River workers have urged Scottish Government to protect iconic wild salmon by refusing permission for new Scottish fish farms in known wild salmon migration routes.
Members of the SGA (Scottish Gamekeepers Association) Fishing Group are deeply concerned at the impact sea lice outbreaks from open net farms can have on wild salmon. Now they want government to act with urgency on two recommendations from the Rural Economy Committee’s inquiry into Scottish Aquaculture.
Cross-party MSPs recommended a ‘precautionary approach’ be taken to new fish farm applications, recognising potential impacts aquaculture operations can have on wild salmon. As part of a package of 65 recommendations they also advocated relocating existing sites which have been proven to present problems to the marine environment and productivity.
Keeping farms away from known wild salmon migration routes is practiced in Norway. In British Columbia, several large fish farms are to be closed over the next two years to prevent negative interactions between farmed and wild salmon. High sea lice burdens can cause disease and mortality when wild fish pass the vicinity of pens and moving farms further offshore to areas of higher water flows can lead to improvement.
The SGA Fishing Group eventually wants to see fish farming operations moved to closed containment facilities onshore but feels better siting now would be a start. “The SGA Fishing Group is not opposed to sustainable fish farming. It is a considerable employer in the highlands and we value lifeline jobs in remote areas.
“There is an opportunity, though, to take steps to address some of the issues between wild fish and farmed,” said SGA Fishing group member, Iain Semple.
“Careful siting of new farms and re-siting the problem ones quickly will not cure everything but these moves would be a step in the right direction. Wild fish and the fisheries that depend on them in the west have suffered and we need to tackle the issues if progress is to be made.
“Scottish Government have heard evidence, in reports from the ECCLR and REC Committees. They can steer the process for the benefit of everyone.”
As part of its review, the REC Committee asked Scottish Government to produce mapping and guidance for local authorities, so planners could decide on suitable and unsuitable sites. Poor siting close to river estuaries and in sea lochs with poor tidal water exchange have been blamed for sea lice concentrations and accumulations of medicines and faeces from farms.
Wild fisheries in the west feel that fish farm expansion has been one of the key factors in the collapse of some local salmon stocks, through lice and disease. There have also been a number of high profile escape incidents, with fears over interbreeding. Wild fisheries account for 4300 FTE jobs and £80m in GVA to Scotland, according to Marine Scotland, and there is concern for ghillie jobs in the wake of severe falls in catches nationwide.
Many rivers are now subject to conservation orders such as mandatory catch-and-release, with Atlantic salmon facing pressures in the marine and coastal environment.
“Wild salmon are iconic, so are our rivers. People come here for the experience of fishing famous rivers, for our environment and the expertise of our river workers. Like fish farms, communities rely heavily on jobs and wider benefits.