The MPA process and salmon aquaculture

salmonr_thumb.jpgIn the second of her papers, Dr Sally Campbell highlights there is another consideration of consequence in Scottish inshore waters besides MPAs and the state of the Clyde; that is Salmon Aquaculture.

What has not been considered during the MPA process is the ever expanding impact of aquaculture, particularly salmon aquaculture, which is leading to increasing concern around the west of Scotland. This industrial process as practiced would not be permitted on land, unless their wastes, namely faeces, food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc were treated and did not enter any water course. So why is this activity continued in inshore waters in Scotland, its flawed economics based simply on an assumption of sufficient assimilation capacity of the surrounding waters? Whether it be biological or chemical impact.

Just taking one example, more than 16,000 Atlantic salmon escaped through a hole in a net overnight in June of 2015 at the Carradale fish farm in Kilbrannan Sound off Kintyre. The damage to the net is said to have been caused by a storm. The business support manager at the site in a typical understatement said: “It’s a substantial loss, no doubt about it. Around 16,000 fish escaped each weighing around 10lbs. (4.5kg). These were worth over £240,000”. On the opposite side of Kilbrannan Sound, just 5 km (3miles) away is Arran’s west coast, with traditional salmon and trout rivers. This farm lies nearly opposite Dougarie Point on Arran.

The company said the fish, which were not sexually mature, posed little threat to local salmon populations. The “Immature fish would tend to go out to sea. It’s unlikely they would head upstream to breed.” But it has to be asked, what happens if these farmed fish return to Kilbrannan Sound’s local rivers when they are mature? Interbreeding between wild and farmed salmon is becoming a huge issue. With increasing storms driven by climate change and storm surges, the salmon farming industry should be looking at the very least to better, double netting. Escapes are a serious problem as farmed salmon differ genetically to wild populations. In the wild, salmon are loyal to a particular river returning each year to spawn. Every river’s salmon population has adapted over thousands of years. If these escaped farmed salmon cross breed with wild populations they pose a significant threat to their gene pool.

Another example of the competition over marine resources brought about by aquaculture is the drive by one of the major salmon companies for increased production around the Clyde. This drive includes Lamlash Bay at St Molios salmon farm where a certificate of lawfulness (retrospective planning approval) was issued in June 2015, for the siting of fourteen 80m-circumference cages in association with the existing use of the site as a fish farm. This is an industrial site now finding itself located within one of the newly designated MPAs in Scotland. The Scottish government has stated that where existing fish farms apply for planning permission for extensions or apply for new CAR licences, these applications will be considered against the conservation objectives for features for which MPAs may have been designated.

Studies and visual dive inspections at sites such as Lamlash have shown that fish farms do have a gross adverse impact on the seabed, often creating a white anoxic mat. While within regulatory limits of the company’s licence, no evidence has been provided to demonstrate that toxic contaminants leaving the site do not have a wider environmental effect. An EIA has never been conducted at the site, which is concerning. The actual annual discharge figures for St Molios for just one year 2014 provide an indication of scale of contaminants.

Total copper from feed and nets 2.47 tonnes, Zinc from feed 103. kg, Nitrogen 36.6 tonnes, Phosphorus 5.06 tonnes, Total organic carbon 117.71 tonnes

North Arran from the Isle of Bute©

arranFish farms are also a known source of diseases, which can be spread to wild salmon, sea trout and are a source of sea lice infestations. In October 2011, the St Molios operation recorded mortalities in the hundreds of tonnes of biomass due to amoebic gill disease; each fish weighed about 1kg, and up to 100,000 fish may have died, although numbers have never been officially disclosed, a guesstimate is 800 – 900m tonnes of dead fish. They had to be trucked to England for incineration.

One further area for the proposed expansion of farms is around Bute so Arran is not the only Clyde island in contention.

There is a huge dilemma facing this industry which is totally at odds with conservation and restored bioproductivity and that is the chemicals onslaught as is illustrated in Loch Fyne.

Published figures show a sea lice explosion in Loch Fyne fish farms occurred during the spring of 2015. The latest Scottish fish farm industry figures show the average sea-lice numbers on the ten fish farms operated by the main production fish farmer in Loch Fyne rose to nearly 23 times the industry thresholds for adult female sea-lice parasites at the worst possible time for the migrating wild salmon and sea-trout smolts. This occurred despite the company using a total of 86 treatments at its sites in the 9 months to March 2015, including 5 co-ordinated treatments (where all farms were treated in one go), which must call into question whether these treatments can or should be relied upon. These high numbers of lice mean that wild salmon and sea trout will have faced a huge risk of lice infestation, disease and death from the millions of mobile young lice produced in these farms. But of course it is not only the top of the food chain but the unrecorded response of the entire marine ecosystem in Loch Fyne to this chemical warfare.

One has to ask, where is the Scottish government in limiting the proliferation of farms, their output and their husbandry? Where is SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency), supposedly the policing agency? In Norway such massive sea-lice infestation would result in culling of the farmed salmon to protect wild salmon and sea-trout stocks. So on the one hand we have a very encouraging advance in establishing MPAs but with still some way to go to gain full recognition whilst on the other we see unconstrained exploitation of the marine environment whether it be unsustainable fishing practices or polluting aquaculture. So the debate over healthy productive seas has to extend beyond the MPAs.

gormleyThere has been some very good news and measured improvements in the last 5 years, but much remains to be done. Complacency is not a word to countenance. In a world where short-term profit is paramount such as in the economics of aquaculture illustrated above, there needs to be recognition that ecosystems are not short term; they protect vital processes for our well being in the strategic long term. In the meantime Gormley’s figure looks expectantly over Kilbrannan Sound to the magic of Arran and its MPA !

Just as the Landmark Trust has been working for 50 years to care and restore historic buildings in decline or derelict, in ways that encourages a genuine modern, sustainable use, all of us must work together, listen to the needs (economically, socially, environmentally) of other groups and have a strategic very long term aim to protect our ecosystems for the future.

This is a long haul!

Dr Sally Campbell is particularly interested in the sustainability of complex ecosystems and discusses why a healthy seabed is vital for the long term productivity of the marine environment.

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