Jellyfish invasion kills farm salmon in Outer Hebrides

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The Independent Online

More than £3m worth of salmon have been destroyed by an invasion of jellyfish at five commercial fish farms in the Western Isles.

More than £3m worth of salmon have been destroyed by an invasion of jellyfish at five commercial fish farms in the Western Isles.

Stocks of fish at two farms on the Isle of Lewis have been almost wiped out and three others have been badly hit by the invaders, which are normally found in the warmer Pacific waters off California.

Huge shoals of the translucent jellyfish, known as solmaris, have been carried into sea lochs around the island by easterly winds in the past few days, swamping the fish cages in the natural harbours.

With millions of the 4mm-wide creatures clogging up the water to a depth of 25 metres, the salmon, trapped in their cages awaiting harvest, were either suffocated when their gills became blocked by the jellyfish or poisoned by histamine injected into the salmon through the jellyfish's sting.

Western Isles Seafoods, which owns sites at loch Odhairn, near Gavir, and on loch Leurbost, has estimated its losses after losing almost all of its stock to be almost £2m.

More than 750,000 fish have been killed at loch Odhairn while 150,000 mature salmon at loch Leurbost were either dead or dying yesterday. "It's a major disaster," said Alan Anderson, the managing director. "We have had a 100 per cent wipe out of our Gavir site. It's a disaster to lose that number of fish, but they're insured and business continues as normal."

Marine biologists working to confirm the identity of the jellyfish believe they may have got into the Atlantic from the Pacific by attaching themselves to the hulls of boats passing through the Panama canal.

Once in the Atlantic, the jellyfish were propelled to the Western Isles and up into the sea lochs by the wind and tide.

In addition to the losses suffered by Western Isles Seafoods, three other farms on Loch Erisort were also badly hit with 400 tonnes of salmon, worth more than £1m, destroyed within days.

"We've lost about 5 per cent of our total production for the year," said Ole Peter Krabberod, the managing director of Stolt Sea Farms.

The wind has changed to the south-west, taking many of the jellyfish back out into the open sea, but the clear-up continued. Millions of dead salmon were scooped up and taken to a fish-meal factory on Shetland.

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