Fish health checks and lice counts by Loch Duart staff will be monitored by the West Sutherland Fisheries Trust . Photo: Loch Duart.

Fisheries trust to oversee Loch Duart sea lice counts

Scottish salmon farmer Loch Duart is to have its sea lice counting activities monitored and audited by West Sutherland Fisheries Trust (WSFT) in a move to counter claims by critics of the industry that self-performed counts lack independence.

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Loch Duart partnered with the WSFT in 2018 on a sea trout tracking project in Loch Laxford and is now inviting Trust biologists on to its sites to monitor the farmed stock health checks, involving sea lice monitoring.

“This independent audit fits Loch Duart’s policy on stewardship of the environment and transparency to local stakeholders,” said Loch Duart managing director Mark Warrington in a press release.

“The initiative is a continuation of our support for all bodies involved in caring for the local environment.”

Better understanding

Dr Shona Marshall, senior biologist at the WSFT, said: “We believe that being able to observe routine sea lice counting on a regular basis on farm sites will allow us to comment objectively on the quality of the lice data that is being submitted. It will also help us to better understand what is happening in our sea lochs and what the level of potential lice impacts on wild fish might be.”

Loch Duart said it had been publishing its sea lice levels on a voluntary basis via the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) since 2013.

Since the beginning of this month, it has been a statutory requirement for farmers to report lice counts to Marine Scotland on a weekly basis.

Belief in transparency

“Despite this ever-increasing level of transparency on data and long-established industry routines, there have been criticisms that the counting of sea lice by farmers themselves lacks independence,” stated Loch Duart.

“Some critics claim that the reported data is not wholly reliable. The new auditing provided by WSFT is a further commitment from Loch Duart which underlines their belief in the transparency of health check monitoring, and the importance of the reliability of sea lice data submitted to Marine Scotland. Whilst the Trust receives funding for its service work it is independent of those for whom it provides services.”

Trust biologists will:

  • visit 4 different Loch Duart farm sites each month to observe the routine, weekly sea lice counts being carried out
  • monitor the procedures being followed and the recording of the results
  • review the data from all sites to establish consistency with the findings at visited sites, given the prevailing environmental and biological conditions

The Trust will provide Loch Duart with a monthly report on their site visits and findings which will be published on both the Loch Duart and the WSFT websites.