According to Friends of Loch Etive (FoLE), the escape came to light when non-native farmed rainbow trout started being caught by anglers in the River Awe and by fisheries scientists during sampling of wild sea trout in Airds Bay, Loch Etive. FoLE says that the latest estimate is that "at least 2,500 fish have escaped and that figure is rising."
According to FoLE, a local resident of Airds Bay said: “You could see huge shoals of rainbow trout in the River Awe. Three of us caught around 40 in just a few hours and could have caught far more but stopped at 3pm. There were many others fishing who were catching similar numbers.”
However a spokesperson for Dawnfresh told The Fish Site that: "The number [2,500] has been made up. We don't yet know the exact number but claims that there are 'shoals' of our trout in the loch are wide of the mark. We will be sending in a wellboat tomorrow [26 June] to count the fish in the cages, so we'll be able to give an exact figure then".
FoLE points out that non-native farmed rainbow trout, if they escape, can compete for food with native salmon and sea trout in Loch Etive and predate upon juvenile wild fish. Marine Scotland Science says that rainbow trout can pose a threat to wild fish through this direct competition for resources and also through the transfer of disease. Escapes also cause great disruption to wild salmon and sea trout fishing on the River Awe.
According to FoLE: “Dawnfresh’s Loch Awe and Loch Etive farms have a poor record of losing non-native farmed rainbow trout from their cages. There have been about 30,000 reported rainbow trout escapes into Loch Awe and Loch Etive since the start of 2008, the year Dawnfresh bought the farms.”
FoLE has called on Scottish Ministers to start the process to relocate fish farms out of Loch Etive, as MSPs recommended in the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s recent report into fish farming in Scotland, which stated 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”.
FoLE has written to Marine Scotland, asking that they use their position as regulator of the industry to ensure consideration is given urgently to relocation of the Etive farms.