Discussions with SEPA
Email from FOSOJ to SEPA 11 Sept 2018
cc Michael Russell MSP, Angus Gilmour Argyll & Bute Council, Gail Ross MSP, Edward Mountain MSP
Dear Ms Anderson and Mr A'Hearn
The proposed new DZR approach to regulating pollution by fish farms will allow the lifting of the cap on maximum biomass of fish in farms and instead allow their biomass to vary according to measures of the impact on the marine environment. SEPA has consulted on this approach but has not yet reported. Never-the-less the Argyll and Bute Council has already received multiple applications for planning permission for farms to act as if DZR had already been approved.
For example, these four applications request permission for the ‘proposed deletion of biomass limit in favour of obligation to operate in accordance with an approved Environmental Management Plan.’
18/01813/MFF Ardcastle Fish Farm Lochgair Argyll And Bute
18/01814/MFF Ardgaddan Barr Fish Farm Kilfinan Argyll And Bute
18/01815/MFF Fish Farm Camas Na Ban-Tighearna Pier Road Tarbert Argyll And Bute
18/01816/MFF Quarry Point Fish Farm Crarae Argyll And Bute PA32 8YA
Please explain why this is happening before DZR has been approved and how SEPA will advise the Local Authority in respect of these applications.
In your letter to us of 2nd August you wrote to us that:
‘There is no other single sector making discharges to the water environment which will have a same total cumulative extent of impacts as fish farms…’
You also wrote that:
‘Certain industrial discharges from other sectors may contain substances which would have a biocidal
effect but the concentration of these is generally strictly limited by licence conditions to ensure any
impact is limited to a zone around the point of discharge. Fish farm discharges are also limited by licence conditions, accepting that an area around the farm may be affected by these discharges. The approach used by SEPA accepts that the zone where impacts may occur from fish farm discharges is
generally very much larger than from discharges made from other industrial sectors.'
We asked whether terrestrial farms would be allowed to pollute the environment to the same extent as open-net fish farms, and whether, for instance, a fish farm sited on the land would be allowed to pipe the same amount of waste as it usually releases into the sea, to the offshore location it actually occupies. You answered that:
‘There is not really a means to compare terrestrial farms and fish farm. Terrestrial farms are not permitted to discharge waste directly to the water environment…’,
from which we conclude that the answer is probably no.
You also wrote that:
‘It is not unusual for farms which have a poor compliance record to have an increase in biomass granted if for example that change in the permitted biomass is associated with change in the configuration of the farm that may lead to a predicted reduction in overall impacts. This might be predicted if for example a revised cage configuration leads to a more dispersed release of effluent.’
Quarry Point and Ardcastle (both applying to delete their biomass limits above) had unsatisfactory benthic conditions when surveyed recently. All four farms are in Loch Fyne. Over the last three surveys of Loch Fyne’s ten fish farms, only four have recorded satisfactory benthic survey results each time.
SEPA has argued that removing the 2500t per farm maximum biomass cap will encourage the industry to invest in farming at more exposed sites. In a letter to Mr Dey, then Convenor of the ECCLRC, Mr A’Hearn wrote that SEPA wants farms to be located, ‘in exposed, dispersive environments where current speeds significantly reduce accumulation of waste on the sea bed’ in order to disperse and dilute the farms’ increased discharges of organic waste and chemicals.
Why then are these four farms asking to delete their biomass limits, when limiting biomass is the only means you have available to regulate their pollution? Loch Fyne is among the most sheltered bodies of water on the Scottish coast. The ten farms there have a substantial cumulative impact on the environment, but Mr Gilmour, Head of Planning at Argyll and Bute Council, has made clear that Environmental Management Plans are incapable of monitoring, managing or mitigating such cumulative effects, due to the limitations of the planning process and the council’s limited resources and expertise.
SEPA’s argument for lifting the biomass cap in exposed places is based on the false premise that all such sites are away from the coast and therefore will result in a lower impact on the coastal marine environment from pollution, and fewer impacts from sea lice on wild fish. In his letter to Mr Dey, Mr A’Hearn explained that when farms are sited in exposed locations with strong tides, their ‘waste impacts on the sea bed will normally be much less severe than elsewhere; and the risks of disease and, hence, medicine usage, are also likely to be lower.’
He also stated that’…in practice, large farms would be limited to more exposed locations where the risk of infection with sea lice and other diseases can be less’.
