Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 14:27 UK

Fish fears after sea farm escape

The firm said it had no history of fish escapes on the loch

Conservation groups have condemned a salmon producer after 37,000 juvenile fish escaped from a farm on Mull.

The Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (Rafts) and the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) said the escape would endanger wild stocks.

The salmon escaped from Scottish Sea Farms Loch Frisa freshwater farm, near Tobermory, on 25 August.

The firm said it "deeply regrets" the escape through a damaged net, thought to be the result of an otter attack.

In a statement, Scottish Sea Farms said: "On discovery of the escape all relevant bodies were immediately informed

"Scottish Sea Farms immediately implemented the re-capture plan recovering a proportion of the escaped fish and are in discussions with the relevant bodies concerning ongoing recapture strategy.

"We have been farming in Loch Frisa for over 20 years and have had no history of predator attacks nor fish escapes."

The firm said the cage which contained the fish was equipped with new nets and had undergone a full inspection by divers within the past three weeks.

Once again the fish farmers have proven that they are simply incapable of containing their fish
Roger Brook
Rafts chairman

The statement added: "SSF deeply regrets this escape, there is significant investment from our staff in the rearing of these salmon and the loss of these fish is especially disappointing.

"Research into the fate of farmed salmon in the wild suggests few if any of these fish will survive and return to the river."

But Roger Brook, chairman of Rafts, said the escaped fish posed "a major risk to the genetic integrity" of wild salmon through "interbreeding"

He said: "Loch Frisa forms part of a small wild salmon river system. These escaped fish will inevitably migrate to sea. When they return as adults, they are likely to outnumber the River Aros's wild stocks and threaten their future viability.

"The word 'escape' is a misnomer in that it implies cunning fish managing to evade capture.

"The reality is that these fish simply swim out of their cages because the farmers use inadequate equipment that cannot withstand the attentions of small predators such as otters.

'Serious threat'

"Once again the fish farmers have proven that they are simply incapable of containing their fish."

Hugh Campbell Adamson, chairman of ASFB, said fish farms should be "relocated" to areas where they could not harm wild fish stocks.

"Freshwater salmon smolt farms should either be located in lochs which are not part of wild salmon river systems or, ideally, in self-contained land-based units, as is practiced in other countries," he said.

"Over the last decade scientists from all the wild salmon producing nations of the North Atlantic, including some of the Scottish Government's own scientists, have consistently advised that escaped farmed salmon pose a serious threat to wild stocks.

"Despite this advice, here in Scotland we have had years of industry and government prevarication on the issue including toothless legislation and ineffectual codes of practice, which appear to have no deterrent value whatsoever."

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