UNTIL 19 November, Loch Duart had the most propitious situation in its 2014 1st year stock. Its fish were the healthiest and nicest looking that had been produced for the last few years, and the company was looking forward to a strong, though challenging, year ahead.
However, this all changed on 19 November with the arrival of a jellyfish called pelagia noctiluca at the Hebridean sites in Loch Maddy.
A small jellyfish about the size and shape of a gooseberry, with brown stinging filaments attached, invaded the sites in huge numbers. They had been seen before, but not in such large numbers.
In each of these previous cases, although the fish had been disturbed, they had survived the encounter.
As the jellyfish are small enough to pass through the net, they can sting the fish and, because there is little or no warning that these jellyfish are in the area, there is little or no protection that can be afforded.
Nick Joy of Loch Duart, said: ‘By the purest of coincidences I had scheduled a visit to the site on the 21st, to see the fish that everyone in the company was raving about.
‘Growth and all the health parameters were the best. When I arrived on site it was clear that the team were very concerned.
‘On getting to the pens, it was clear that a serious event had occurred. The fish looked very distressed and were shoaling poorly and slowly.
‘It was also clear that some had died though at this stage, not a significant number. My immediate view was that though the fish had been sorely tried, the majority of them would survive as long as the weather gave them some peace to rest.
‘As luck would have it, the following day the weather worsened and a gale from the South East blew up. The worst direction it could possibly have been.
‘The poor fish unable to swim well were trapped against the net and a very significant number died. We have now removed almost all of the dead fish and only about half remain. Around 300,000 of our wonderful young salmon have died due to this event.
‘Whilst this is clearly a terrible blow for our company, our thoughts are with David MacIver and his team in Loch Maddy who have watched the fish, that they have nurtured and grown, devastated by this terrible event.
‘Salmon farming is a hard, dangerous job and in our company it requires the highest level of empathy with the fish that we grow.
‘The removal of large numbers of dead fish is a soul destroying and depressing task, especially if you have tended and cared for the fish that died.
‘Whilst the company absorbs and works out how to deal with this blow, we have to remember those who have to carry a heavy burden at a time like this.