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News From Around the Fish Farms, August 2006

  • Shetland – Policing the fish farms
  • Gyrodactylus Salaris – coming to a river system near you?
  • Food Standards Agency - pouring oil on troubled waters
  • Mainstream Scotland - all lit up in Orkney
  • More from Orkney – thousands of Mainstream fish escape in Rousay Sound

Shetland – Policing the fish farms

According to the Shetland Marine News, Shetland Island Council is to consider the possibility of employing an officer to monitor compliance with licence regulations governing fish and shellfish farms. Remarkably, when the previous holder of the position retired two years ago he was not replaced and since then monitoring has been carried out ‘infrequently’.

A new compliance officer has become a priority because of changes in planning laws regulating the development and operation of fish farms; for instance, should a site not be developed within three years of approval permission to do so will be revoked. However, a move to make fish farmers pay for monitoring has been ruled out because it has been decided that it would not be possible to do so under the Zetland County Council 1974 Act.

So, until the council manage to sort out who should be employed and how he should monitor the approximately 200 aquaculture sites in Shetland, and who should pay, its unmonitored business as usual for the island’s fish farmers.

Gyrodactylus Salaris – coming to a river system near you?

Scottish parliamentarians and wild fish interests are now urging the Scottish Executive to take immediate action to prevent G.salaris from reaching Scotland and infecting wild fish. The killer disease is endemic in Norway where it has devastated salmonid populations in more than 40 Norwegian rivers. It arrived in Norway in the 1980’s when Norwegian fish farmers imported salmon infected with the disease from the Baltic.

Now that more than 80% of salmon farming in Scotland is in Norwegian control, the possibility of G.salaris being transferred to Scottish rivers is a real and present danger; particularly since the Norwegians are pressing for permission to import live fish from their Norwegian farms to their sites in Scotland. Trade in live fish from Norway is at present not allowed because Norwegian health controls do not meet EU standards. There is every indication, however, that they might soon do so.

The argument the Norwegian’s use in favour of importing live fish is based upon simple commercial sense: they can produce the smolts more cheaply in Norway than they can buy them in Scotland, in spite of the fact that there is adequate capacity in Scotland to meet their needs. Will the Scottish Executive ban the import of live fish from Norway to reduce the risk of G.Salaris arriving here? On past form, this observer at least is not holding his breath.

Food Standards Agency - pouring oil on troubled waters

As reported in the last issue (Putting the boot in - May), the SFPG wrote to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in connection with the withdrawal of batches of fish oil capsules because the fish oil used to produce the supplements contained potentially cancer-causing dioxins that were above allowable limits. Items withdrawn included high street chemists Boots own-brand products.

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, the SFPG asked, “would you please tell me if the fish used to produce the oil capsules were from either wild or farmed fish, and which species of fish was used in the process?”

Responding on 25th May, Dr David N Mortimer of the FSA Chemical Safety Division, was succinct: “I am writing to advise you that, following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held by this Agency.” So that’s all right, isn’t it?

Mainstream Scotland Limited - all lit up in Rousay Sound

Residents on Rousay and neighbouring Egilsay in the Orkney Isles have been experiencing less than peaceful nights recently: operators of a Norwegian-owned fish farm installed lights on their site at Kirk Noust in Rousay Sound that remained on 24 hours a day for 6 months during the winter and autumn months of 2005/06 (see picture of glowing Rousay fish farm in the picture gallery on the front page of The Salmon Farm Monitor.)

Complaints about light pollution and concerns for animal welfare have been lodged with Orkney Island Council. To add insult to injury, the lights were powered by a diesel generator (granted retrospective planning permission by the council) that was so loud that one resident complained that he could hear and feel the sound of the generator through his pillow at night.

Apart from the human disturbance the lights and the generator caused, a spokeswoman for the complainants alleges that the use of 24 hour lighting is obviously designed to keep the fish constantly feeding and that this is an “abhorrently cruel practice”. She continued, “If householders several miles away on land are driven mad by the noise, what can the sound be like for sound-sensitive fish trapped directly below this unrelenting drone, day and night.”

More from Orkney – thousands of Mainstream fish escape in Rousay Sound

There are two fish farms in Rousay Sound, one at Kirk Noust and the other to the east near Bay of Vady on the Island of Egilsay. It is difficult to avoid the thought that the allegations noted above about light and sound pollution, and of animal welfare concerns, could possibly be related to a recent escape of farm salmon from one or other of these farms, no matter how unlikely that possibility might be.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the number of escapees to be in the region 150,000; a not unreasonable number given previous escapes from Orcadian fish farms – up to 300,000 in one incident a few years ago. However, the response to a request under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act to the Fisheries Research Services intimated that only 34,500 fish had escaped; which number being later reduced to a figure 33,879 based upon details “from the company’s computerised management system”.

As to how the escape occurred, the FRS report that the site operators say that the fish escaped as a result of a 4m tear in the base of the net in which they were contained. The FRS also said that they were unable to name the fish farmer involved; Section 26 (a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act prohibits them from doing so. A number of farms in Rousay are operated by the Norwegian-owned company Mainstream Scotland.