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Background Info

The impact of marine and freshwater salmon farming on wild salmon and sea trout has been an issue for more than 15 years.  In that time, dialogue has taken place but very little progress has been achieved in halting the impacts which we list below.

In 1999, the then Scottish Executive bowed to pressure from wild fish organisations and set up the Tripartite Working Group (TWG), consisting of itself, wild fish interests and the salmon farming industry, with a remit “to address problems common to salmon farming and wild salmon fisheries and to seek solutions….” Key to its strategy has been the negotiating and setting up of local Area Management Agreements (AMAs) – 18 to date – between the relevant local players to foster initiatives such as the synchronised treatment of sea-lice within individual bays, together with the fallowing of farms, in an attempt to minimise impact on wild fish.  However, these were never operated under any mandatory regulation and, ten years later, we do not believe that the TWG (with its mantra of “building consensus, reaching agreement”) has actually achieved any tangible success,  Indeed, there is a deep feeling within the wild fish lobby that the endless meetings, sub-group reports and mountains of paper have merely acted as a convenient forum to which both Government and fish farming industry can point to say that they are ‘talking’ about the issues, whereas nothing actually gets done about solving the issues – there is no trend in dropping sea lice numbers – indeed, there is growing evidence that sea lice might be becoming more difficult to treat – or in the ability of the industry to stop significant numbers of escaping farmed salmon. 

In the great majority of the river systems in question there is absolutely no sign of any resurgence in salmon; and the situation with sea trout is simply dire.

The S&TA tries wherever possible to support its work with sound scientific evidence, and we have therefore recently undertaken a review (published March 2010) of some 137 scientific papers published over the past 20 years of peer-viewed research into this subject - a massive volume of literature both nationally and internationally (see link above in s4 to the full report on the S&TA web site). These include recent scientific papers, some of which have been written by leading Scottish Government fisheries scientists. They demonstrate through scientific evidence that the presence of farmed smolt units in freshwater lochs and the presence of seawater salmon farms close to the mouths of salmon and sea trout rivers can seriously damage indigenous salmon and sea trout populations—

  • Sea lice parasites transfer from farmed salmon to wild fish.  Although sea lice occur naturally in the marine environment, salmon farms provide the ideal conditions for their numbers to multiply to devastating levels.  Sea lice feed on wild salmon and sea trout, causing lesions which can be fatal to juveniles.
  • The location of salmon farms is often in sheltered bays and estuaries close to river estuaries and lochs with runs of wild salmon and sea trout.  The wild fish migration paths run passed the farmed fish, resulting in maximum exposure to diseases and parasites emanating from the farms
  • Fish farm escapees enter the natural environment if the farm cage nets are damaged by wave action or predator attacks, or poor husbandry operations allow fish to escape.  These escapees breed with wild salmon, diluting natural gene pools. Over time, genetically distinct wild salmon populations could be lost forever, limiting the ability of the species to adapt to change such as global warming.
  • Juvenile salmon are often farmed to smolt stage in cages in freshwater lochs, and escapees from these units can join wild smolts on migration, returning as adults to breed with wild fish and dilute gene pools. This form of fish farming is already prohibited in Norway, yet is still allowed in Scotland.
  • Uneaten food and fish faeces drop out of the open cages and on to the seabed, smothering species below the cages and resulting in ‘dead zones’ on the sea bed, while the elevated levels of phosphates and nitrates (contained in the food) reduce surrounding water quality. 
  • Farms discharge untreated chemical waste, often laced with antibiotics and pesticides, directly into coastal waters. Once in the environment, these contaminants can accumulate in the natural food chain and could potentially impact humans.

To ensure a sustainable salmon farming industry, the Salmon and Trout Association calls for—

  • The ultimate target of the industry and Scottish Government must be for the statutory use of enclosed systems for rearing fish, whether on land or at sea, therefore cutting out any interaction between farmed and wild salmon and sea trout.  This should be within a timescale agreed between Government, industry and wild fish organisations
  • Meanwhile, the Precautionary Principle (as enshrined in EU legislation protecting species and habitats) should be adhered to at all times
  • An effective lice dispersal model must be developed in order to assess acceptable maximum farm/area lice levels
  • A list of ecologically and economically sensitive sites should be drawn up immediately
  • Sea-based salmon farms must be moved away from locations with significant salmon and sea trout migration runs, within estuaries, lochs and offshore.  As a practical start, an experiment should be conducted by removing an individual farm from a sensitive site - agreed with wild fish organisations - and the effect on wild salmon stocks monitored
  • No new sites should be permitted in sensitive areas highlighted by the list above
  • New fish farm applications must be supported by independent Environmental Impact Assessments
  • Salmon smolt farms should be banned from operating within any wild salmonid river, unless in a totally enclosed system that stops any interaction between farmed and wild fish.
  • The impact of escapees should be reduced by the mandatory stocking of sterile fish within an agreed timescale.

I would like the PPC to ask the Scottish Government why it is allowing—

1  the destruction of salmon and sea trout stocks on the west coast of Scotland by continuing to allow salmon farms to operate to a standard that scientific research shows is extremely damaging to wild fish stocks and the environment?  Whereas other countries operate aquaculture units under Government regulation, the Scottish industry mainly operates under a voluntary code of practice, without serious sanction for malpractice.
2.  the siting of salmon farms on freshwater lochs that are connected to salmon rivers, even though the scientific evidence shows that there is the potential for massive damage to local native salmon stocks (this practice is banned in Norway)?
3.  internationally based fish farm companies to operate in Scotland under less stringent environment constraints than in their home countries?

Salmon & Trout Association web site - www.salmon-trout.org