The Shetland Oil Disaster: Salmon farmers hit by ban on sales fear ruin: The 'Braer' oil slick is putting an island industry at risk. Oliver Gillie reports

SALMON in the oil-polluted waters of southern Shetland are beginning to sicken, and fish farmers are facing bankruptcy with losses running into millions of pounds.

Robert Gardiner, manager of Shetland Sea Farms, a company with fish at three sites in the polluted area, went out from Scalloway yesterday in a small boat to inspect his salmon. The wind, blowing at gale force nine, scattered the thin film of oil on the surface of the water into bright streaks. Where the waves broke against the shore they dissolved into brown froth, showing that oil was dispersed beneath the surface layer.

In the lee of North Havra, a small island two or three miles from Scalloway, Mr Gardiner has cages containing pounds 2.4m worth of mature salmon ready to sell. But sale of these fish has now been banned by the Government.

'I have 200,000 fish here worth more than pounds 10 each,' Mr Gardiner said, 'and I don't know what to do. I can't go on feeding them when the pellets cost pounds 800 a ton. The installation at North Havra cost over pounds 1m and now that investment is at risk.'

We landed on the walkway beside the Havra and immediately saw the rainbow hue of oil on the surface of the water. Mr Gardiner threw out some seed pellets but only a few large fish came to the surface.

'Something is badly wrong here,' he said, 'these fish have not been fed for six days. They should be boiling on the surface, racing to get the food.

'If the oil was only on the surface the fish would be all right but when it is mixed into the water underneath it gets on to their gills and poisons them.'

Shetland fish farmers asked the Government not to spray chemical dispersant on to the oil, fearing that rapid dispersion of the oil would put their fish at greater risk. Dispersants also make booms less effective by taking the oil beneath the surface.

Nevertheless, the Department of Transport's Marine Pollution Control Unit sprayed the slick last week with more than 15 tons of a dispersant, Dispolene 34S, banned in Norway because of its toxicity. The spraying was suspended on Saturday after islanders threatened to demonstrate on the airport runway.

As the wind increased, with hurricane force winds gusting to 100mph or more forecast for later in the day, Mr Gardiner struggled to put a boom in position. The oil absorbant matting soaks up surface oil but Mr Gardiner had only been able to obtain 175 metres when he needs 1,500 metres.

'The booms have been sent up from the Department of Transport's Marine Pollution Control Unit in Southampton but there is not enough of it,' he said.

'They have also sent us mechanical booms but they are useless. They will never stand up to the weather here. The anchors and chain are too flimsy.'

Mr Gardiner's company, Shetland Sea Farms is facing financial disaster. He cannot sell the fish because the Government has banned sales from the area, and he cannot afford to go on feeding them. The mature fish may survive for five or six weeks without food, living off their fat, but the younger fish will go out of condition within two weeks.

'Our insurance does not cover us for this,' Mr Gardiner said. 'We are only covered if the fish die within 30 days of something happening and this oil produces a chronic condition which will not kill them for a long time.'

Help will have to come from the Government, or the Shetland Islands Council, if the stricken fish farmers are to survive financially. Already, a quarter of Shetland salmon farmers who produce fish worth pounds 35m a year are affected by the slick.

Eleven salmon farms, producing fish worth pounds 10m annually, are in the polluted area defined by the Government so are not allowed to sell their fish for human consumption.

Fish farming in Shetland employs 838 people, including those involved in processing. It is the islands' second-largest industry, smaller only than oil.

The release of more oil in storms forecast for the next few days could spread the slick over the whole western part of the island, putting more than half of the Shetland salmon industry in jeopardy.

Mr Gardiner said: 'When Windsor Castle went up in flames the Government said the same day that it would pay for it to be built again. This disaster happened five days ago and we are still waiting to hear what help we are going to get.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'