Scots salmon farmers allegedly put English waters under threat


Scots salmon farmers "put English waters under threat"

Demand for wrasse from the south coast in order to ‘clean’ lice-ridden Scottish fish could wreck ecosystem, say campaigners

Julia Horton
March 11 2018, 12:01am

Demand for wrasse from the south coast in order to ‘clean’ lice-ridden Scottish fish could wreck ecosystem, say campaigners

Anglers are threatening to take ministers to court over fears that soaring demand for wild wrasse to combat sea lice at Scottish salmon farms could destroy protected marine habitats in English waters.

The Angling Trust warned it will take legal action against the UK government unless officials show they have met requirements under European law to assess the environmental impact of catching vast numbers of wrasse from special areas of conservation off England’s south coast.

Anglers say an estimated 1m wrasse are taken each year from along the region’s coastline, where they play a key role in the ecosystems of protected reefs, and transported to Scotland for use as so-called cleaner fish to eat deadly lice on infected farmed salmon.

David Mitchell, head of marine policy at the Angling Trust, said: “All the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] has provided to us so far is evidence of the sustainability of the wrasse fishery, which is a completely different test. We don’t know what the impact of removing them in vast numbers is on ecosystems.

“Wrasse perform a function as a cleaner fish in their natural environment and they are very slow-growing fish with complicated breeding habits. So by the time we find out whether this is having an impact on the ecosystems, it may be too late for wrasse [and those environments] to recover.

“We are calling for the wrasse fisheries to be suspended until appropriate assessments have been completed and the impacts are known.”

Fish Legal, a marine law specialist representing the anglers, said that if Defra failed to provide evidence that appropriate assessments had been done, it planned to seek a judicial review, which could result in a mandatory order requiring the UK government to act.

Don Staniford, an anti-salmon farming campaigner at Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, welcomed the threatened court battle to deal with a “dirty industry spiralling out of control”. The Scottish government was “complicit” in sanctioning “overexploitation” of wild wrasse, he added.

Last week a Scottish parliament environment committee report warned that Scotland’s salmon farms risked “irrecoverable damage to the environment”.

Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), said only a “small” proportion of wrasse from the south coast of England was “specifically live-caught” for salmon farms. The industry was assured that there are “sufficient safeguards” on wrasse fisheries in Scotland he added.

The SSPO admitted that the industry faced “new challenges to fish health and environmental management”, and said that it was investing more than £50m in new equipment and techniques.

The Scottish government said existing laws and regulations balanced growing aquaculture sustainably with protecting the biodiversity and environment on which farmed and wild fish depended. It is considering measures to manage “any future wild wrasse fishery”.

Defra said assessments on the impact of commercial wrasse fishing on protected ecosystems required under EU law had been carried out by fisheries bodies and were being reviewed.