The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) and the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) have condemned a major escape of juvenile salmon from a Marine Harvest unit on Loch Lochy, the freshwater loch in the Great Glen near Fort William. The company, which supplies Tesco amongst other retailers, has been unable to produce an exact figure but a significant proportion of the 100,000 Atlantic salmon smolts (weighing 70g each) in one cage are understood to have “escaped” through a hole caused by a “storm event” at the end of February.

Andrew Wallace, Managing Director of ASFB and RAFTS, commented: “2009 was the worst for fish farm escapes in the last five years. This latest escape suggests that the industry’s appalling record on containment is continuing. It has occurred at a new so called ‘state of the art’ farm which, despite industry fanfare, has proved incapable of withstanding the impact of moderate winds, the kind that are hardly uncommon in the west Highlands. It makes a mockery of Marine Harvest’s mission statement – to ‘minimise the environmental impact of its activities and operate in harmony with the environment’. It is time that responsible retailers such as Tesco considered the environmental damage caused by suppliers like Marine Harvest”.

Mr Wallace added: “Scott Landsburgh, The Scottish Salmon Producers’ chief executive commented in the press just this week that the industry operates in line with ‘stringent’ animal husbandry standards. We keep on hearing about the high standards the industry purports to work to but elementary problems such as containment remain unresolved. We remain highly sceptical that the regulatory framework for salmon farming and the industry’s much-trumpeted Code of Good Practice are anywhere near adequate to properly manage an industry that only gets away with this sort of incompetence because the problems are out of sight and out of mind”

Mr Wallace concluded: “Relocation of freshwater salmon smolt farms must now become a reality. They should either be located in lochs which are not part of wild salmon rivers or, ideally, in self-contained land-based units, as is practised in other countries. It is inexcusable that they are placed within important wild salmon river systems such as the Lochy”.

Jon Gibb, Clerk to the Lochaber District Salmon Fishery Board, said: “Through interbreeding escaped farmed salmon pose a major risk to the genetic integrity and thus the survival of wild salmon populations. Just a few miles away there are huge non-migratory fish waterbodies such as Loch Laggan that could easily accommodate many of these smolt farms. But yet they continue to proliferate in pristine salmon and sea trout lochs where they are proven to have a detrimental impact. My worry is that indigenous stocks such as the famous Lochy salmon run could be driven into extinction before someone has the sense to put a stop to this madness. With yet another disastrous escape like this we are rapidly getting closer to that day.”

This week Gideon Pringle, Freshwater Production Manager for Marine Harvest (with responsibility for the farm in Loch Lochy), was reported to be unavailable for comment, as he was chairing an industry conference on “containment” within salmon farms.

Issued on behalf of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) and the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) by Andrew Graham-Stewart.