A still from the video clip on The Ferret's website taken from a film by salmon farming critic Corin Smith.

Salmon farming critic films injured fish in cage at Lewis

A video clip has been released showing salmon with severe lice damage in a cage at a Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) site in Loch Roag, on the west of Lewis.

Published Last updated

Photographer, fly-fishing guide and salmon industry critic Corin Smith made the 20-minute film, a two-minute clip of which has been published by Scottish investigative journalism website, The Ferret, accompanied by a report by environment writer Rob Edwards.

The video clip shows two or three clearly-injured salmon which have had scales eaten away around the head area and on other parts of their body and are swimming slowly near the surface. Apparently healthy fish flash by quickly in the background.

Filmed from the air

According to The Ferret report, Smith first became concerned about the health of the fish when he used a drone on August 22 to film the Vacasay fish farm from the air. The Ferret report includes a drone photo by Smith which appears to show a wellboat carrying out treatment at the farm.

“I was alarmed at the obvious high state of distress of the fish on the farm and could observe mortalities on the surface,” he told The Ferret.

Before sunrise on August 27 he paddled and swam half a mile to a cage at the farm, one of seven in the Loch Roag area operated by SSC.

‘Utterly shocked’

Smith, who made a written submission to the Scottish Parliament’s ongoing salmon farming inquiry arguing that allowing expansion of the industry would be “an act of gross negligence”, told The Ferret: “I was utterly shocked at the health of the stock and the very high proportion of fish in poor health with mortal sea lice infestation.

“For fish to have reached this state of heath as a result of sea lice parasites eating their flesh, this situation would have had to occur over a matter of weeks.”

He estimated that as many as 80% of the salmon at Vacasay were suffering from lice damage, and claimed he saw “hundreds” of infested salmon in one part of one cage.

According to the The Ferret, a government spokesperson said: “Marine Scotland are currently investigating concerns raised by a member of the public regarding lice at a fish farm in Lewis, and will be carrying out an inspection on the site imminently.

“We take submissions of this nature seriously and are working to establish the facts on this case before coming to an informed position.”

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, Mike Flynn, told the website: “We can confirm we were alerted to a salmon farm on the Isle of Lewis and our enquiries are currently on-going.”

Wild salmon

In July wild salmon were also filmed heavily infested with lice in Blackwater River, which runs into Loch Roag and has a five-year average catch of 162 salmon.

Angling pressure group Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), which initially forced the Scottish Parliament to launch inquiries into salmon farming, has blamed lice from SSC farms for the infestations.

S&TCS director Andrew Graham-Stewart said about dead wild salmon were taken from a tidal pool below the river, but that many more were at the bottom of the pool.

“It is highly probably that many fish which had been badly infested with sea lice died out in the sea loch. I think it’s likely there will be many hundreds. What we’ve found in this pool is the tip of the iceberg.”

Graham-Stewart said that following a Freedom of Information request the S&TC last week received figures showing that during the summer each of SSC’s six stocked farms in Loch Roag had at one time or another lice levels above three per fish but below eight.

Warm weather

A spokesperson for SSC said: “Fish health and welfare is central to responsible salmon farming and we take this very seriously. However, as with any farmed stock, mortalities can occur and this has been exacerbated by the warm weather this summer.”

News of an intruder at the Vacasay site was reported last week, with SSC chief executive Craig Anderson pointing out: “It’s a breach of health and safety, and it’s a breach of biosecurity.

“When people are so angry that they want to put their own lives at risk and put our fish and the biosecurity of our fish at risk, it’s a serious matter. It’s unprofessional, it’s possibly illegal and we’ll look into it further.”

The release of the video via The Ferret yesterday comes just two days before the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee reconvenes after the summer break to consider a draft report into its salmon farming inquiry.

That is likely to be done in private.