Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 19:44 GMT
£9m aid for salmon farmers
The viral disease first emerged in Norway
Scottish salmon farmers have been offered a £9m government aid package to help them deal with a deadly disease, which is threatening to wipe out their livelihood.
In the UK millions of fish have already had to be destroyed, and 10 farms have been closed down since last May. A further 15 fish farms may also be infected.
The viral disease was first found in Norway in the mid-1980s and has also appeared in Canada.
The government is contributing £9m over the next three years towards a hardship fund.
Lord Sewel said: "I recognise that the uncertain outcome of the eradication programme is now causing some loss of confidence in the industry and its investors and as a result, there is a real risk that investment and jobs will suffer."
He added it was alarmist to suggest at this stage that the disease could destroy the industry and that Scottish Office scientists still hoped to eradicate the disease.
Salmon farmers' representatives who met ministers had wanted direct compensation.
Instead they have been told they will also have to pay £9m into the fund.
The chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Growers Association welcomed the offer but said he was not certain that the industry would go along with the plan.
William Crowe said: "My gut reaction is to welcome this. The government has recognised it has got a role in the management of the disease.
"We will have to assess the total cost to the industry and I think people will have to think very carefully.
"We will be entering into discussions later in the week with the Scottish Office."
He said many of his members would still be looking for compensation, which he said had not been discussed at the meeting and which could require legal action.
He said: "That's a matter which we may well have to settle in the courts."
Scientists who have yet to establish the source of the outbreak, are hoping that the drastic measures taken so far, though painful for the industry, will safeguard the future of salmon farming in the UK.