From left: Marine Harvest's Archie Johnstone and Neil MacDonald, the ASC's Scott Nichols and Chris Ninnes, and Marine Harvest Scotland managing director Ben Hadfield visit a freshwater site at Loch Lochy. Photo: Marine Harvest

Marine Harvest closer to ending ASC ‘loch-out’

Marine Harvest Scotland and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) appear close to resolving an impasse that would allow accreditation of the company’s salmon farms.

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Currently the ASC’s rules mean that sea sites receiving smolts grown in freshwater lochs are not able to achieve ASC certification. That’s a problem for MH Scotland, which grows around half of its smolts at freshwater sites at Loch Shiel, Loch Arkaig, Loch Lochy, Loch Ness and Loch Garry.

But the ASC is now looking at aligning its salmon farming standards closer to those of trout farming, which are in the process of being updated.

From left: Chris Ninnes, Scott Nichols, Neil MacDonald, Archie Johnstone and Ben Hadfield at Loch Lochy. Photo: Marine Harvest

Salmonid similarities

In a post on its website, the ASC said: “Due to the similarities between trout and salmon - and parallels in their production when these species are raised in either freshwater or the sea - updates to the standard regarding smolt will also be applicable to salmon.

“The proposed update would also introduce requirements for data collection, providing a previously unavailable resource that will allow for improved understanding of the impact of farming on wild salmon in the region.”

Such a resource could include results of an ongoing study into the extent of genetic introgression between escaped farm stock and wild salmon that Marine Harvest began in collaboration with local salmon conservation groups earlier this year. 

Public consultation

The amendment to the current trout standard has undergone its second phase of public consultation, with a final decision to come before the end of the year. 

The announcement follows a fact-finding visit to Scotland by ASC chief executive Chris Ninnes and supervisory board member Scott Nichols last month.

MH Scotland managing director Ben Hadfield accompanied the men on a tour of the company’s facilities, including freshwater operations.

“Working with stakeholders of differing viewpoints is core to maintaining strong standards,” said Ninnes. “We met with many groups during our visit and also got to see first-hand the way the industry is updating practices. The smolt production facilities at Marine Harvest Scotland are impressive and were certainly a highlight of the trip.”

Stringent standard

Hadfield confirmed MH Scotland’s desire to attain ASC accreditation for its farms.

“Marine Harvest Scotland maintains several quality, environmental and animal welfare standards that recognise and audit our full production cycle that takes place in freshwater and at sea,” he said. “The ASC standard is also a certification scheme we are very much wanting to pursue.”

MH Scotland’s Norwegian parent company, Marine Harvest, regards the ASC standard as the most stringent sustainability standard available and wants all its farms accredited by 2020. It currently has 52 ASC-certified salmon farms in Norway, 18 in Canada and five in Ireland. Two farms are under assessment in Chile.

Fisheries Management Scotland, the representative body for Scotland’s network of district salmon fishery boards, the River Tweed Commission and rivers and fisheries trusts, also regards the ASC standards highly, but does want to see a change in the ASC’s freshwater farm smolt rules.

In a submission to the ASC’s consultation on updating trout standards, it states: “The proposal to lift the prohibition on production of smolts in areas of freshwater containing wild salmonids is of concern to many fisheries managers in Scotland.”

Addressing impacts

Fisheries Management Scotland adds: “We would emphasise that many fisheries managers in Scotland see clear potential in ASC certification in helping to address some of the current and historic impacts of the salmon farming industry in the marine phase of production. In particular, some of the standards go much further than the current regulatory regime in Scotland, and this is viewed as a very positive development.

“However, there is also a perception that the use of variance requests has the potential to ‘water down’ these benefits and if such variation requests were routinely granted in Scotland it is clear that support for the ASC salmon standard would dissipate very quickly.”