Whether it’s sea-lice, chemical pollution or the inability to confine their stocks, aquaculture has long been the unreachable itch for those with a vested interest in wild Atlantic salmon conservation. Now, new research funded by the Scottish government has revealed that 25 per cent of West Coast salmon contain DNA from Norwegian fish.
Since 2002, on the West Coast of Scotland alone, a reported 2.4 million farmed Atlantic salmon have escaped from approximately 400 farms. Add to this the vast number of emancipated rainbow trout which plague lochs and rivers, and certain natural ecosystems and cycles are fated to be distorted.
Don Staniford of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture states: “Norwegian-owned salmon farms are killing off Scotland's iconic wild salmon. Genetic pollution is eroding Scottish wild salmon and turning them into Norwegian hybrids.”
Analysis of 1,472 wild West Coast salmon was undertaken by the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (Rafts) from 2005-2011, and 369 were identified to have DNA amalgamations – a statistic significantly higher than that of the Scottish east coast. This tainting of the wild salmon gene pool is believed to be weakening the species and hence chances of survival. Much like reared pheasants, farmed salmon have lost the fundamental survival instincts that have been instilled in wild populations through natural selection.
Ever since the establishment and coercive expansion of aquaculture, the situation of Salmo salar on the West Coast has made for dire reading, and the level at which this crossbreeding escalates could have major implications.
In addition to this, in the latter months of last year an international study proved that sea-lice are responsible for 39 per cent of the total mortality among young, wild salmon in European waters. A substantial chunk of the blame was directed towards aquaculture as farms provide the ideal breeding conditions for sea-lice, resulting in unnaturally high proliferations of this harmful parasite.
Despite the near constant wave of fresh information highlighting the apparent ineptitude of fish farms to properly manage and detain their non-native stocks, the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation plead innocence and new sites are rapidly proposed around the Scottish and Irish coast (especially with the opportunity to feed China's one billion people), all the time growing in size whilst also promising to comply with every eco-friendly regulation.
The most worrying of these proposals are the Galway Bay ‘mega farms' applied for by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, which are set to encompass a whopping 456 hectares, with 15,000 tonnes of salmon due to be harvested per annum – the biggest in Europe. As expected, this isn't sitting comfortably with many Irish angling organisations.
Amongst all the controversy, very few realistic proposals are put forward to create a situation where salmon farming can be both sustainable and less damaging to the environment and wild salmon populations. However, a new fish farming company called Fishfrom believes it has the answer: take salmon farming entirely out of the sea. Their plan is to build a vast new warehouse at Tayinloan on the West Coast of Scotland, where it aims to farm salmon on dry land in conditions free from chemicals, sea-lice and seals.
The warehouse, planned to begin production in 2014 (if given the green light in May 2013), has the objective of shipping 800,000 salmon annually, and will be a self-contained facility run on renewable energy, powered largely by solar panels and a small hydro scheme.
Although this may only combat a fraction of the current problems – and indeed it is likely to stumble across several of its own – surely this is a step in the right direction and a suitable alternative to littering our coastlines with acres and acres of cages and, in light of this new research, to put a much-needed speed bump in the distressing levels of wild salmon hybrids.