Fears for wild salmon after one million fish escape from farms

A A A

Up to one million farmed salmon and sea trout escaped from their sea cages during the storms that ravaged Scotland last week, triggering fears that the country's remaining wild salmon stock could be wiped out.

Up to one million farmed salmon and sea trout escaped from their sea cages during the storms that ravaged Scotland last week, triggering fears that the country's remaining wild salmon stock could be wiped out.

Between 600,000 and a million farmed salmon and sea trout are believed to have escaped from cages which were ripped apart or sunk by 120mph winds and high seas.

Environmentalists fighting to secure tougher legislation governing fish farms are worried that the mass escape will have a detrimental affect on the remaining numbers of wild salmon in Scotland's rivers.

Opponents of fish farms estimate that up to 400,000 fish have escaped every year for the past five years but the force of last week's storms meant many more fish escaped at once.

"Official industry figures suggest that in excess of 600,000 salmon were lost," said a spokesman for the Scottish Executive yesterday. "Our advice from Fisheries Research Services suggests the losses include a significant number of mortalities and many more of those that got away will die."

Last year, 55,000 wild salmon were caught in Scotland and there are a number of rivers now believed to have fewer than 100 native salmon left.

"This is a disaster for Scotland's royal fish which are already under pressure from pollution and sea lice infestations from farmed fish," said Bruce Sandison, of the Salmon Farm Protest Group, which has been campaigning for the Scottish Executive to force fish farmers to move their business out of the sea and into land-based containment tanks.

He added: "A species which has existed in Scottish waters for 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age is on the verge of extinction."

Opponents of fish farms have long worried that escaped salmon were breeding with native wild fish and destroying the natural gene pool which had been built up over centuries.

Many fear that such a sudden influx of up to one million escaped fish will tip the balance of nature as they compete with wild salmon for habitat and a finite food supply.

"It is clear from last week's storms that the cages being used are inadequately designed for the purpose they are supposed to be built for," said Mr Sandison. "This was and is a disaster that is going to happen again until the Scottish Executive forces this industry ashore."

Fiona Cameron of the Sea Trout Group, which lobbies to minimise the adverse impact of fish farming on wild salmon and sea trout, said the escape could have a major impact on wild stocks. "If farmed fish go up salmon rivers they are likely to breed with wild salmon and the progeny will not be so successful," said Ms Cameron.

"Over time, the wild stock of a river could be completely wiped out as a result because each successive generation becomes less fit for the environment it finds itself in."

She added: "Wild salmon are specifically tailored for their environment. Stocks from an east coast river might not necessarily thrive if they were suddenly transplanted in a west coast river.

"If even just 1 per cent of these escaped fish make it upriver, where - in some areas - stocks have declined to such an extent there are less than about 100 native salmon, it would have a devastating affect."

There are more than 300 fish farms in Scotland, many of them using a series of circular or square metal-framed cages anchored in sheltered sea lochs which support conical shaped nets capable of holding tens of thousands of fish at a time.

Yesterday, Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), an umbrella group for the industry, said that a significant number of the escaped fish had been recovered.

"Six pens thought damaged in the storms off Western Isles have been secured and all the fish contained in them are alive and well," said a spokesman.

"The extreme storm that hit Scotland last week has caused extensive damage across many sites and operations, with a number of our member companies reporting damage to pens, boats and other equipment. "This will undoubtedly cause significant business disruption, which, in turn, could impact on a number of rural businesses and the jobs and communities that depend upon them for their livelihood."

The SQS played down the impact that the escapes might have on wild salmon. "The majority of the fish in pens affected are likely to have died during the storms and at this time of year it is extremely unlikely that surviving fish will seek river spawning grounds, instead heading out to feeding grounds at sea," said the spokesman. "There is also clear evidence that many have been eaten by predators such as the large seal population on the Western Isles."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence