Fish farms destroying our marine ecology
Sir, I HAVE been fortunate to have visited the north-west Scottish coast and islands over a period of 40 years, during which time I have spoken with many anglers and netsmen who fish these rivers and coastal waters and have witnessed the collapse and demise of once abundant wild game fisheries.
Stocks of wild migratory salmon and sea trout are now a shadow of their past. Stocks that do survive are, in many cases, now infested with sea lice and appear emancipated fish. Disease from intensive fish farming operations and the risk of escapee interbreeding causing dilution of genetic integrity is also an ever present threat. Sea survival of salmon and sea trout smolts that migrate from fresh water to the sea have crashed in this period and a figure of two per cent returning as adults are current estimates for West Coast salmon ( previously 20 per cent in the 1970- 80s).
It may be convenient that inshore waters do not reveal the impact of unchecked intensive fish farming practices but careful observation of wild stocks and linked species can. The rapid decline of inshore bird colonies points to loss of staple food sources over this period.
My most recent trip to the beautiful and small Euchar river below Oban produced eight sea trout over four days, all heavily sea lice infested – in three cases sea lice extending over large parts of their gill covers. Some fish were in very poor condition with shredded fins and two thirds of their expected weight.
Marine Harvest and other fish farms have invested heavily and become embedded in the fabric of the community, making large donations and sponsorship.
M&S provides awards for sustainable and innovation and proclaim its fish farmed-sourced products to be sustainable. The reality is that the term sustainable best describes its business model, one that is financially sustainable at the expense of wild fish.
In 2014, there were 258 inshore or sea loch fish farms. All are based on the west coast of Scotland. The West Coast rivers and their game fisheries have been sacrificed along with tourism related benefits that they bring for the greater good of fish farming.
I can understand the dilemma of fisheries on the Euchar and Nell which have recently been awarded funds for regeneration and restoration of their fisheries, facing the dilemma that any efforts they make may well be self- defeating.
The impact of Scottish fish farms is felt as far afield as the important game fisheries of north-west and south-west England and Wales where smolts migrate north through Argyll waters to seas around Faroes and Iceland.
It is time that the fish farm industry woke up to the reality that its presence is destroying a precious marine ecology. Self-regulation in the industry is too lax and Marine Conservation Areas were designed to protect these unseen but important to many species underwater environments.
Mike Ashwin, River Eden and District Fisheries Association.