Sustainable footing is the aim – Fishfarmer Magazine

Sustainable footing is the aim04 August, 2010 –

Putting Scotland’s £400 million salmon farming industry, and the rest of the industry worldwide, on a more sustainable footing is the aim of new draft global standards published yesterday.

WWF Scotland welcomed the publication of the draft standards by the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue and encouraged the Scottish salmon industry, retailers, other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the wider public to comment before the 3rd October deadline. The environmental group said that if a good set of final standards is adopted and then taken up by enough operators, it could transform the industry.

The draft standards have been produced by the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue: a 500-person roundtable that includes salmon aquaculture industry leaders, scientists and representatives from NGOs.

The salmon Dialogue seeks to minimise or eliminate the key negative impacts associated with salmon aquaculture, such as sea lice spreading from salmon farms, escaped farmed salmon interbreeding with wild salmon populations, and conflicts within communities regarding shared coastal resources.

Dr Piers Hart, Aquaculture Policy Officer with WWF Scotland said: “Salmon farming is clearly an important industry in Scotland. However, it is also an industry that impacts on people and the environment. If the salmon farming industry is to be put on a more sustainable footing, in Scotland and the rest of the world, then it is crucial that everyone with an interest in the issues engages with the Dialogue process. We encourage the industry, retailers, other NGOs and the wider public to comment.

“If a good set of standards can be developed and these are then taken up by operators, the industry could be transformed. A good set of standards would see some environmental impacts of salmon farming eliminated or reduced and secure markets created for those prepared to operate in more sustainable ways.”

Fiona Cameron of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, which champions the interests of wild salmon said: “We welcome this step in attempting to reduce the environmental impact of salmon farming and look forward to seeing the full proposals in more detail.

She continued: “A major concern of our members is the siting of smolt pens in freshwater lochs with native populations of trout and salmon. It is reassuring this has been addressed in the draft standards. Re-locating these to land will help reduce escapes, and the potential pollution from the pens.  We will encourage members to fully participate in this consultation in order to ensure the future health of both the freshwater and marine environments.

“The draft standard states: ‘Some of the concerns related to open smolt production, such as disease transmission and the genetic effect of escapees, have been highlighted as being particularly important in regions where native salmonids exist. For this reason, the draft SAD standards allow only closed or semi-closed smolt systems to be certified under the SAD standard in areas of wild salmonids.’

“At present, almost half (more than 17 million) of the farmed salmon smolts raised in Scotland are held in net pens within freshwater lochs, the majority of which have populations of native migratory fish such as salmon and sea trout. Fishery managers are unhappy about this, as farm stock which escapes from the pens goes directly into salmon and sea trout habitat, and these fish may then ‘home’ to these spawning grounds and interbreed with native fish.  Such hybridisation has been shown to be damaging to wild stocks. There is also concern over the way in which the migratory behaviour of sea trout may be disrupted, since their parr can find a ready supply of food by eating the pellets which fall through the farm nets, the improved nutrients from which may affect their preference to migrate.”

Tony Andrews, Chief Executive of the Atlantic Salmon Trust said: “We believe this sends a very strong message to Scottish politicians, who have dragged their heels on the issue of smolt pens in salmonid lochs. For several years Fiona Cameron, who works with the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Sea Trout Group, has lobbied politicians, the industry and the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue, calling for smolt pens in salmonid lochs to be banned, and replaced by closed containment systems.  Scotland has been lagging behind in adopting closed containment technologies for raising smolts, although the campaign led by Fiona has been successful in raising awareness of how damaging the current practice of using open cages is.”

Dr Andy Walker, Chairman of the Sea Trout Group said: “We have campaigned for many years to have smolt pens banned from salmon and sea trout systems. The presence of these pens appears to be interfering with the natural behaviour of migratory fish. It’s also generally accepted that, alongside the occasional and well-publicised large-scale escapes from such pens, there’s an ongoing ‘leakage’ of small numbers of fish, amounting to large numbers over time. These losses of fish from captive culture pose a very serious threat to the gene-pool of wild salmon. In addition, while fish farmers may do all they can to avoid diseases among their stocks and treat them where they need to, we are concerned that open pens containing intensively reared fish increase the risk of pathogens spreading to susceptible wild fish, whose health status is very difficult to monitor effectively and whose treatment in the event of an outbreak is completely impracticable.”

“Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are used for this stage of farming in the other countries which produce salmon, so the technology is thoroughly tried and tested, and easily available. We simply do not believe that salmon can be farmed sustainably in open net pens in freshwater systems which contain migratory fish, and the standard which SAD is working towards is all about sustainability,” commented Tony Andrews.

“The retailers who sell farmed salmon are keen to see ASC-certified fish on their shelves, and we believe that this fact alone will encourage the Scottish industry to adopt the more sustainable option. It will involve initial high capital expenditure by salmon producers, but the experience of other countries indicates that the use of modern RAS units can bring great benefits to the farmers themselves. For instance, they can be much more flexible about the timing of transfer of smolts to sea cages, and that will give them the option to grow fish on to a larger size before transferring them to sea. This may well bring many additional benefits, since a shorter time in sea cages could mean less infestation by sea lice,” added Mr Andrews.