In fact many high tidal flow sites are adjacent to mainland and island shores, where peoples' livelihoods depend on the sea not being polluted. These near-shore sites are easier to service with smaller vessels from existing shore bases, so they suit fish farming companies better than offshore sites. The VALUE OF AQUACULTURE TO SCOTLAND report confirms that: ‘From our consultations, producers’ focus pre-2025 is on near-shore, more exposed sites…'
Argyll and Bute planning committee have already given planning permission for the first 3500 tonnes biomass farm, at BDNC Loch Shuna. This site is very close to the shore, in an area used by wild salmonids which breed in two nearby rivers. The council has placed its faith in an EMP working to control cumulative sea louse numbers across as many as seven farms, where previously they have not been adequately controlled.
The council is also considering other applications for 3500 tonne farms close to the shore, for instance at Carradale N and S, in Kilbrannan Sound, and at Corpach Bay on Jura (at screening and scoping stage), for example. Please explain why some of these applications state that SEPA has already indicated that this size of farm is acceptable, even though the consultation on the DZR system of regulation has not yet reported, or been formally adopted.
Please also explain why some applications (eg Corpach Bay) are still using Autodepomod modelling, which SEPA has acknowledged is inadequate for farms above 2500 tonnes and in high flow locations, and where the seabed is not flat.
You have explained that SEPA’s view is that it no longer has a responsibility to consider the effect of sea lice from fish farms on wild fish, as sea lice are not pollution, and that SEPA can devolve its biodiversity duty as a public body to Marine Scotland.
However, Marine Scotland’s advice is clear, that sea lice do harm wild fish. For instance in its June 2014 response to a planning application for a farm at Loch Slapin, MS wrote:
‘Scientific evidence from Norway and Ireland indicates a detrimental effect of sea lice on sea trout and salmon populations. There is increasing scientific evidence that this is also the case for sea trout in Scotland. Salmon aquaculture results in elevated numbers of sea lice in open water and hence is likely to have an adverse effect on populations of wild salmonids in some circumstances … Information from the west coast of Scotland suggests lice from fish farming can cause a risk to local salmon and sea trout. … The greater the number of lice on the farm the greater the risk to wild salmon and sea trout.' (14_01467_FUL-RESPONSE_-_MARINE_SCOTLAND_SCIENCE-679145 Slapin 2014)
Marine Scotland Science also advised the local authority that: 'It should be noted that adherence to the suggested criteria for treatment of sea lice on individual farm sites stipulated in the industry Code of Good Practice may not necessarily prevent release of substantial numbers of lice from aquaculture installations. Additionally, It should be borne in mind that sea trout are present in these inshore waters all year, not just at the spring smolt migration…'
It is widely acknowledged that having a larger biomass of fish in a farm increases the number of sea lice larvae released by that farm.
Little is known about the migration routes of wild salmon, or the year round distribution of sea trout, but what is certain, including from the SAMS report for the ECCLRC inquiry and the independent NINA report, is that when the smolts of both species leave their natal rivers they spend time in coastal areas, where they are severely affected by sea lice from fish farms.
The situation this summer in Loch Roag, where farmed and wild salmon have been eaten alive by as many as 700 sea lice per fish, shows the consequences of the failure to consider the effects of farming large numbers of fish in small areas, in multiple farms close to the shore. This dire situation was reported on the One Show last night. It is doing huge damage to the reputation of Scottish salmon, which is in no-one’s best interests, least of all the industry’s or the rural economy's.
SEPA needs to take some responsibility for helping to solve this problem.
The most recent research, modeling current flows on the west coast of Scotland, shows that sea lice larvae can be carried large distances from their source, between the mainland coast and the Outer Hebrides for instance. (Temporal variability in sea lice population connectivity and implications for regional management protocols. T.P. Adams, D. Aleynik, K.D. Black. SAMS. In AQUACULTURE ENVIRONMENT INTERACTIONS Vol. 8: 585–596, 2016).
Farming fish in even larger farms, in more exposed places with faster currents, will be a disaster for wild salmonids unless sea lice numbers are held at zero indefinitely, because the sea lice larvae will be spread all over the west coast and Hebrides by the same currents that SEPA hopes will disperse pollution. Achieving and maintaining such low sea lice numbers on all farms is very far from the industry’s track record.
Please explain why SEPA believes it is responsible behaviour for a Scottish public body to support the dropping of biomass limits at farms which already have poor environmental records, such as those in Loch Fyne, and to sanction larger farms in high flow locations used by wild salmonids, solely on the basis that the pollution from those sites will be swept further away, while ignoring the impact that this would have of sea lice on wild salmon
Friends of the Sound of Jura