Watchdog investigates farm over claims that more than 300,000 fish are infested with lice
‘A high state of distress’ ‘Nauseating images’
RIDDLED with sea lice and covered in lesions, this is one of the hundreds of thousands of salmon feared to be infested at just one farm.
Officials have now begun an animal cruelty probe into the site, which supplies major British supermarkets, in response to shocking footage captured by a photographer.
Having first used a drone, Corin Smith saw many salmon were dead or in disown tress. He then attached a camera to a pole to film underwater at Vacasay fish farm, which is run by the Scottish Salmon Company in Loch Roag.
His footage shows frayed flesh hanging off lethargic fish riddled with lice.
Sea lice can cause loss of fins, scarring, secondary infections and death. The parasites grow to the size of a pea and lay thousands of eggs.
Once a fish is infested, lice can spread quickly in crowded salmon pens. Vacasay, which is in a sea loch off Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, is estimated to hold 400,000 salmon.
Mr Smith, from Perthshire, believes 80 per cent had been disfigured by sea lice damage, and 40 per cent should be destroyed immediately on compassionate grounds.
He found that many fish were dead, while others were in a ‘high state of distress’.
The 40-year- old claimed it would have taken weeks for such a severe infestation to take hold, adding: ‘I was utterly shocked at the high proportion of fish in poor health with mortal sea-lice infestation.’
Mr Smith acted as ‘a concerned member of the public’, and only filmed in one of 12 pens at the farm to prevent lice or their eggs being transferred to other pens on his camera.
He said: ‘I would have liked to have filmed in other pens, but because of bio- security I didn’t. The farm is a short dis- tance from shore, less than 200 metres, where kayakers, swimmers, divers and others interact with it.’
Mr Smith was so shocked that he posted his film on The Ferret, an investigative journalism website.
as a result, the Scottish Government agency Marine Scotland is now investigating the farm. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals has also begun its probe into the fish farm. The Scottish Salmon Company would not say whether the infected fish would be sold to supermarkets or destroyed.
It also refused to reveal which stores it supplied.
Infected salmon can be treated with pesticides that are not harmful to consumers, but the lice appear to have become resistant to some chemicals.
Sarah Moyes, from the Scottish animal charity One Kind, said the salmon’s suffering was ‘wholly unacceptable’, adding: ‘The industry’s reputation is again being damaged by another report of animal neglect.’
Don Staniford, director of Scottish Salmon Watch, said: ‘These nauseating images blow the salmon farming industry’s health claims out of the water.’
Salmon farming is Scotland’s biggest food export, worth £600million a year.
The Scottish Salmon Company sells 25,000 tonnes of fresh salmon annually to more than 25 countries in Europe, North america and asia.
Two years ago, it lost nearly £1million because so many fish were infected with lice that they could not be sold. Last year, it was said to have sent salmon riddled with lice to the Co-op.
a Scottish Salmon Company spokesman said it took fish health and welfare ‘very seriously’, adding: ‘However, as with any farmed stock, mortalities can occur, and this has been exacerbated by the warm weather this summer.’