Shooting & fishing: The struggles facing the fish farming industry

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It’s not looking good for fish farming, although, on the Government’s past performance, the industry has a better than average chance of getting away with it.

Not only is the industry dealing with a major outbreak of Amoebic Gill Disease (AGD), which has been suffocating thousands of tonnes of farmed salmon all across the West Highlands and the Hebrides, it is now faced with a heavyweight scientific report which says fish farm sea lice are killing wild salmon to a far greater degree than previously believed.

But back to AGD, which the industry insists, is caused by a naturally occurring parasite; naturally occurring in the same way TB, cholera and typhus are naturally occurring. They only become a serious problem in densely populated environments. So far the only treatment is disinfection with hydrogen peroxide, better known as a hair dye. Pretty desperate stuff.

Fortunately for the industry AGD is not a notifiable disease so it doesn’t have to tell the Government how many fish it has killed or which farms have it.

In the meantime, the RSPCA’s quality control organisation, Freedom Food, is asking its fish farm members to be so good as to notify the Government if they have an un-notifiable disease. Who are they kidding with their logos and fish welfare mission statements?

Much harder to hide is the international report on sea lice. It has finally nailed the lie that lice from salmon farms have a negligible effect on wild salmon and sea trout. The industry’s immediate reaction was to say the report was at odds with previous studies. The trouble with this line is that it is precisely these studies the marine biologists have been going over to reach their latest and most damning conclusion.

Fortuitously the report is in time for consideration by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee at Holyrood, which is currently trawling through the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill.

But don’t for a moment expect anything to change, even if the committee does 
recommend a tightening of controls. Remember; as soon as the bill’s proposals were published the industry attacked, declaring that new strictures on the industry in the West Highlands would return the area to an economic wasteland.

Terrified, the Government watered down the objectionable bits. For all the evidence that fish farm lice seriously affect wild salmon stocks, we can 
be assured that the bill, when finally enacted, will contain only the feeblest of constraints on the industry. The phrases “light touch on the tiller” and “self regulation” come to mind. And we all 
know where they got us.