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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK

Special Report

Fish farming 'damaging' wild stocks

Wild stocks of slamon are said to be under threat

Intensive fish farming is seriously damaging stocks of wild salmon and sea trout, a government environment watchdog is warning.

Professor David Mackay, of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, believes modern methods are distorting natural eco-systems.

The Sepa northern regional director also said evidence that sea lice from the caged fish are harming wild stocks is beyond reasonable doubt.

[ image: Salmon farming is a major employer]
Salmon farming is a major employer
A leading toxicologist is also warning about the potentially harmful effects of fish farming.

Allan Berry said salmon farming is the main cause of the toxins which are threatening shellfishing.

He said farmed salmon's runny faeces, instead of dropping as pellets to the sea bed as it does in wild fish, is borne a considerable distance from the cages and has a profound effect on water quality.

Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) was found recently in scallops off the Western Isles and can cause a brain rot disease in humans not unlike CJD and BSE in cattle.

At over 8,000sq miles, the current Scottish scallop banned area due to ASP is probably the world's largest so far. The first ever cases were recorded in 1987 in Canada.

World expert

Mr Berry, who is acknowledged as being a world expert on algal toxins, said: "Personally I would not eat anything from the sea in that area."

Mr Berry said there may be little option in future but to ban intensive farming of fish in the sea.

At a conference in Norway, Prof Mackay will say current practices are causing damage which is reaching "near crisis" level.

He also warned future expansion of the fish farming industry may need to be halted.

[ image: William Crowe: Rejects the claims]
William Crowe: Rejects the claims
Both men are now calling on the government to act quickly before the situation deteriorates, but Scottish Salmon Grower's Association Chief Executive William Crowe has rejected the claims.

He said Prof Mackay should have more scientific fact to back up what he is saying.

A spokesman for The Scottish Executive said detailed research had already been commissioned on this issue and no correlation between pollution and contaminants in sea water has so far been established.

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