River Lochy salmon

The River Lochy system which produced this year's Malloch Trophy winner (pictured) hosts some of the highest densities of salmon farms in Scotland, says the ASFB

SCOTTISH aquaculture interests today apologised for the Loch Lochy smolt escape and pledged to work with Government fish health inspectors to investigate the causes and improve staff training.

Marine Harvest, owner of the Lochy farm also gave an undertaking that it would “co-operate fully with wild fisheries interests to re-capture any fish” it could. Gideon Pringle, Freshwater Production Manager for the Norwegian-owned multinational, said:

“We take any fish escape extremely seriously and consequently very much regret the loss of these fish at our farm in Loch Lochy. The escape happened during the bad weather at the end of last week and very unfortunately a tear in a net wasn’t picked up initially.

“This was down to carrying out the inspection in bad weather making it difficult to fully inspect the nets.”

The company, the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon with operations in 18 countries, said an investigation would be carried out, working closely with Marine Scotland Fish Health Inspectors “on this serious matter.”

An unknown number of juvenile smolts from a cage containing up to 100,000 escaped into the loch, part of the Caledonian Canal system, north of Fort William.

Pringle said: As soon as possible we will count the fish in the pen to establish the actual loss.”

The escape prompted the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB), the umbrella body responsible for the preservation of wild salmon interests to call last week for major retailers like Tesco to take action against “incompetent” producers who fail to prevent accidental releases of farmed fish.

The ASFB says the main impacts of such escapes are:

  • Conversion of part of wild production to hybrids, which have lower survival, thus reducing population fitness.
  • Reduction of wild parr survival and smolt production due to competition, thus reducing overall fitness.
  • Introduction of diseases and parasites reducing wild survival and reducing effective population size and fitness.
  • Changes in extent of male parr maturity, smolt age, age of maturity, run-timing, and other life history characteristics.
  • Homogenisation of genetic differences among populations.
  • Reduction in within-population genetic variability.

It says the effects are cumulative over generations due to repeated escapes.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), the main trade body, said today in a statement:

“Fish losses from farms are always disappointing, presenting financial loss and concerns amongst wild fish interests. Between 2006 and 2008 the salmon farming industry showed a reduction year-on-year in the number of incidents. However, 2009 was marred towards the end of the year by two significant losses.”

A spokesman said: “We regret that there has been an incident this year. The industry is committed to improving the record and will introduce a series of training workshops soon covering issues such as the management of predators, suitability of equipment and containment best practice.”

He added that “independent research by experts in veterinary medicine and engineering indicates that a move to closed containment on-shore is not a viable option at this time for fish health and environmental reasons. There are implications for fish welfare at the high stocking densities required in such tanks and the very high energy costs to keep such tanks operational are prohibitive.”

A response from the Scottish Government, which chairs the Tripartite Working Group (TWB) comprising aquaculture industry, environmental and angling interests, set up in 1999 to forge “trust and consensus” between members, is awaited.