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'Northern Climes, April 2005'

Fish farm sea lice kill wild fish. The only people who refuse to accept this fact is the industry itself and those who protect the filthy business of fish farming from public scrutiny: Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell, his government cronies and their team of compliant, industry-friendly fisheries scientists.

A study published on 30th March in the prestigious UK scientific journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that the transfer of parasitic sea lice from salmon farms to wild fish populations is much larger and more extensive than previously believed. Read the details at the following links:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4391711.stm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1447801,00.html
http://www.macleans.ca/topstories/news/shownews.jsp?content=n032937A

The study was carried out by scientists from the Canadian Universities of Victoria and Alberta. They followed the progress [past salmon farms] of more than 5,500 young wild pink and chum salmon over 60 km of their migration route. Lead scientist, Martin Krkosek said: “Sea lice production from the salmon farm was 30,000 times higher than natural. These lice then spread out around the farm. Infection of wild juvenile salmon was 73 times higher than ambient levels and exceeded ambient levels for 30 kilometres of the wild migration route.”

Tim Redford, Guardian science correspondent reported: “The [research] team followed baby pink and chum salmon, 3cm long and some weighing only half a gram, on their journey to the sea. They caught them every one to two and a half miles, looked for parasites, and returned them to the water.

“The fish had to pass through a long, narrow fjord, packed with anchored cages of captive salmon. The team found almost no sea lice on the fish before the farms, but heavy infestations as they approached it. The researchers then found a second danger. The outward bound school of wild juveniles became a moving cloud of contagion. Sea lice larvae matured on the young salmon, to produce up to 800 eggs each.”

Andrew Dobson, an epidemiologist from Princeton University who researches infectious diseases in wildlife commented: “We’re seeing similar effects in Scotland, Ireland and Norway. In each case, area parasite amplification on fish farms seems to increase disease levels in the local fish community. However, previous studies have not shown nor quantified the direct transmission. This study captures the chain of events.”

Fisheries biologist Ransom Myers of the University of Dalhousie in Halifax, Nova Scotia said: “This study goes far beyond a theoretical model. They tested the model in the real world, using an enormous data set, and saw the patterns. It is a very thorough analysis.”

So how will the SE and the industry respond to the Proceedings of the Royal Society report? Will they agree to act now, before it is too late, to protect Scotland’s remaining West Highland and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout from the impact of fish farm sea lice? All I can advise is, don’t hold your breath.

For more than a decade, now, this column has been calling for the removal of fish farm cages from the migratory routes of wild salmonids. You will find an archive of the most recent Rod McGill columns, back to April 1992, on www.salmonfarmmonitor.org

Read July 2002, when the Scottish Executive (SE) refused permission for Dr Andy Walker – a sea lice expert – to attend a public meeting in Gairloch that would discuss the matter; October 2002, when Brian Simpson of Scottish Quality Salmon was caught on BBC Radio Scotland admitting that fish farming had been confined to the west coast, to protect east coast rivers (Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey) from fish farm damage.

And the April 2003 edition where Professor Neil Frazer of the School of Ocean and Earth Science in Honolulu exposed the duplicity of industry and executive ‘excuses’ for doing nothing to address the sea lice problem; November 2003, when SE official Paul Shave said: “Farm fish sea lice are not driving wild fish to extinction for the simple reason that there are very few sea lice on Scottish farms.”

And this flummery from Angela Wiseman of the SE Environmental Protection Unit, published in Northern Climes in March 2004: “Declines in sea trout stocks, in particular, have been evident since 1952 when catch statistics began to be collected on an annual basis. These declines occurred prior to the advent of fish farming and are evident in areas where no fish farming has taken place, for example, on the east coast as well as the west coast”

I guess that the SE and the industry will trot out the same old farcical, bedraggled rubbish; more research is needed; they have seen no definitive evidence to prove the link; you can’t compare the alleged impact of sea lice on Pacific salmon with Atlantic salmon; the Canadian coastline is completely different to the Scottish coastline, therefore the report has no relevance to the situation in Scotland.

Then, of course, we will be told all about the wonderful work of the SE’s Tripartite Working Group – beavering away over steaming cups of tea and government biscuits, spawning endless subcommittees, doing, essentially, nothing other than talk. And the West Coast Fisheries Trusts, most of which are controlled by fish farmers and by lairds who have a financial interest in fish farming.

Finally, Area Management Agreements, another bunch of pretty meaningless talking shops. They are also carefully controlled by the fish farmers and by the West Highland lairds who profit from leasing land-based sites to the industry. The industry’s latest ‘bribe’ for cooperation from fishery owners is to promise to help them ‘restock’ systems that have, through the impact of fish farms, lost their wild populations. How sick can you get? To which the fish farmers and the Scottish Executive will no doubt reply, “How sick do you want it?”

Rod McGill