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Scottish sea lice levels “can be overcome”

Rob Fletcher
Rob Fletcher
31 October 2017, at 4:55pm

The Scottish salmon industry has insisted that tactics to combat sea lice levels are working, despite a recent press release which revealed the farms with the highest levels of the parasites in Scotland.

The press release, issued by Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) Director Andrew Graham-Stewart, said: “Many of the individual farms’ sea lice numbers, which have long been hidden within regional aggregated ‘averages’ published by the industry, are far worse than we envisaged. Sea lice numbers on farmed fish across much of the industry are of epidemic proportions.”

The criticism follows the introduction of a new sea lice regime, announced by the Scottish Government at the June 2016 inter-governmental North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO).

This set new trigger levels of 3 adult female lice per farmed salmon (at which point a “site-specific escalation plan” to reduce lice numbers is required) and 8 adult female lice per farmed salmon (at which point, enforcement action may be ordered to harvest early, reduce biomass or cull-out a farm). However, according to S&TCS this is not being adhered to.

“The Scottish Government’s flagship new policy appears to be a sham, little more than a cynical ‘widening of the goalposts’ to the industry’s advantage, a policy with no teeth,” says Graham-Stewart.

Improvements on the way

However, while Scottish salmon producers acknowledge the lice problem, they believe that it is being dealt with, by a range of innovative new techniques.

Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said: “Over the last year, the numbers of sea lice were particularly high. In some cases, it was a challenge to reduce the levels, but Scottish salmon farmers invested heavily in cleaner fish and new equipment that can remove them as well as using a range of veterinary medicines to address the issue. The situation is improving now.”

“The dramatic media headlines fail to mention that on every farm there is an action plan to continually monitor and manage sea lice levels throughout the production cycle. If, as has happened on a number of farms, the level goes above three adult female lice, the farm notifies Marine Scotland Science and explains their action plan to reduce the numbers. The farm remains in contact with the Government agency until the issue is resolved. In that way, the farm and the Government closely monitor progress and fish health and welfare are always looked after. This is part of a long-standing and extensive exchange of information with the regulators about our fish health standards.

“As any farmer knows, looking after health and welfare requires dedicated husbandry and nowadays the techniques involved have to adapt to changing environmental conditions like warmer water temperatures and exotic algal blooms. In addition, we are in the process of establishing a 10-year fish health strategy in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science to develop new farming methods to future-proof this important sector from any biological or environmental challenges which come its way.

“With the level of investment, the scientific research and dedication of hard working farmers, sea lice may remain a challenge, but one we can overcome.” 

Official inquiry due

A formal Petition, lodged in the Scottish Parliament in February 2016 by S&TC Scotland, seeking protection for wild salmonids from sea lice from Scottish salmon farms, has resulted in MSPs launching an Inquiry into the salmon farming industry in Scotland.

“Scottish Ministers need to rethink radically their approach to the salmon farming industry and to end their unconditional support for the industry in the face of this and other equally shocking environmental data now being revealed about its performance,” Guy Linley-Adams, a lawyer with S&TC, reflected. “Ministers must also stop trying to protect salmon farmers from legitimate criticism.”