Fish farming

What is the problem?

A wealth of scientific evidence points to a clear link between salmon farms and adverse impacts on wild salmon and sea trout, both from the transfer of disease and parasites, especially sea lice, and the interbreeding of escaped farmed salmon with wild stocks, thus potentially endangering gene pools. All initiatives over the last two decades to promote dialogue between wild fish interests and the fish farming industry have produced almost nothing of value to protect wild fish from farming impact. Consequently there has been a marked and disproportionate decline in rod catches in the west Highlands and Islands compared to the rest of Scotland.

Just what is the issue with sea lice?

As they migrate to sea, juvenile wild salmon and sea trout enter bays and sea lochs containing salmon farms that produce an abundance of juvenile sea lice many orders of magnitude above natural background levels. Young fish are not equipped to cope with sea lice and numerous studies have shown that high lice burdens can prove fatal. A recent exhaustive study concluded that lice were responsible for "a 39 per cent loss in salmon abundance". (Link to "Impact of parasites on salmon recruitment in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean", Proceedings of the Royal Society B)

What S&TC UK has achieved

  • Lord (David) Steel presented a 17,000 signature S&TC UK petition to the Scottish Government's Petitions Committee in 2010; it remains live and is now being considered by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee.
  • In September 2010, S&TC UK appointed leading environmental lawyer, Guy Linley-Adams, to head the Aquaculture Campaign. Mr Linley-Adams has produced several important reports exposing the appalling environmental record of the industry and its failure to control parasites including "Inspections of marine salmon farms in Scotland carried out by the Fish Health Inspectorate during 2009 and 2010 - sea-lice and containment issues" (April 2011), "Reported sea lice treatment chemical residues in Scottish sea lochs" (April 2012), "Analysis of the Fish Health Inspectorate's inspections of salmon farms from June to December 2011" (June 2012), and the "Organic Pollution Report" (August 2012).
  • These reports have sparked extensive media interest, putting considerable pressure on the salmon farming industry, its regulators and Government.

What still needs to be done?

  • S&TC UK has a full list of suggested resolutions to the fish farming issue on our dedicated aquaculture web site (see below), but our long term aim is to see the whole industry moved, both freshwater and marine, into units which provide a biological barrier between wild and farmed fish - almost certainly by growing fish in closed containment units.
  • Increasingly S&TC UK is focusing on applying pressure on the UK supermarkets to review their claims that Scottish farmed salmon products are the result of "responsible farming" or "responsible management" - rather the impact of poorly-managed fish-farms on the Scottish marine environment is not something they can safely or legally gloss over any longer.

Other information