THOUSANDS of salmon worth nearly £250,000 have escaped from an Argyll fish farm, raising fears that they will breed with wild fishing stocks, it has emerged.
The 16,000 fish, weighing an average of 10lbs each, escaped from the Marine Harvest farm at Carradale.
The fish escaped through a hole in the net following stormy seas and winds of up to 70mph in the early hours of June 2.
The company estimates that the escape has cost it in the region of £240,000.
It was the biggest escape from a Scottish mainland marine salmon farm since 2009 at Strone Point in Argyll when nearly 59,000 fish escaped from a farm operated by Lighthouse Caledonia.
The Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) has said that the fish are mature therefore they will migrate into important salmon rivers in the Firth of Clyde, genetically diluting wild stocks.
But Marine Harvest maintains the fish were not mature, and therefore will not attempt to migrate into local rivers, but will swim out to sea.
It said it farms with specially selected slow maturing stocks.
It is thought that the 16,000 escaped fish may exceed the number of wild adult salmon running in the rivers flowing into the Firth of Clyde.
The pen had been stocked with 24,000 fish and the weather was particularly bad on the late afternoon and night of June 1.
Nets had been checked that day.
Allan Sutherland, managing director of Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd said: “The escape happened as the result of a tear in net during the bad weather conditions.
“As the fish were immature they would have headed straight out to sea.
“When we became aware of the escape we immediately checked all the nets on the farm and notified the appropriate organisations.
“Marine Harvest has been working with the Scottish Government and partners in the industry to develop the Scottish Technical Standard for containment which aims to prevent fish escapes.
“Our aim as a company is to prevent fish escaped all together and we very much regret this incident.
“We will continue to closely monitor all the equipment on our farms to ensure that fish escapes do not happen in the future.”