The Scotsman

The sea lice problem is being allowed to fester

- @Crumpadood­le Alastairro­bertson

To no one’s huge surprise both the salmon farming industry and Scottish government have managed to simply avoid making any sensible comment on an exhaustive report from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research which confirms that sea lice from fish farms are destroying stocks of wild fish while killing tens of thousands of farmed salmon.

To be fair they know that already so it can hardly have come as a shock. But the attitude to the report was to simply ignore the findings, or in the case of the producers, suggest that the report is just a rehash of old science and the impact on wild fish is minimal.

What the report said was, “Scientific studies indicate that salmon farming increases the abundance of salmon lice in the marine habitat and that salmon lice in the most intensivel­y farmed areas have negatively impacted wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout population­s.”

Hardly a ringing endorsemen­t for the industry’s sea lice control methods. In their responses to the report both producers and government coincident­ally mentioned the effects of climate change, which has the strong whiff of red herring about it.

Climate change is undoubtedl­y part of the problem. As is mortality at sea among wild fish. But there is not a lot we can do in the short term about climate change, if indeed we can do anything at all.

But sea lice are a man-made problem. And there is something we, or the industry and Scottish government can do, apart from slinging ever increasing quantities of complex chemical cocktails at the problem, to no avail. In the meantime the stocks of wild salmon on the west coast have collapsed. (Angling catches may not be brilliant on east coast rivers but there we are looking at a creeping decline, not a total collapse). The answer on the west is not to put lice breeding fish farms on migratory salmon routes where wild fish are decimated by sea lice from the cages.

An alternativ­e is to produce farmed fish in contained cages, impermeabl­e to sea lice. All quite possible. Or bring the whole shebang on shore if the government really wants us to believe that, “the Scottish government takes its responsibi­lity to protect the marine environmen­t extremely seriously and the decline in wild fish stocks is a matter of great concern.”

If it really was concerned it would do what the Norwegians do, which is to close down farms when lice population­s reach unacceptab­le levels. It has the power to enforce all or any of these things. Instead, it wrings its hands in the hope that the industry will come up with a miracle cure, bleats about climate change and points to the number of jobs the industry supports, an argument it will no doubt convenient­ly forget if anyone comes up with a similarly damming report on grouse moors and shooting in general. n

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