A dis­grace: 10 mil­lion salmon thrown away by fish farms in last year alone


THE Scot­tish fish-farm­ing in­dus­try has ad­mit­ted that it threw away up to 10 mil­lion salmon last year – nearly one-quar­ter of its stock – be­cause of diseases, par­a­sites and other prob­lems.

Of­fi­cial fig­ures re­veal the ton­nages of dead fish that had to be dis­posed of has more than dou­bled from 10,599 in 2013 to a record high of 22,479 in 2016. Most are trans­ported south to be burned at an in­cin­er­a­tor in Widnes near War­ring­ton in north­west Eng­land.

Cam­paign groups warn that the in­dus­try is fac­ing an “en­vi­ron­ment catas­tro­phe”, is “haem­or­rhag­ing cash” and “shames Scot­land”. Com­pa­nies ac­cept they have been plagued by dis­ease and sea lice, and that their busi­nesses have suf­fered. Un­wanted mor­tal­i­ties at salmon farms have long been a prob­lem, but in the last three years they have risen to record lev­els. There have been suc­ces­sive sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Lat­est fig­ures for the months up to June 2017 show an­other 7,700 tonnes of dead salmon dis­carded, sug­gest­ing that the prob­lem is not go­ing away. There are also thought to have been sig­nif­i­cant mor­tal­i­ties in the West­ern Isles since then.

The com­pany that suf­fered the big­gest losses was Marine Har­vest, head­quar­tered in Nor­way, whose mor­tal­i­ties leapt three­fold to 7,609 tonnes be­tween 2013 and 2016. Over the same pe­riod, the Scot­tish Salmon Com­pany, which is reg­is­tered in the Chan­nel Is­lands, saw its dead fish more than dou­ble to 5,873 tonnes.

Crit­ics es­ti­mate the to­tal num­ber of dead, dis­carded salmon last year to have been be­tween 10 mil­lion and 20 mil­lion. But the in­dus­try says it sus­tained losses of “be­tween six and 10 mil­lion fish, de­pend­ing on their size”.

Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment fig­ures show that in 2016 the to­tal num­ber of smolts – young salmon – put into fish-farm pro­duc­tion in Scot­land was just un­der 43 mil­lion. To­tal salmon pro­duc­tion was 162,817 tonnes.

The Scot­tish Salmon Think­Tank, a new group of fish-farm crit­ics, ac­cused the in­dus­try of fail­ing to ad­dress “ap­palling” col­lat­eral dam­age. “Self-reg­u­la­tion is sim­ply not work­ing,” said the group’s Lynn Sch­we­is­furth.

“The whole salmon farm­ing busi­ness model is bro­ken and far from sus­tain­able as it claims to be. These wor­ry­ing fig­ures are the hall­marks of an in­dus­try in cri­sis and it’s our ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that will suf­fer as the prob­lems con­tinue.”

She urged next year’s par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into fish farm­ing to tackle the in­dus­try’s “sys­temic” prob­lems. “Un­til they do, lorry loads of dead fish and the broader en­vi­ron­men­tal and wel­fare is­sues that be­set the in­dus­try will con­tinue to shame Scot­land.”

Dr Richard Lux­moore, se­nior na­ture con­ser­va­tion ad­viser for the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land, de­scribed the dis­posal of huge amounts of rot­ting fish as “stom­ach churning” and a waste of good food. “It is the sign of an en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe,” he said.

“The salmon farm­ing in­dus­try has lost the abil­ity to con­trol fish diseases and this re­sults in es­ca­lat­ing quan­ti­ties of toxic chem­i­cals be­ing poured into the sea in an in­creas­ingly fruit­less at­tempt to con­trol them. It also in­evitably leads to the re­lease of an in­fec­tious soup of dis­ease or­gan­isms into our coastal wa­ters.”

He called for the in­dus­try to shift to a “closed con­tain­ment sys­tem” that would pro­tect the fish and the marine en­vi­ron­ment. The same de­mand was made by the wild fish cam­paign group, Salmon and Trout Con­ser­va­tion Scot­land.

“Dis­ease and mor­tal­i­ties on Scot­tish salmon farms con­tinue at shock­ing lev­els,” said the group’s Guy Lin­ley-Adams. “What con­cerns us is that the

The salmon farm­ing in­dus­try has lost the Abil­ity to con­trol fish diseases and this re­sults in es­ca­lat­ing quan­ti­ties of toxic chem­i­cals be­ing poured into the sea in an in­creas­ingly fruit­less at­tempt to con­trol them

Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has al­most no idea what the ef­fects are on wild salmon and wild sea trout in Scot­tish sea lochs.”

