No New SEPA Aquaculture Sector Plan

SEPA – Aquaculture Sector Plan

As a result of new research methods SEPA can monitor, things, better, so they have produced a plan

In a recent article I suggested that announcements concerning monitoring measures released by SEPA might give them some “teeth” in the battle to counter the impact of fish farming on Atlantic salmon. For years the authorities have been in denial that the rapid decline in west coast migratory fish numbers is linked to the rapid growth of fish farming over the same time period.

Is this a thing of the past(one ready for release, is it a thing of the past?)

I have chewed over the extract of the report and a briefing on the research on which the new measures have been based. In brief, the research found that the further you get away from fish farms the less waste material there is. Researchers also found, using more sensitive monitoring and analytical methods, that the levels of the sea lice pesticide, Slice, are much higher and more wide spread than had been previously found. The overall effect is that crustaceans and other benthic creatures are suffering. I am so glad they are about to do something for the long-suffering shrimps.

Now my understanding of the problem, among many issues encountered by migratory fish, is sea lice infestations are smothering and sucking to death our smolts, sea trout and grilse because they hang about inshore longer than mature salmon. Now SEPA are looking into controlling the use of Slice in fish farms for the sake of the shrimps. Would it be naïve to ask that they focus more on the devastating effects of sea lice on wild salmon populations, focus on the issue not sources of extended research funding!

Fish farming is big business, they recon it’s worth £2 billion to the economy of Scotland, it also employs a lot of folk who would otherwise have been employed in hotels, restaurants, pubs, shops, as ghillies and boatmen and women, teaching their kids, if salmon and sea trout fishing was as what it was in 1960s and early 70s. Luckily, salmon farming cropped up just in time to save them all from unemployment, as the fisheries declined and angling related business failed.

Research isn’t a bad thing. Scientists are looking for worms that will chomp up wastes and shellfish that will savoir the flavour of sea lice. I know that some fish farms are using wrasse as cleaner fish very effectively, but they are trapping wild fish to meet demand so in time it is likely that the seas near and far from fish farms will be devoid of wrasse with unseen environmental outcomes. Maybe we will have infestations of killer barnacles sinking small boats and lilos. Off course they could also set up wrasse farms.

Not a squeak about the effect on wild salmon populations of the vast numbers of farm escapees either. These escapees come from a limited gene pool. When interbreeding with wild fish they weaken the genetic integrity of the wild salmon and sea trout population. Off course taking a cynically optimistic stance, if it wasn’t for the escapees there might be not be any salmon runs on some the West Coast rivers.

What about the horrible outbreaks of disease on some farms which easily infect wild stocks killing passing wild salmon with impunity. If this happens on farms with veterinary care on hand, what hope do wild stocks have?

Smoke and mirrors are what we get from those in authority, those charged with guardianship. Empty words and continuing research that takes years to reach inconclusive results, leaving important questions unanswered, cutting aquaculture more and more slack for profit while avoiding what is obvious to the angling community, sea lice have destroyed west coast fisheries and many generational communities.

The report also states that in future as a result of “new measures” fish farms may be allowed to get bigger on condition that they move further out to sea or build self-contained units. How long will this take? In the mean time aquaculture can carry on with their profitable old ways while SEPA polishes their new analytical technique monitoring the health of shrimps.

On a positive note I recently saw a TV programme featuring a fish farm complex in Norway which was land based. Water was filtered, waste removed and water sterilised without the use of chemicals. The fish were healthy, no lice and disease free. The company leading the development of this system, NIRI, have found that for every tonne of fish produced 2 tonnes of waste result, which under traditional methods, goes as into the environment as pollutants. Using Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) i.e. onshore farming systems, this waste can be upcycled profitably to use as fertiliser, food to grow algae producing biogas and biofuel or even to produce fuel to generate electricity. As a spin off there would not be mountains of fish waste in the inshore waters under fish farms negating the need for crap chewing worms.

Lest we forget, the life cycle of salmon consists of 3 cycles, freshwater, marine and freshwater. The first freshwater stage sees salmon eggs hatching in freshwater where they grow to parr and then smolt before running down stream to the sea. In order to produce stock for the marine phase the aquaculture industry has to raise fish to the smolt stage. These fish, small though they be, are raised in freshwater. Many Scottish lochs are blighted by cages full of immature salmon producing vast quantities of waste in fresh water where the benifical effects of tidal action are not available to disperse the vast tonnage of fish defication.

162,817 tonnes of mature salmon were produced in Scotland in 2016. That equates to 325,643 tones of vile pollution entering our seas and lochs untreated. That is criminal.

£800,000,000 is not to be sneezed at by a wee nation like Scotland, but these are not Victorian time when all waste was dumped carlessly for the sake of profit. The Scottish Government does have Green credentials, or at least 6 reasons to be Greenish. So proud of their environmental record they should be driving RAS as the norm to keep Scotland a leading player in aquaculture. Maintaining and expanding aquaculture related jobs while ending the devastation of migratory fish stocks. This policy could further establish angling as a significant employer and contributor to rural communities significantly increasing the current £80 million GAV from angling.

News report are that the former SEPA Chief Officer for Compliance has resigned from the £80k position overseeing the fish farming industry. Now the new Director of Sustainability for the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation it is hoped that the knowledge gained from fighting " the good fight” for SEPA will be directed towards guiding aquaculture companies to RAS and other less devastating farming methods.

It is also reported that environmentalist groups and campaigners are accusing SEPA of having “no bark or bite”, they may have a point for I fear that those teeth I thought they had been given are false and will remain steeping in Steradent to keep them shiny white.

Let me leave you with this from the recent SEPA report:

“SEPA’s draft Finfish Aquaculture Sector Plan is ambitious in its aspirations for an industry where in the future:

  • The Scottish finfish aquaculture sector recognises that protecting the environment is fundamental to its success and is foremost in all its plans and operations.
  • The sector is a world-leading innovator of ways to minimise the environmental footprint of food production and supply.
  • The sector has a strong and positive relationship with neighbouring users of the environment and the communities in which it operates.  It is valued nationally for its contribution to achieving global food security.” See Footnote 1

Gamekeeper or poachers, you decide? I’ve heard these words for 40 years, and after all the research and fine words where we are today, categorising our salmon fisheries. 47 Category 1 fisheries in Scotland out of total of 223 (yes there are other factors contibuting to this outcome but let us not beat about the bush, aquaculture is a major player)

Still, I am happy for SEPA, they have a fab new analytical technique for monitoring fish crap and pesticides. Soon we will hear about myriads healthy of shrimps swarming around off shore fish farms, at least that’s something for all the escapee salmon to eat.


Footnote 1
For the full SEPA report go to: