Salmon farming expansion threatened by Euro challenge
February 22 2011 Lewis Smith
A deal to open the Chinese market up to Scottish salmon farmers could be strangled by demands for better protection for wild fish.
The accord signed by the Scottish government is intended to allow farmed salmon to be exported to China and, suggested First Minister Alex Salmond, could lead to production doubling.
But a complaint to the European Commission (EC) that the United Kingdom has failed in its obligation to protect wild salmon could lead to fish farms being subjected to stringent new rules that would limit production.
If the EC upholds the complaint the UK will be required to designate parts of the west of Scotland as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and introduce greater protection for wild salmon from sea lice.
Scotland has less than 12 per cent of the SACs in Europe where wild Atlantic salmon are found yet it plays host to more than 50 per cent of the spawning stock.
The growth of the fish farm industry is believed by many anglers and conservationists to be a major threat to wild fish. In particular, a string of scientific studies have identified fish farms as a prime source of sea lice that can kill or cripple wild salmon.
The proximity of farmed fish to natural migration routes means the wild juvenile salmon – smolt - can be exposed to much higher concentrations of sea lice, dramatically increasing their chances of being found by the parasites as they head out to sea. Salmon can cope well with just one louse but five seriously reduces their strength and 10 are held to be fatal.
The complaint to the EC was made by environmental lawyer Guy Linley-Adams on behalf of Ewan and Jenny Scobie, of the Rhidorroch Estate, Ullapool, who want the Ullapool River to be classified as an SAC.
“If we are successful the Commission will require the government to designate more areas of special conservation, especially in Ullapool, which would affect lots of fish farms,” he said.
Mr Linley-Adams said that the creation of more SACs protecting rivers and lochs in the West of Scotland will mean many fish farms will find their licences will have to be tightened or perhaps even revoked in order to comply with European law.
He added: “The lack of SACs in the west coast of Scotland for Atlantic salmon is an extraordinary gap. We have just two, the rest are in the east. We have a huge hole in the protection of wild salmon.”
The Salmon & Trout Association, which represents anglers, has already warned that boosted farmed salmon production could “spell further disaster for Scotland's iconic and endangered West Highland wild salmon and sea trout stocks”.
Paul Knight, chief executive of the Association, said problems caused to wild fish by aquaculture “include the transfer of deadly parasitic sea lice between farmed and wild fish, and the dilution of the genetic integrity of our native fish stocks through their interbreeding with farm escapees”.
The complaint lodged with the EC, which is likely to take months if not years to be decided, demands the creation of “a new tranche of SACs to be designated for Atlantic salmon on the west coast of Scotland” and for cages used to hold farmed salmon to be placed further away from migration routes.
A spokesman for the Scottish government said measures to improve the control of sea lice are being developed to ensure wild salmon remain healthy while fish farms continue production.
He added: “We have taken considerable steps to protect our iconic wild salmon, with extensive investment to support the conservation of the species. Salmon stocks have stabilised following declines going back 50 years – well before fish farming became established in Scotland. Similar declines have been detected on both sides of the North Atlantic.
“As many of Scotland's largest salmon rivers drain into the North Sea, a presumption against marine aquaculture development on the east and north coasts has been in place since 1999. Some 80 per cent of rod and line caught salmon is caught in his area.
“Further to this, there are four Special Areas of Conservation in the West of Scotland that give wild salmon extra protection. The Scottish Government is fully compliant with EU requirements for the designation of SACs.”
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