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Jellyfish attack wipes out fish farm

by Ellen Hardy
22 November 2007, at 12:00am

NORTHERN IRELAND - The only salmon farm in Northern Ireland has lost its entire population of more than 100,000 fish, worth about $2 million, to a spectacular jellyfish attack.

The deadly mauve stinger

The Northern Salmon Co. Ltd. said billions of jellyfish - in a dense pack about 10 miles square and 35 feet deep - overwhelmed the fish which were being reared in two net pens about a mile off the coast of the Glens of Antrim, north of Belfast.

Managing director John Russell said the company's dozen workers tried to rescue the salmon, but their three boats struggled for hours to push through the mass of jellyfish. All the salmon were dead or dying from stings and stress by the time the boats reached the pens, he said.

"It was unprecedented, yet absolutely amazing. The sea was red with these jellyfish, and there was nothing we could do about it, absolutely nothing," said Mr Russell.

The species of jellyfish responsible for the attack was Pelagia noctiluca. Commonly known as the mauve stinger, it  is noted for its purplish nighttime glow, and if often found in swarms, or shoals.

The attack has left Northern Salmon with an uncertain future . The company sells its salmon as organic to export markets in France, Belgium, Germany and the United States, and says it now faces likely closure unless it receives emergency aid from the British government.

Ellen Hardy