively, but new filtration options are being discussed.

 

How can we plastic-proof our rivers?

There is huge scope for positive change, with people and businesses being more aware of their plastic footprints than ever before.

From paper straws to reusable cups, every change we make is a win for the water environment. We urge people to remember that this impact extends way beyond marine; in fact, most plastic pollution begins life in our rivers, where it will also be having an impact - one that often seems overlooked.

At S&TC HQ we have gone single-use-plastic free, and would urge others to do the same.

Moving forward, we would like to see action in the form of a monitoring protocol and standard for river microplastics, so watch this space!

Until we fully grasp and measure the problem, we will not be able to effectively control it.

Additionally, only by understanding the dynamics of microplastics in freshwater, will we be able to effectively measure and manage the contribution to our oceans, in turn protecting marine and freshwater life.

---> By Lauren Mattingley, S&TC's Science Office