Fish farm company pays £13K to Fishery Board over mystery escapee salmon –

Fish farm company pays £13K to Fishery Board over mystery escapee salmon Published:  25 June, 2009

In an unprecedented move a leading fish farming company has paid compensation to wild salmon managers following the escape of juvenile salmon from a freshwater farm.

This follows the discovery last September by the River Forth Fisheries Trust (RFFT) of juvenile farmed salmon in the River Devon, a tributary of the Forth, at a site immediately downstream of a fish farm operated by Mainstream Scotland, part of the giant Norwegian salmon production conglomerate CERMAQ. The company initially refused to accept that the fish originated from its facility – even though the location at Fossaway Bridge is upstream of a waterfall that is impassable to wild salmon.

Following the intervention of Fish Legal, Mainstream has now accepted liability and in an out of court settlement paid more than £13k to cover both the initial expenses incurred by the Forth District Salmon Fishery Board (FDSFB) and the costs of a subsequent electro-fishing clear-up operation.

Patrick Fothringham, director of the FDSFB and RFFT, said: ‘Prior to this incident we were not even aware that salmon were being farmed in the Devon catchment. As far as we are aware, this is the first example in Scotland of an escape from a so-called ‘closed containment unit’. The company maintains that it was adhering to the salmon farming industry’s much-vaunted code of good practice. If indeed it was, the fish still managed to escape. This suggests that, as many of us have argued for years, this code falls far short of being fit for purpose in terms of minimising the impact on wild fish.’

Mr Fothringham added: ‘Escapes of farmed salmon carry the inherent threat of spreading disease and the real threat of diluting the genetics of wild fish. These factors have the potential to compromise severely the survival fitness of wild salmon. Scotland’s freshwater salmon smolt farmers need to appreciate that we will no longer tolerate the threat of genetic pollution to our wild fisheries and that we will resort to the law when necessary.’

Andrew Wallace, managing director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, added: ‘While there has been a marked improvement in containment in marine salmon farming cages over the last two years, this has not been mirrored in freshwater aquaculture where serial escapes of salmon smolts and rainbow trout are still unacceptably high at a time when issues of bio-security and concerns about genetic integrity are rising fast up the agenda. The episode on the River Devon should be seen as a warning shot across the bows of the freshwater aquaculture industry where a culture of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has been allowed to develop. Wherever we have evidence we intend to pursue malpractice through legal action if required with utmost vigour.’

Mr Wallace added: ‘We are looking at escape incidents, many of which seem to occur with metronomic regularity on the Tay system, Awe, Garry and most recently possible escapes in four freshwater lochs on the Isle of Lewis – indeed wherever smolts or rainbow trout are farmed there seem to be containment problems. Claims by the freshwater aquaculture industry and its political supporters that these production systems are sustainable will remain completely implausible until either farms are relocated away from important wild salmon systems, in which they should never have been located in the first place, or they are able to demonstrate that they can be good neighbours – at present this seems a distant prospect.’

Robert Younger, solicitor with Fish Legal, said: ‘We were delighted to be able to help the Forth Board in this case. It is vital that fish farmers are made to pay for the costs of the pollution caused by their industry. We would urge all those with an interest in Scotland’s wild fisheries to join us so that we can carry on making polluters pay.’