Alastair Robertson: Salmon lice statistics need attention now

Picture: Donald Macleod
Picture: Donald Macleod
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BAD luck on Loch Duart Salmon, the salmon farming company which prides itself on supplying leading chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Raymond Blanc and Rick Stein.

It has been hung out to dry by the Scottish Government and Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation in their attempt to conceal just how bad the infestation of sea lice is in Scotland’s West Highland fish farms.

The lice not only eat farmed salmon alive in their cages, but they hammer migrating stocks of wild salmon and sea trout.

In their attempt to ensure no one could find out just how bad the lice infestations are on individual farms, the SSPO and Scottish Government agreed lice statistics would only be published for “regions”. In other words the number of lice would be averaged out between the best and, more worryingly, the worst.

Names were to be withheld under the odd guise of commercial confidentiality. But in spite of this ruse to ensure no individual farm could be shown to be breaching the SSPO Code of Best Practice, lice numbers are on the increase. And noticeably for Loch Duart. There are only Loch Duart farms in the Inchard-Kinkaig North region, so the lice average published for that region can relate only to Loch Duart.

In 31 out of 33 months its farms went over the industry threshold for the number of lice per fish, according to Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (STCS). The restricted data from other regions shows lice increases between 2013 and 2015 were often above the code of practice threshold.

The fish farming industry won’t believe lice are hammering wild salmon. Nor apparently does the government, in spite of evidence to the contrary from its own scientists. Otherwise it would do something.

In a letter to Dr Aileen McLeod, minister for salmon among other things, STCS has pointed out that by the government’s own admission, not one river in the salmon farming heartlands of the West Highlands and Inner Hebrides supports a healthy stock of wild salmon.

Still, there is hope yet. We have just six months until the next meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) which is due to focus on aquaculture and its effect on wild salmon.

So there is time at least to start using the Aquaculture Act which contains all the regulatory levers necessary. Unless Dr McLeod and Scotland want to look prize chumps at an international forum while waffling on about sustainability, accountability and transparency. NASCO might just see through it.