Don Stan­i­ford from the Global Al­liance Against In­dus­trial Aqua­cul­ture warned that plans to dou­ble the salmon farm­ing busi­ness by 2030 were “envi- ron­men­tal lu­nacy”. “In­fec­tious diseases and lice in­fes­ta­tion are crip­pling the Scot­tish salmon farm­ing in­dus­try which is haem­or­rhag­ing cash,” he claimed.

The Scot­tish Salmon Pro­duc­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion (SSPO), which rep­re­sents the in­dus­try, ac­cepted there had “un­for­tu­nately” been losses. “Last year saw some prob­lems which re­sulted in the loss of be­tween six and 10 mil­lion fish, de­pend­ing on their size,” said SSPO chief ex­ec­u­tive, Scott Lands­burgh.

“This is some­thing which the in­dus­try takes very se­ri­ously and is work­ing hard to min­imise. Dis­posal of mor­tal­i­ties is man­aged in line with the Gov­ern­ment’s ap­proved meth­ods and leg­is­la­tion.”

Marine Har­vest in­sisted it had been “very trans­par­ent” about the is­sues it had been fac­ing with sea lice and amoe­bic gill dis­ease (AGD). “We would clearly pre­fer if we had not had this level of mor­tal­i­ties,” said the com­pany’s busi­ness sup­port man­ager, Steve Bracken.

“But what is more pos­i­tive is that the pic­ture is chang­ing. We are mak­ing strong progress in re­duc­ing the sea lice lev­els and tack­ling the chal­lenge of AGD.”

The Scot­tish Salmon Com­pany agreed it had faced “bi­o­log­i­cal chal­lenges and un­prece­dented mor­tal­i­ties” in 2016. “We have taken de­ci­sive ac­tion to tackle these chal­lenges,” said a com­pany spokesper­son.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment pointed out that fish and shell­fish farm­ing con­trib­utes £620 mil­lion to the Scot­tish econ­omy every year, sup­port­ing more than 12,000 jobs. “We have a duty to pro­tect Scot­land’s marine en­vi­ron­ment and the health and wel­fare of farmed fish is of ut­most im­por­tance,” said a spokesper­son.

“The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to work­ing with the aqua­cul­ture sec­tor to de­velop a strate­gic health frame­work that en­sures we make progress in tack­ling ma­jor prob­lems, in­clud­ing emerg­ing dis­ease and sea lice.”

SCOT­LAND’S salmon farm­ing in­dus­try por­trays it­self as a clean, healthy in­dus­try, trad­ing on the beauty of our lochs, moun­tains and skies. It’s “a huge Scot­tish suc­cess story”, it claims. We beg to dif­fer.

We have re­vealed before how it has pol­luted our nation’s lochs with pes­ti­cides, and helped to prevent the Scot­tish En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion Agency from ban­ning the worst pol­lu­tant – de­spite ev­i­dence it was do­ing harm. To­day we re­port that dis­ease and par­a­sites forced fish farm­ers to throw away a record 22,479 tonnes of salmon in 2016. Es­ti­mates vary, but the in­dus­try ac­cepts that could be as many as 10 mil­lion dead fish.

That amounts to nearly one-quar­ter of all the young fish that started off in cages. It’s a stag­ger­ing waste, and means that count­less lorry-loads of rot­ting salmon have to be trans­ported south to be in­cin­er­ated in north­west Eng­land. The in­dus­try is coy about ex­actly how much this is hurt­ing their busi­ness, but it is pre­sum­ably hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.

It cer­tainly won’t help salmon farm­ing’s im­age. The in­dus­try has al­ways had the po­ten­tial to be an en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly busi­ness that could bring real ben­e­fits to com­mu­ni­ties. But it seems to have gone down the wrong path, seek­ing big­ger and big­ger farms, more in­ten­sive pro­duc­tion and higher prof­its.

It pro­vides valu­able em­ploy­ment in re­mote ar­eas but it should not be al­lowed to get away with any­thing it likes. There is a growing con­sen­sus among crit­ics in favour of “closed con­tain­ment”, en­sur­ing that salmon cages would be iso­lated from the marine en­vi­ron­ment. That could greatly re­duce pol­lu­tion, pro­tect the fish and in the long term be good for busi­ness.

Few are se­ri­ously ar­gu­ing for the in­dus­try to be shut down. But for the mo­ment it is in the dock and must an­swer some se­ri­ous ques­tions before it can move on.

Salmon lie strewn across the M9 north of Blair Atholl af­ter a lorry shed its load @Lau­raHous­ton27 Twit­ter

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