A call is being made for the Scottish Government to get tough on fish farms after an “explosion” of sea lice levels in two Highland lochs.
The Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) S&TA(S) wants the Scottish Government to impose a cull on badly infected farms, as they do in Norway.
The latest Scottish fish farm industry figures for lice in salmon farms show that average numbers on the 10 farms operated by The Scottish Salmon Company in Loch Fyne rose to nearly 23 times the industry thresholds for adult female sea lice parasites.
The S&TA(S) said this “explosion” happened at the worst possible time for the emigrating wild salmon and sea-trout smolts.
And it occurred despite the company using 86 treatments at its sites in the nine months to March 2015.
Over the same period, the sea lice figures for Loch Torridon show that average numbers aggregated for one farm operated by Marine Harvest at Torridon and the three farms operated by The Scottish Salmon Company at Kenmore, Aird and Sgeir Dughall also rose to nearly 21 times above the industry thresholds for adult female sea-lice parasites, despite 35 treatments.
Sea-lice infestation can cause disease and death to wild fish stocks.
On Loch Fyne, The Scottish Salmon Company blamed “unusual environmental conditions in the latter months of 2014 with unseasonal warm water temperatures” which “resulted in increased levels of sea lice generally, including also in the Loch Fyne area.”
The S&TA(S) believes the Scottish Government should have ordered a complete cull of all the farmed salmon in these farms.
The Scottish Government has the legal powers under section 6 of the Aquaculture Act 2007 to issue “cull orders” but have never used them to order a cull of heavily-liced farmed fish.
Andrew Graham-Stewart of S&TA(S), said: “What we simply cannot afford now is fish farms like those in Loch Fyne or Loch Torridon pouring millions of mobile young lice into the paths of migrating juvenile salmon and sea-trout.”
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA(S) Aquaculture Campaign, said: “The statutory powers to control on-farm sea lice numbers to protect juvenile wild fish from lethal infestations exist – they must now be used. Its time for the minister to tell the inspectors to get tough.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government and the fish farming industry continue to invest in research into improving sea lice management. The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) has identified improved sea lice control as a key priority and has recently announced £4.3million funding for two projects on the use of cleaner fish for biological control of sea lice to enhance the environmental sustainability of the industry.”