Sea trout are not ‘second-class citizens’: ALL of Scotland’s native creatures deserve protection

 

As Deputy Environment Minister Lewis Macdonald kicks off Scottish Biodiversity Week today, the Sea Trout Group calls on him to ensure that the country’s native west coast sea trout are given the full protection they deserve.

 

 “Our native sea trout are an important part of Scotland’s natural heritage and biodiversity, and yet we know less about them than we know about many species from more far-flung places,” said Sea Trout Group spokesperson Fiona Cameron. “We would like to see funding for much more research into the lifecycle and welfare of this fascinating fish.

 

“One thing we do know is that stocks of sea trout in the majority of the rivers and lochs of the Highlands and the Islands saw an exceptionally steep decline from the late 1980s, and in most places they have not shown signs of natural recovery. We do not claim that sea cage fish farming has been single-handedly responsible for this. However, we believe there is substantial evidence that the existence of salmon cages, which are perfect breeding-grounds for sea lice, has contributed to the steepness of the decline of sea trout numbers on the west coast and islands, and also to the lack of natural recovery of stocks.

 

“We accept that the majority of salmon farm operators are working hard to reduce the numbers of adult sea lice on their fish, and this should be serving to reduce the number of  juvenile lice released into the environment to latch onto wild fish,” added Ms Cameron.

 

“However, Scotland is still lagging behind other salmon farming countries by not having formal regulation of sea lice management to act as a ‘safety net’ if any farmer is failing to control lice numbers. The Sea Trout Group believes that such regulation is the only defensible route to go down as the country moves towards its first-ever aquaculture legislation.”

 

Sea trout are brown trout which ‘smolt’ like salmon and migrate from freshwater to the sea to feed during part of the year. Unlike wild salmon, which migrate from river to sea in annual ‘runs’, and pass through the ‘fish farm belt’ quite quickly on their way to the feeding grounds in the N Atlantic, sea trout remain in coastal waters throughout the marine stages of their life cycle. They are therefore much more vulnerable to infestation by sea lice.

 

The total 2003 catch of wild salmon plus sea trout in the areas where fish farming is based was substantially fewer than 9000 fish; many of these fish were released after being caught. The number of salmon in farm cages within this area is well over 80 million at any one time.

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