Thousands of farmed trout have escaped into a popular freshwater fishing loch in Argyll.
Loch Awe is famous for its wild brown trout, having broken the British rod-caught record four times over the last decade. It is also popular with anglers fishing for pike. An estimated 5,400 fish have escaped into the loch.
Fish farming company Dawnfresh owns the trout farm in Loch Awe, as well as several in neighbouring Loch Etive.
Alison Hutchins, farming director, Dawnfresh, said: “Last Thursday afternoon, February 1, as part of their weekly check of nets the site team at our fresh water trout farm at Braevallich on Loch Awe found a hole along the seam in a new net which had been installed in November 2017.
“The team immediately fixed the problem and notified Marine Scotland, before inspecting all of the other nets on the farm, finding no further problems.
“Using specialised equipment to count the fish in the net, regrettably we estimate that 5400 fish have escaped in to the loch. These fish are all bred as Triploid’s so are sterile and, thus, unable to breed. The local Fisheries Board have also been alerted.
“We would usually expect a net such as this to last between five and seven years so, as this one was only installed in November 2017, the manufacturers have already been on site to remove the net to determine if it might have had a fault of some kind, as other likely causes such as predators are highly unlikely at this site.”
Keith Macmillan, speaking on behalf of environmental pressure group Friends of Loch Etive (FoLE) said: “Triploid or not, non-native farmed rainbow trout, if they escape, compete for food with native salmon and sea trout in Loch Etive and predate upon juvenile wild salmon.
“With the salmon run on the River Awe being the lowest ever recorded in 2017, the wild stocks can ill afford another Dawnfresh escape.
“This is just another in the very long line of escapes from rainbow trout farms on Loch Awe and Loch Etive run by Dawnfresh.”