‘Monstrous’ sea lice and jellyfish invasions blighting Scottish salmon farms

Lochs within the Highlands of Scotland are among the many most spectacular and pristine wildlife areas in Britain, attracting vacationers from all over the world. They’re additionally a manufacturing line for what have turn out to be grocery store staples: smoked and contemporary salmon.

The salmon trade says fish well being and welfare are on the coronary heart of profitable Scottish salmon farming, however a brand new investigation by Viva!, the vegan campaigning charity, highlights the parasites and jellyfish blighting intensive fish manufacturing.

Campaigners deployed cameras with underwater drones at salmon farms operated by a few of Scotland’s greatest producers. They recorded what they name “monstrous invasions” of sea lice and swarms of jellyfish.

Lex Rigby, head of investigations at Viva!, mentioned: “The intensification of fish farming as a ‘resolution’ to overfishing has created a breeding floor for illness by which salmon undergo appallingly.”

The ocean lice – Lepeophtheirus salmonis – feed on the salmons’ pores and skin and are doubtlessly deadly to the fish. They’re usually handled with licensed medicines or bodily strategies together with bathing in freshwater.

Scottish Sea Farms at Kishorn South, one of many firm’s three farms the place underwater drones revealed salmon infested by sea lice and jellyfish. {Photograph}: Viva!

Viva! filmed at salmon farms in Loch Torridon, Lochcarron and Loch Kishorn within the north-west Highlands of Scotland. The footage exhibits many salmon infested with parasitic sea lice. The farms are operated by main meals producers supplying UK supermarkets and abroad markets, with salmon now considered one of Britain’s greatest meals exports.

Footage taken at a seawater farm on Loch Torridon operated by Mowi, the world’s largest provider of farm-raised salmon, exhibits a number of salmon infested with sea lice. The farm’s personal official reported counts in 2023 of weekly common feminine grownup sea lice per fish have been between 0.03 and 5.4. Therapies for infestations are began when there may be a mean of between 0.5 and one grownup feminine lice per fish.

A fish with what looks like a wound swimming alongside other fish in murky water
A salmon at Bakkafrost farm in West Strome the place lice have been caught on movie. {Photograph}: Viva!

Filming on the Bakkafrost salmon farm at West Strome, Lochcarron, additionally confirmed fish lice infestations. The farm’s personal official reported counts in 2023 of weekly common feminine grownup sea lice per fish have been between zero and a pair of.14. Filming at three farms operated by Scottish Sea Farms at Loch Kishorn confirmed sea lice and swarms of jellyfish.

A report by the charity WildFish warned in March that the Scottish fish-farming trade was failing to include sea lice parasites on open-net farms. It discovered greater than two-thirds of lively farms (132 out of 192) breached sea lice limits within the trade’s code of fine apply on at the least one event.

The report said: “The fast growth of open-net marine salmon and rainbow trout farming in Scotland within the final 30 years has led to rising concern about parasitic sea lice infestations on these farms, and the menace these pose to the well being and survival of untamed and farmed salmon.”

The Observer reported in January how salmon deaths on fish farms in Scotland practically doubled final 12 months owing to rising ranges of illness, parasites and jellyfish bloom. Micro jellyfish, which can be linked to warming oceans, are a selected menace, blocking or stinging fish gills, resulting in loss of life.

Salmon Scotland, which represents the producers, mentioned farms have been working laborious to handle sea lice numbers. It mentioned the trade was clear concerning the challenges it confronted.

Dr Iain Berrill, head of technical at Salmon Scotland, mentioned: “The Scottish salmon sector is dedicated to our marine surroundings, and we’re consistently innovating to handle naturally occurring challenges like sea lice that have an effect on wild salmon and farm-raised salmon alike.

“Salmon farmers work laborious 12 months spherical to handle sea lice numbers utilizing know-how and innovation.”

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A fish with gaping open mouth struggles next to ropes
Lice and jellyfish were filmed at salmon farms in Kishorn Loch. Photograph: Viva!

Salmon Scotland said various factors are involved in the decline of wild salmon, such as river water quality, which it said is occurring across Europe, even in places where there is no aquaculture.

Scottish Sea Farms said the recent sea lice counts at its three Loch Kishorn farms were low, with an average of 0.18 adult females per fish. It said high levels of micro jellyfish were found in June, which threatened the fish, and they were harvested early.

Regin Jacobsen, CEO of Bakkafrost, said the company had significantly invested in new technology to combat sea lice, with two vessels in Scotland installed with large tanks for freshwater treatments. “Sea lice do not survive in freshwater, and it is very effective,” he said. “If you don’t have the right tools, the sea lice numbers can escalate. We are now ahead of the problem.”

Some within the salmon industry believe that building fish farms on land could tackle issues including disease. In May, AquaCultured Seafood unveiled proposals for the UK’s first land-based farm in Grimsby, a £75m facility with 50 tanks to rear 5,000 tonnes of salmon a year.

Animal experts, veterinarians and academics recently wrote to Gillian Martin, the Scottish government’s minister for energy and the environment, asking her to conduct an independent risk assessment of facilities based on land.

Abigail Penny, the executive director of Animal Equality UK, said onshore farms would only shift the damaging impacts of salmon farming “from sea to shore”.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Our recent Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture sets out our support for the development of an aquaculture sector that operates within environmental limits, and recognises the considerable social and economic benefits the sector delivers.”

Mowi did not respond to a request for comment.

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