Sea trout catch in legendary west Highland fishery now down to a baker’s dozen
Scottish Government has today published the annual catch data for salmon and sea trout for 2016. The headline figures are:
- The 2016 rod catch of salmon was 55,109, compared to 54,969 in 2014 and 45,175 in 2013. The five year average (2011-2015) stands at 68,308 and the ten year average (2006-2015) is 78,744.
- The 2016 rod catch of sea trout was 18,054 – the third lowest figure on record and 84 % of the five year average.
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), said:
“Salmon catches remain in the doldrums. The depressing numbers reflect poor returns in late summer and autumn. Whilst what happens at sea, in other words distant marine survival, is largely beyond our control, the importance of maximizing the number of juvenile salmon reaching the open sea is paramount. This means minimizing predation within rivers, which Scottish Government can facilitate, and also Scottish Government cracking down on poor sea lice control at salmon farms, which has decimated salmon returns in most of the west Highlands and Islands.”
Andrew Graham-Stewart continued:
“Whilst there has been a decline in sea trout numbers in much of Scotland, only in the salmon farming areas of the west Highlands and Islands situation has there been an almost total collapse. Remedying this is very much in Scottish Government’s gift. Juvenile sea trout, which remain within coastal waters, are highly vulnerable to sea lice spreading from salmon farms acting as lice production units. The young sea trout are eaten alive. Scottish Government must act to tighten the regulation of salmon farming, in particular the control of sea lice with the express purpose of protecting wild fish from infestation.”
“It is truly shocking and an indictment of Government policy that the River Ewe and Loch Maree, historically the most famous sea trout fishery in Europe, producing prodigious catches, reported a sea trout catch of just 13 in 2016. By comparison the catch in 1987, the last year prior to the devastating influence of salmon farming, was over 1700. We have seen a virtual wipe-out. S&TCS recently launched a campaign to restore sea trout numbers in the River Ewe and Loch Maree. The solution is simple – the removal of the Marine Harvest salmon farm from Loch Ewe.”
In 2015 S&TCS raised a formal Petition to the Scottish Parliament, which seeks to change the law, firstly to require immediate culls or harvesting of farmed salmon where sea lice numbers have effectively gone out of control and secondly to give fish farm inspectors the legal duty to control sea lice on fish farms, expressly to protect wild fish populations from juvenile sea lice infestation from marine cage fish farms. The Petition is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
In March S&TCS released the short film “Eaten alive – the demise of Loch Maree” – https://www.salmon-trout.org/loch-maree/video/9
Issued by Andrew Graham-Stewart (telephone 01863 766767 or 07812 981531) on behalf of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland.
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) Scottish Government action required
Fisheries scientists – including the Scottish Government’s own scientists – are firm in their conclusions that sea lice produced on fish-farms harm wild salmon and sea trout, both at an individual and at a population level. However, S&TCS believes that these threats are not being addressed by effective regulation and control of sea lice numbers on fish-farms in Scotland, which are essential to protect wild fish populations, many already significantly reduced. In 2015, the S&TCS raised a formal Petition to the Scottish Parliament, which seeks to change the law, firstly to require immediate culls or harvesting of farmed where sea lice numbers have effectively gone out of control and secondly to give fish farm inspectors the legal duty to control sea lice on fish farms, expressly to protect wild fish populations from juvenile sea lice infestation from marine cage fish farms. The Petition is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
3) 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. 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 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. 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.
The 2016 paper Aquaculture and environmental drivers of salmon lice infestation and body condition in sea trout (Shephard et al, Aquaculture Environment Interactions) analysed a 25 yr dataset of lice counts from >20 000 sea trout sampled from 94 separate river and lake systems in Ireland and Scotland at varying distances from marine salmon farms and concluded that “sea trout captured closer to salmon farms had significantly higher levels of lice infestation, and that this effect was exacerbated in warmer years. Sea trout sampled closer to salmon farms also had significantly reduced weight at length (impaired condition), with the strongest impact in dry years”.