wild salmon will become as rare in Scotland as the giant pandas in Edinburgh Zoo because they are being threatened by sea lice, according to magazine Country Life.
The magazine said the expansion of Scottish fish farms to meet the demand in China and elsewhere “threatens the future of the majestic wild fish”.
The Scottish Government plans to increase salmon farming production by 50 per cent by 2020, despite concerns that sea lice from fish farms are threatening the health of wild fish, including wild salmon.
The publication writes in its latest edition: “As the pesticides used by aquaculture to battle the sea lice grow ever stronger, wild salmon are exposed to infestations as their migratory routes take them through sea lochs bursting with farmed fish.
“Setting up more of these highly intensive farms is looking increasingly unsustainable as both wild and farmed fish will suffer in the attempt to meet China’s massive demand.
“If such blinkered thinking on this issue continues, we may see the wild salmon become as rare as the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo.”
At the end of last year, almost two-thirds of Scotland’s salmon farming companies publicly backed the new Aquaculture Steward Council’s “responsible farming” labelling scheme, and pledged to operate more sustainably and reduce their impacts on the environment.
Lang Banks, director of wildlife charity WWF Scotland, said the salmon farming industry in Scotland needed to focus on quality rather than quantity.
“It’s very hard to see how the rapid expansion in farmed salmon production being expected by ministers can realistically be met without the industry having to backtrack on their pledges, under the Aquaculture Stewardship Council scheme, to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said. “There is a real danger that this particular government target could drive Scotland’s salmon farmers to become less sustainable, not more.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There are a number of influences on wild salmon numbers, such as management of local fishery activity and fishing in marine environment, river water quality and acidity levels, and impacts of climate change, as well as disease and parasite impacts.
“We are already taking action to improve sea lice control on marine fish farms including measures to require all operators to enter into Farm Management Agreements.
“These set out arrangements for managing fish health and parasites, and enhanced powers of sampling.
“Implementation of the act is overseen by the ministerial group for sustainable aquaculture, involving conservationists, scientists, regulators and the industry.
“In addition, the Scottish Government has provided £500,000 of funding – to be matched by the aquaculture industry – for research which includes a study to explore any impact of sea lice from fish farming in Scotland.”