Sea lice and wild fish

This application for larger cages and a larger grid, without any increase in permitted biomass, will enable Dawnfresh to ‘sweat the assets’ and keep more farmed fish in the cages at Etive 3 for longer periods.

In relation to all the plans to expand operations on Loch Etive being submitted by Dawnfresh, the Argyll and District Salmon Fishery Board has already raised a blanket objection to any further increase in the biomass of farmed fish actually held on Loch Etive, to try to protect threatened wild fish from any further damage. However, the effect on wild salmonids of the increase in biomass allowed for by the planning permission granted for the new 1500 tonne farm at Etive 6, and the intensification of Dawnfresh operations at its other sites, including Etive 3, may now be being seen for the first time.

In August 2016, the Argyll and District Salmon Fishery Board (ADSFB) reported “a terrible grilse run on the River Awe this year so far. Where we would expect to get weekly runs of 100-150 salmon, the figures for the last two weeks are two and seven. We have not had any other reports of a very poor grilse run and wonder if this is a local problem to Loch Etive. The reports of sea lice problems on the Dawnfresh farms make us wonder if this if the main issue. Our sea trout sweep netting in 2015 had the worst sea lice infections we have ever seen, and this year we could not catch many sea trout to sample – they simply were not there”.[8]

The grilse seen in the River Awe in 2016, being salmon that have spent one winter at sea before returning to their native rivers, would have left Loch Etive during late winter 2014 and early spring 2015, when Etive 5 and 6 had serious sea lice problems as recorded by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI).

Back in 2012, when it began its expansion on Loch Etive, Dawnfresh was stating that “sea lice are not a problem in Loch Etive”. Indeed, Dawnfresh confirmed in 2012 that no Etive fish farm site had ever treated for sea lice – “none of the other Dawnfresh sites on Loch Etive have ever required a sea lice treatment and it is not foreseen that the Etive 6 site should be any different due to its equally low salinity”.

This is certainly not the case any longer.

In 2014 to 2016, Dawnfresh has had to treat repeatedly for sea lice on its farms with in-feed pesticides and both organophosphate and pyrethroid bath-type treatments. There have been multiple treatments through winter 2014/spring 2015 and again in autumn 2015 into spring 2016, as FHI reports and SEPA data show, but sea lice numbers were still too high on the farms.

The ADSFB has now asked Dawnfresh for all its detailed on-farm sea lice data from 2014, to analyse the link between sea lice on Etive farms, those seen on sweep netting of wild fish, and that lack of grilse in the River Awe in 2016, but Dawnfresh has refused to release the data.

FoLE will be publishing a separate detailed report into the Etive sea lice issue shortly.

[8] Email from Clerk to ADSFB, 3rd August 2016