THE Sea Trout Group is delighted to learn that reported year-on-year escapes from Scottish salmon farms have decreased dramatically since compulsory reporting of escapes was introduced.


SEERAD (the Scottish Executive Environment & Rural Affairs Department) has confirmed that the reported escape statistics reveal a decrease from 367,000 in 2002, to 151,000 in 2003. At a recent conference, a SEERAD official cited the escapes figure for 2004 as 91,000.


Mandatory reporting of escapes came into force in May 2002.  A recent ten-year study carried out in Ireland showed that cross-breeding between farm escapees and wild salmon lessens the survival chances of the offspring, over time. Many hybrids are also less fertile. This has serious implications for salmon and sea trout rivers on Scotland’s west coast and islands where native stocks are already severely depleted.


“On the assumption that the reported figures are accurate, I believe that this demonstrates the value of mandatory reporting on the part of the fish farming industry,” said Sea Trout Group spokesperson Fiona Cameron. “Although it is bitterly disappointing that the storms during January 11 – 12 of this year led to the escape of more than 700,000 farmed salmon, we are glad to see that the industry seems to be successfully addressing the problem of more ‘routine’ escapes.”


The Sea Trout Group, along with other wild fish interest groups, is currently pressing for proper regulation of salmon farms, particularly in terms of sea lice management, escapes and disease control.


“We would like to see a scenario where the farmers count sea lice weekly, to an agreed protocol, and report these figures to a regulator such as the FRS Fish Health Service. We are calling for a regulator to be appointed, and given powers to advise on and subsequently order lice treatments where levels on a farm show worrying trends, backed up by enabling powers to close down a site as a last resort, if lice management proves impossible.


Scotland is lagging behind other salmon producing countries such as Norway and Ireland, which both have regulatory schemes governing sea lice management. We do not seek more regulation of salmon farming – just better, more fit-for-purpose regulation,” added Ms Cameron.


“The industry’s success in reducing escapes would seem to underline the validity of mandatory reporting as a way of encouraging good practice. However, we must not forget that the January storms allowed an unacceptable level of escapes. Climate change means we can anticipate more such storms in the future, and a comprehensive engineering standard for cages, such as has been introduced in Norway, is also essential for the welfare of Scotland’s fish – both wild and farmed.”