Newsletter No8 25 July 2017
Recent Developments Affecting Fish-Farming
A recent study has shown that the main pesticide fed to farmed salmon (called emamectin benzoate or SLICE) harms seabed animals very much further from fish farms than expected. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has had to reconsider how much SLICE can be licensed. They almost announced a ban on SLICE but, after lobbying from fish farmers, SEPA has instead launched a consultation, closing at the end of August.
SLICE may be more strictly limited inside Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – such as at Dounie – perhaps affecting the viability of a large fish farm there, but the government still plans to double salmon farming by 2030, and they will decide on the allowable dose.
The pesticides used to treat sea lice also kill other crustaceans, so they are of concern to the creel fishermen who fish in the Sound of Jura, including at Dounie. One of SEPA's senior aquaculture advisors said in an internal document, released after a Freedom of Information request:
… the waters in which salmon farming is practiced are usually the same waters in which Scotland's valuable crustacean fisheries are located …
… it is not tenable for SEPA to adopt a position where commercial shellfish species are impacted by the day-to-day activities of fish farms, activities which SEPA will have knowingly authorized …
The Sunday Herald published SEPA figures showing that the 45 sea lochs polluted to dangerous levels by such pesticides include the Firth of Lorn, Loch Craignish, Loch Fyne, Shuna Sound, the Sound of Gigha & the Sound of Jura.
The growing problem of sea lice infestations is widely acknowledged. The boss of Marine Harvest recently said:
We know that two important drivers in this regard are a too high density of fish farms and too rapid growth in a small area.
SEPA's senior aquaculture advisor said that sea lice are becoming resistant to the pesticides, so the fish farmers are using them more often:
Control of sea louse infestations is difficult to achieve and seems to involve almost continual use of Slice and other products through the growth cycle.
Marine Scotland (a government agency) accepts that sea lice from salmon farms harm Scotland's wild salmon and sea trout. The Add and Dounie bay are home to these fish.
SEPA is currently consulting on a proposed change to the way it licenses fish-farm pollution, suggesting the removal of the current cap of 2,500 tonnes of fish allowed in each farm. By comparison, Norway allows a maximum of 1,000 tonnes at each site. SEPA also proposes allowing fish farmers to increase the number of salmon at each site by 10% each year, while they monitor the seabed for damage, until some threshold of harm is approached. SEPA says that this proposal (called DZR) is intended to encourage fish-farming companies to expand their operations offshore. However, there are also high current sites inshore, such as the Sound of Jura and, if this change were accepted, it could allow much larger farms to be developed at places such as Dounie. The consultation closes at the end of August. FOSOJ has written to SEPA to object to this proposal.
Some politicians are starting to take these issues seriously. In the spring a Scottish parliamentary enquiry will consider evidence on the environmental impact of fish-farming, including its effect on wild fish.
The Oban Times (17 August) reports that wild salmon numbers in the River Awe this year, and in some other west coast rivers, are at an all-time low, since records began in 1965. The Awe's figures are about half their previous lowest.
The Argyll District Salmon Fisheries Board and Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland attribute this collapse mainly to harm done by sea lice from salmon farms.
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