Fish farms de­stroy­ing our marine ecol­ogy

The Oban Times - - LETTERS -

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.

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