November 2, 2017
Scottish farmed salmon reels from sea lice issue
Sea lice numbers are running out of control for extended periods in much of the Scottish salmon industry, and failures by individual farms to operate with lice numbers below the Scottish government's trigger levels are routine, according to the UK charity Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC), citing uncovered information.
"Many of the individual farms' sea lice numbers, which have long been hidden within regional aggregated 'averages' published by the industry, are far worse than we envisaged. Sea lice numbers on farmed fish across much of the industry are of epidemic proportions", said Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of S&TC Scotland.
S&TC Scotland said it had received its information on the gravity of the sea-lice situation after the Scottish Information Commissioner formally decided that concerned Scottish Ministers had unlawfully tried to withhold information naming fish farms that had breached Scottish government trigger levels for the numbers of adult female sea lice on farmed salmon.
The Scottish government's new trigger levels have been set at three adult female lice per farmed salmon—which would need a "site-specific escalation plan" to reduce lice numbers—and eight adult female lice per farmed salmon, at which point an enforcement action may be ordered to harvest early, reduce biomass or cull out a farm.
S&TC said these levels "are very considerably more generous" to the fish farmers than the industry's own longstanding Code of Good Practice's (CoGP) sea lice treatment levels of 0.5 or one lice per fish, depending on the time of year.
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TC Scotland, said that the data that the Scottish government "didn't want anyone to see" showed that "salmon farms have been permitted to operate with breathtakingly high lice numbers for weeks or months on end".
"To date, no meaningful enforcement action, such as the ordering of culls or immediate reductions in fish-farm biomass, has been taken against serial offenders", he claimed.
One of the key findings from the published data is that the list of the farms that breached the 3 and/or 8 trigger levels included farms from all the large fish farming companies and most smaller ones.
According to S&TC, the upward trend in failure of salmon farms to control sea lice and stay below the CoGP threshold of 1 or 0.5 adult female sea lice per farmed fish continues.