AN INVASION of tiny jellyfish in the Western Isles has killed 300,000 young salmon worth around £1 million at a fish farm.
The “mauve stinger” jellyfish is the size of a gooseberry and small enough to get inside salmon cages.
A swarm of the invaders caused devastation at a North Uist farm operated by the Loch Duart salmon company, which supplies major UK supermarkets and restaurants including Gordon Ramsay’s in London.
Bad weather that followed the incident prevented the fish from recovering from their injuries, causing the deaths of around half the stocks at Loch Maddy.
Managing director Nick Joy said staff had been looking forward to a productive year when he was scheduled to visit the remote site on 21 November.
However, he said: “On getting to the pens, it was clear that a serious event had occurred. The fish looked very distressed and were shoaling poorly and slowly.
“It was also clear some had died, though at this stage not a significant number. My immediate view was that, though the fish had been sorely tired, the majority of them would survive as long as the weather gave them some peace to rest.”
He added: “We have seen these jellyfish before but not in such large numbers and, in each case, though the fish have been disturbed, they have survived the encounter.”
Extreme weather which hit the Western Isles in late November caused further damage to Loch Duart’s stocks.
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Mr Joy said: “The poor fish unable to swim well were trapped against the net and a very significant number died. We have now removed almost all of the dead fish and only about half remain.
“Salmon farming is a hard, dangerous job.”
The mauve stinger has brown stinging filaments attached and they shocked the salmon after passing through the nets.
“It is lucky that the loss represents our excess numbers, so our survival is not in jeopardy,” said Mr Joy.
Loch Duart has recently reported turnover of £23.98m, up 31.18 per cent year-on-year, with an operating profit of £1.27m, compared to a loss of £6.25m the previous year
The company website states: “We are proud that consumers at retail and in restaurants are paying a premium price for product of the highest quality.
“Loch Duart salmon is served at Gordon Ramsay restaurants and at many other fine establishments in the UK and, increasingly, worldwide, including The Wolseley, Galvin Brasserie de luxe, Feng Sushi and Moshi Moshi in London.”
In 2007, the stinging jellyfish swamped salmon cages off Northern Ireland before later appearing in swarms around the coast of the Highlands. Billions of the creatures covered an area of up to ten square miles off the County Antrim coast.
In October last year, nearly half the salmon at a sea farm in County Mayo in Ireland were wiped out when 20,000 fish were killed in a jellyfish attack.
In 2002, thousands of
solmaris jellyfish killed one million salmon at fish farms in the Western Isles. Fish valued at around £3m were destroyed in sea lochs at Leurbost, Gravir and Loch Erisort off Lewis.
In the recent Highlands and Islands Food and Drinks Awards, Loch Duart won the export award because of the strength of its business in Dubai and the Middle East.
Producing 5,000 tonnes a year, it employs about 100 people in the Hebrides and Sutherland.
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