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Double ruling squeezes salmon farm practices

Double ruling squeezes salmon farm practices

Decisions by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Canadian federal court will have a significant impact on the way in which salmon farms run in their respective countries.

Rob Edwards reports in Scotland's Sunday Herald that SEPA have persuaded the drug company Pharmaq, who manufacture food pellets fed to farmed salmon to withdraw the product due to the presence of the chemical, teflubenzuron. The pellet has been a part of farmed salmon diet for a long time due to its ability to help salmon excrete teflubenzuron which kills off sea lice.

Sea live can have a devastating effect on salmon and are often prevalent in salmon farming.

However recent studies conducted by the Institute of Marine Research and the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research in Bergen, Norway has shown that these excretions and the pellets themselves pollute the surrounding seabed which can be lethal to marine wildlife; an example of this is shellfish being poisoned and prevented from forming new shells to protect them as they grow. The researchers detected high concentrations of the chemical in sediment around a salmon farm in Norway.

Estimations from the scientists on the research study indicated that it took 170 days for the teflubenzuron pollution to reduce by 50%, which in turn indicates that the chemical will be a part of the marine environment for years. Out of all of the marine life tested the chemical was found most in worms, crab and fish. It was also concluded that the levels of the chemical in king crabs, shrimp and two species of lobster were high enough to kill them.

Guy Linley-Adams, representing the Salmon and Trout Association called for an immediate move from open containment fish farming to closed containment; “Fish-farming must be moved into closed containment, where sea-lice can be controlled without toxic chemicals being discharged into the wider environment.”

Don Staniford from the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture expressed his view, saying “You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that a chemical designed to kill sea lice also kills other crustaceans.”

The Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation, which represents the fish farm industry, said that teflubenzuron was “not an issue in salmon farming in Scotland today because it is so rarely used”.

Fiona Matheson, secretary to Orkney Fisheries Association, called for stronger action, saying, “We need a stronger assurance than teflubnezuron's use may be unlikely. Its use should be legally ended.”

Meanwhile in Canada, a federal court has banned salmon farms from transferring diseased fish into open ocean net-pens.
Private farming companies, such as Marine Harvest Canada, previously made their own rules and decisions about transferring fish from freshwater facilities to ocean pens. Environmental lawyers, Margot Venton (Ecojustice) and Alexandra Morton argued that fish carrying viruses and diseases could harm wild fish.

An example of open containment fish farming.

Ecojustice and Morgan originally filed the lawsuit after the virus PRV (piscine reovirus) was found in fish held in Marine Harvest's Dalrymple hatchery, on the migration route of Fraser River sockeye.

Writing on her blog Alexandra Morton underlined the importance of the ruling; “In my view government has tried to perpetuate a dangerous myth that this disease is no threat to BC's wild salmon. Most BC farmed salmon are infected with PRV. Many scientists in Norway have published research showing that PRV causes the disease, HSMI, which is known to damage salmon hearts to the point that fish can barely move.”

Marine Harvest responded to the ruling by saying there was “there was no evidence that Marine Harvest transferred unhealthy fish” and that it merely provided them with “legal clarity,” confirming its right to “transport healthy salmon to and from its coastal BC operations.”
Over 120 licences expiring at the end of 2015 could be affected by the new ruling.

Both these stories raise discussions about the future of open containment fish farming, especially when a viable alternative of land-based closed containment farming exists. For more views and news on the discussion see June’s issue of FF&FT, in which Bruce Sandison reviews up-and-coming land-based farms in a special ‘Sandison’s Scotland’ on the subject, entitled 'The turn of the tide?'.

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