Nearly 50,000 salmon escaped when Mowi's Carradale North farm broke from its moorings in a storm. Mowi said the problem was due to anchor lines crossing and rubbing against each other. Photo: Mowi Scotland.

Mowi funds comprehensive wild fish study after escape

An extensive study of wild Atlantic salmon genetics has begun in Scotland to gauge the impact of any interbreeding between wild and farm-raised salmon following the escape of nearly 50,000 fish from a Mowi farm in August.

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The study will be managed by Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS), which represents district salmon fishery boards and fisheries trusts. It will be supported by Scottish government scientists from Marine Scotland Science, and funded by Mowi Scotland.

The multi-year study of 115 sites aims to confirm the current genetic profile of wild salmon and to track for the potential of genetic changes should interbreeding of farmed and wild salmon occur, Mowi and FMS said in a joint press release.

Storm Ellen

A total of 48,834 farm-raised salmon escaped from Mowi Scotland’s Carradale North in Kilbrannan Sound in the Firth of Clyde after becoming detached from its seabed anchors during Storm Ellen.

Since the escape, FMS has been working with its member boards and trusts, as well as angling associations, to monitor the situation and mitigate the impact of the escape on wild fish. Escaped farmed salmon have been caught by anglers in multiple rivers across Loch Lomond, Ayrshire, Clyde, Argyll and in three rivers in Cumbria, south of the Scotland-England border.

The priority for FMS and its members has been to ensure that any farmed fish are removed from the rivers, humanely killed, and scale samples submitted to enable accurate identification. Mowi has committed to support these actions.

Dr Alan Wells: "It is not acceptable for such escapes to occur."

Continue to engage

FMS chief executive Dr Alan Wells said: “We are very disappointed that this escape has occurred. The Carradale North farm is a new development, and we are all agreed it is not acceptable for such escapes to occur. It is crucial that lessons are learned, and that appropriate steps are taken to avoid such escapes happening in future.

“We have welcomed Mowi’s commitment to work with us and to fund a comprehensive genetics study that will help us better understand the potential impacts. We will continue to engage with the industry and regulators, with a view to improving the situation for wild salmon and sea trout.”

Ben Hadfield, chief executive officer of Mowi Scotland, said: “I would like to thank Fisheries Management Scotland and their member district salmon fishery boards and fisheries trusts for their efforts to remove these fish from rivers across the Firth of Clyde, and apologise for any disruption and concern this escape has caused all those with an interest in wild salmon.

“We have learned the root cause of the escape – system anchor lines crossing and resulting in friction failure – and acknowledge our responsibility to quickly learn from this event to prevent it from occurring again.”

Polly Burns: "We continue to urge anglers to report catches of farmed fish."

Anglers thanked

Polly Burns, aquaculture interactions manager at FMS, said: “We would like to thank anglers for their continuing efforts to capture and report farmed fish entering our rivers. We have received about 150 reports of farmed fish captures from a range of rivers both within and out with the Firth of Clyde and we continue to urge anglers to report catches of farmed fish, using the reporting system on our website.”

The comprehensive study of genetic introgression aims to add to the understanding of one of the potential pressures on Scotland’s wild salmon, which are approaching crisis point, the press release said.

The Scottish Government has identified a range of high-level pressures on wild salmon to also include: over-exploitation, predation, invasive species, habitat loss and quality, and inshore commercial fisheries.

Details of the new study were released after the escape featured on BBC’s The One Show last night, during which both Burns and Mowi Scotland communications and business development director Ian Roberts were interviewed.