Salmon Farming

Salmon Farm – Image Alan Wells

There remain a number of significant concerns with regard to the sustainability of the salmon aquaculture industry in Scotland, including the release of chemicals used as sea lice treatments, benthic impacts due to organic enrichment from waste food and faeces and the sustainability of food sources. However, the most significant concerns for wild fish interests are the potential negative effects of sea lice and escapes. There is a large body of peer-reviewed scientific literature relating to the effects of sea lice and escapes on wild fish Aquaculture and we do not intend to reproduce the evidence here, but a number of reviews have been completed in recent years including specific ICES advice to NASCO. In addition, Marine Scotland Science have summarised the information relating to impacts of salmon lice from fish farms on wild Scottish sea trout and salmon.

The Scottish Government and the salmon farming industry have ambitious targets for growth of the industry. However, we believe that a successful and sustainable salmon aquaculture industry should be defined as:

  • An industry that operates alongside wild salmon and sea trout populations and other species, without negatively impacting them.
  • An industry that has negligible environmental impact through pollution, degradation of habitats or disease/parasite transfer.
  • An industry that inspires confidence and loyalty by communicating openly and transparently with stakeholders and the public.
Salmon Louse – Image Alan Wells

We recognise the permanence and economic importance of the aquaculture industry to Scotland and the West Coast of Scotland in particular. However, there have been, and continue to be, impacts upon wild fish stocks in the areas where the aquaculture industry is most active. We have identified below a number of key areas in which we believe real progress can be made in resolving and mitigating impacts. We are keen to work with the Scottish Government, and the industry, to maximise the benefits to Scotland from the contributions of wild fish and the aquaculture industry.

It is important to emphasise that we recognise that declines in Atlantic salmon and sea trout may have been influenced by a number of contributory factors and it is not, and has never been, the policy position of Fisheries Management Scotland, ASFB or RAFTS that aquaculture is the sole reason for declines in salmonids in the West Highlands of Scotland. It is accepted that survival of salmon and sea trout during their marine migration phase has fallen over the last 40 years across the North Atlantic. Some of this reduced survival can be explained by changes in sea surface temperature and subsequent contraction of feeding grounds. However, these issues can only be addressed at an international level and a key strategy for managing adaptation of species sensitive to climate change (such as Atlantic salmon and sea trout) is to minimise additional pressures such as those which are man- induced. This would include increased protection from the effects of sea lice (in some locations in certain circumstances), reducing exploitation and protection from the potential effects of marine renewables.

NASCO is an international organisation established under the Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean in October 1983 (established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982). In 1994, in response to the information presented at three major international symposia, NASCO adopted the ‘Oslo Resolution’ designed to minimise impacts of aquaculture on the wild salmon stocks. This was developed in consultation with the salmon farming industry and an industry Liaison Group was established in 2000.

NASCO, therefore, established a Task Force comprising representatives of the Parties, the salmon farming industry and NASCO’s accredited NGOs with the aim of developing guidance on best management practices , designed to achieve international goals to address the impacts of sea lice and escaped salmon on wild Atlantic salmon. The international goals are as follows:

  • 100% of farms to have effective sea lice management such that there is no increase in sea lice loads or lice-induced mortality of wild salmonids attributable to the farms.
  • 100% farmed fish to be retained in all production facilities

In 2016 a day-long special session was held at the annual meeting of NASC, and ICES released advice on the possible effects of salmonid aquaculture on wild Atlantic salmon populations.

ASFB and RAFTS produced a joint Aquaculture Policy paper in 2011. Fisheries Management Scotland has established a specific committee to inform our policy position and update our current policy.

Our current focus is on:

  • Ensuring an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework.
  • Appropriate levels of public information, particularly in relation to sea lice levels on farms.
  • Research and monitoring of fish farm – wild fish interactions.
  • Establishing and maintaining constructive engagement with the salmon farming industry with a view to making meaningful progress on interactions issues.

Fisheries Management Scotland provides guidance to Boards/Trusts on the aquaculture planning process. In addition, Fisheries Management Scotland plays a central role in working with Government, Parliament, Local Authority Planners, Marine Scotland Science, SEPA and SNH in an attempt to ensure that the industry operates in a manner compatible with the needs of wild salmonids.

In addition the Fishery Trusts in the aquaculture zone have for a number of years undertaken a programme of sweep netting to monitor juvenile sea trout and record the infestation pressure of sea lice. This process is described in more detail in the video below.

Although there remain a number of challenging issues to overcome, Fisheries Management Scotland continues to engage in constructive dialogue with the industry and government in an attempt to make meaningful progress on these issues.