Groups of fishermen state wild salmon decline in the river Awe is linked to Scottish salmon farms. (Map: Stockfile)
Scottish fishermen consider aquaculture farms are guilty of salmon 'collapse'
Wednesday, August 09, 2017, 23:30 (GMT + 9)
Salmon fishing groups have warned that the decline in salmon numbers returning to the River Awe, in Argyll, Scotland, is the result of "intensive" fish farming in the area, and the spread of sea lice at farms.
These groups have called for urgent action from the Government, who said a number of factors could be to blame and that a project was underway to tackle the lice issue, BBC reported.
As part of these actions, MSPs are set to hold an inquiry into the industry in early 2018, after the rural economy committee studied a petition from Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (STCS) about protecting wild fish from sea lice breeding in salmon farms.
Official statistics show that the 2016 total was 807 fish, but STCS said the 2017 catch may "struggle to reach 400", with 30 weeks of the season already past.
The group members argue juvenile salmon migrating from rivers in the south-west Highlands had to "run the gauntlet" close to lice-producing salmon farms the whole way up the west coast before reaching the open ocean.
STCS wants farms moved into closed containment tank systems to prevent the spread of parasites, saying only this could allow both farmed and wild fish to thrive.
Director Andrew Graham-Stewart said the numbers of mature west Highland sea trout had "collapsed" since the arrival of intensive fish farming, and said wild salmon numbers were also now in a decline which is "accelerating into a free fall".
For his part, Roger Brook, chairman of the Argyll District Salmon Fishery Board, said rivers like the Awe were facing "a very precarious future", and called on the government to make changes.
"The Scottish government has promoted the continued expansion of the salmon aquaculture industry whilst refusing to implement adequate control on the siting of farms and the levels of sea lice on the farms,” Brook pointed out.
Meanwhile, Scotland's farmed salmon industry continues to grow, with exports rising by 17 per cent by value last year.
The Scottish Government stressed that efforts have been made to tackle the spread of lice at farms with "cleaner fish" which attack and eat the parasites.
Scottish Sea Farms said their use has been "transformational", with lice levels at a three-year low at the end of 2016.
"We recognise that a number of factors may be having an impact on wild salmon stocks, including the activity of aquaculture, which can result in elevated numbers of sea lice in open water and hence is likely to increase the infestation potential on wild salmon,” a spokesperson from the Scottish Government stressed.
This official stated that Marine Scotland Science has recently commenced a project to address this issue.