The Norwegian authorities have recently ordered that some two million sea-lice infested farmed salmon in the Vikna district of Nord Trondelag be slaughtered with immediate effect after becoming resistant to chemical treatments against the sea-lice parasite. The action has been prompted specifically to protect wild young salmon (smolts) migrating through the fjords to the open sea next May and June from huge numbers of juvenile sea-lice being produced on and released from particular salmon farms that have been unable to control their lice numbers.
Last week the Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)) wrote to the Scottish Government, drawing attention to the situation in Norway and asking what consideration it is giving to applying “similar punitive sanctions” against salmon farm operators in Scotland which are unable to keep sea-lice numbers below agreed thresholds.
Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TA(S), said:
“Norway’s clamp-down on those salmon farms where sea-lice numbers are out of control shows that it takes the protection of wild salmon seriously. The contrast with the situation in Scotland could hardly be more marked. Here the salmon farming industry’s own figures confirm that sea-lice numbers have been out of control for many months on farms in areas such as West Sutherland and the northern part of Wester Ross and yet the Scottish Government declines to take any action whatsoever. It is difficult to reach any other conclusion but that Scottish Government has decided that west coast wild salmon and sea trout are expendable and that such a price is worth paying in the interests of salmon farming and its expansion.”
Under Norway’s regulatory regime the Norwegian Food Safety Authority can levy significant fines of up to 200,000 kroner (some £20,000) per day on salmon farm operators where sea-lice levels on farmed salmon remain over accepted sea-lice thresholds.
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA(S) Aquaculture Campaign, said:
“If the companies operating in the far north-west Highlands where lice numbers were consistently well above industry thresholds for the first half of 2013 – Wester Ross Fisheries and/or Scottish Sea Farms in the Kennart to Gruinard region and Loch Duart Ltd in the Inchard to Kirkaig North region – had been subject to the Norwegian regulatory regime, they could well have been liable for fines amounting to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds.
Scotland needs to be sure that its regulatory regime is able to respond decisively like that in Norway, not only in terms of fines but also the transparency of sea-lice numbers. In Norway, salmon farmers are required by law to report sea-lice data on a farm-specific basis to the authorities, together with details of sea-lice treatments and the efficacy or otherwise of such treatments, which then enables the Norwegian authorities to reduce the threat to wild salmon and sea trout and, as we have just seen, where necessary order the culling of millions of infested farmed salmon”.
Why are sea lice on fish-farms such a threat to wild salmonids?
The negative impact of sea lice, produced in huge numbers by fish farms, on wild salmonids (salmon and sea trout) is widely accepted by fisheries scientists including the Scottish Government’s own Marine Scotland Science (see Note 8).
In Ireland, the Government of Ireland’s agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland, is crystal clear as to where the problem lies (see Note 9):
“The presence of salmon farms has been shown to significantly increase the level of sea lice infestation in sea trout in Ireland, Scotland and Norway. These lice infestations have been shown to follow the development of marine salmon aquaculture….studies from Ireland, Scotland and Norway have shown that in bays where salmon farming takes place the vast majority of sea lice originate from salmon farms……”
Most recently, a new paper published in 2013 by a group of fisheries experts from Norway, Canada and Scotland re-analyses data from various Irish studies and shows that the impact of sea lice on wild salmon causes a very high loss (34%) of those returning to Irish rivers (see Note 10).
Most importantly, there is clear evidence that both wild salmon and sea trout are in decline in Scotland’s ‘aquaculture zone’, whereas, generally, populations have stabilized on the east and north coasts where there is no fish-farming
See www.salmon-trout.org for pdf of letter “Culling of sea-lice infested farmed salmon in Norway” from S&TA(S) to the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change