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100,000 Salmon Escape

SCOTLAND, UK = 100,000 salmon smolts from a Lochaber freshwater salmon farm have escaped during a storm.

The juvenile Atlantic smolts, each weighing 70 grams, escaped through a hole in a net at a Marine Harvest fish farm in Loch Lochy, near Spean Bridge, at the end of February.

The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) and the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) told Lachaber News that the escape comes on the back of a year that had seen the highest number of escapes in the past five years.

Andrew Wallace, managing director of ASFB and RAFTS, said: "This latest escape suggests that the industry's appalling record on containment is continuing.

"It has occurred at a new so-called 'state of the art' farm which, despite industry fanfare, has proved incapable of withstanding the impact of moderate winds - the kind that are hardly uncommon in the west Highlands.

"It makes a mockery of Marine Harvest's mission statement to 'minimise the environmental impact of its activities and operate in harmony with the environment'."

Mr Wallace added: "We keep on hearing about the high standards the industry purports to work to but elementary problems such as containment remain unresolved.

"We remain highly sceptical that the regulatory framework for salmon farming and the industry's much-trumpeted Code of Good Practice are anywhere near adequate to properly manage an industry that only gets away with this sort of incompetence because the problems are out of sight and out of mind."

Mr Wallace said relocation of freshwater salmon smolts "must now become a reality".

"They should either be located in lochs which are not part of wild salmon rivers or, ideally, in self-contained land-based units, as is practised in other countries.

"It is inexcusable that they are placed within important wild salmon river systems such as the Lochy."

Jon Gibb, clerk to the Lochaber District Salmon Fishery Board, said escaped farmed salmon pose a major risk to the genetic integrity and survival of wild salmon populations.

He added: "Just a few miles away there are huge non-migratory fish waterbodies such as Loch Laggan that could easily accommodate many of these smolt farms.

"Yet they continue to proliferate in pristine salmon and sea trout lochs where they are proven to have a detrimental impact.

"My worry is that indigenous stocks such as the famous Lochy salmon run could be driven into extinction before someone has the sense to put a stop to this madness.

"With yet another disastrous escape like this we are rapidly getting closer to that day."

This week, Gideon Pringle, freshwater production manger for Marine Harvest, told the Lochaber News: "We take any fish escape extremely seriously and consequently very much regret the loss of these fish at our farm in Loch Lochy.

"The escape happened during the bad weather and very unfortunately a tear in a net wasn't picked up initially. This was down to carrying out the inspection in bad weather, making it difficult to fully inspect the nets.

"An investigation will be carried out and we will work closely with Marine Scotland fish health inspectors on this serious matter. We will also co-operate fully with wild fisheries interests to re-capture any fish that we can.

"As soon as possible we will count the fish in the pen to establish the actual loss."

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