33,000 Fish Escape into Loch Etive and the RiverAwe

Loch Etive and the River Awe system faces environmental disaster as yet another truely massive escape of rainbow trout from Dawn Fresh Fish farms is disclosed

Escapee rainbows caught on loch Awe

Photo by Ian Donald

Lochaber Salmon Fisheries Board estimate that 33,000 rainbow trout up to 3lb plus have escaped from the Dawn Fresh fish farm in Loch Etive with thousands running into the river Awe and ultimately to Loch Awe. Local anglers report giving up after reaching 40 fish in a few hours. Mostly 1 to 3lbs but fish to 10lbs have been reported.

While these fish are probably triploid i.e. they cannot reproduce, they can live for many years if food sources survive. They are in such numbers that they could wipe out future generations of native wild fish.

In a system finely balanced to support a finite population of fish this release of 33,000 ravenous fish will undoubtedly see fry, smolt, small fish and later in the year, spawn devoured. The biomass of natural food stuff in the Awe system is insufficient to support such a population explosion. The future for wild in fish in the catchment looks bleak.

Dawn Fresh took over fish farming on Loch Etive in 2008 and since then it is alleged that an estimated 63,000 fish have escaped into this environmentally sensitive area demonstrating serial incompetence. Locally they are considered to be "very poor neighbours" by Friends of Loch Etive and the local community has "lost patience" with Dawn Fresh. This matter must be escalated to the highest level in the Scottish Government and dealt with severely if confirmed.

Google SatelliteScreen Shot L Etive

The escapes came to light when anglers started to report catching more and more rainbow trout on the river Awe, Loch Awe and Loch Etive. On the 14th of June fisheries researchers caught a number of rainbow trout when sampling sea trout populations. Alerted by this, on the 15th of June Dawn Fresh used an ROV to examine the cage and found a hole which was repaired. On the 26th of June a count revealled that a little over 33,000 fish had escaped. Marine Scotland came on the 27th of June to investigate. The damage was done by Dawn Fresh staff when they were upgrading bridles from nylon to chains.

At the time of writing this piece 20 days have elapsed which means these fish will be well distributed throughout the system. Loch Awe is a prized wild brown trout fishery and holds the British Record for a fish of 31lbs 2ozs. The river Awe is a Category 3 salmon fishery struggling to recover it's once great reputation as a top river.

Dawn Fresh are also in the process of making an application to open fish farms in the Firth of Clyde around Cumbrae, Bute and Ardentinny. They are facing stiff resistance from AFF, Against Fish Farms in the Firth of Clyde, see Article 9 on Spinfish Online Magazine News. This recent escape must be taken seriously and result in this application being rejected as the Firth of Clyde is undoubtedly an environmentally sensative area, and should not be, as some allege, the get out of Etive plan.

This is not being NIBY, it is recognised that aquaculture is a significant contributer to the Scottish economy but surely the days of environmental destruction for the sake of profit are "in the past and in the past they must remain".

Recommendation 53 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee 2018 report states:

However, the Committee considers that there should be immediate dialogue with the industry to identify scope for moving existing poorly sited farms. It recommends that this should be led by Marine Scotland and encouraged with appropriate incentives for operators, such as giving favourable consideration towards allowing increased capacity at replacement sites that are known not to be environmentally sensitive. The Committee considers it to be important, however, that there is no deviation from due process in terms of granting approval for replacement sites."

The above should read "should take action to remove existing poorly sited farms". The recommendation continues to allow aquaculture to move at their leisure. Marine Scotland and SEPA did not cover themselves in glory in the recent Panorama episode on fish farming.

It is obvious that Loch Etive was never the right place for a fish farm from an environmental impact point of view. It was selected for it's powerful tidal flow and enclosed, safe location which is ideal for cost saving fish farming operations. We now know the error in allowing fish farms to be sited in places like Loch Etive, it is time for action. Yes, continue with research but we need assertive action now!

Footnote 1: Recommendation 53, Rural Affairs and Connectivity Committee Salmon Farming in Scotland 9th Report 2018


9th Report 2018 Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee, Salmon Farming in Scotland