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Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill - Consultation Document

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SECTION 3: FISH FARMING AND WILD SALMONID INTERACTIONS

52. There are essentially two critical issues around interactions between aquaculture and the wild salmon and freshwater fisheries sector: the potential impacts of sea lice; and the potential impacts of escapes from fish farms.

Sea-lice

53. A number of the measures set out in section 1 of this consultation document are relevant to consideration of sea-lice management, as part of a wider, strategic approach to sustainable aquaculture management.

54. The industry Code sets out the approach to managing sea-lice, including (at Annex 11) the National Strategy for Sea-Lice Control. This includes non-therapeutic management and lice treatments, on a co-ordinated basis, with an objective to prevent the development of gravid females. If this strategic approach to 'prophylactic' treatments is effective, there is a reduced risk of infection of wild salmonids from fish farms.

55. The Code currently suggests the criterion for triggering sea-lice treatment during the period 1 st February to 30 th June inclusive as an average of 0.5 adult female Lepeophtheirus salmonis per fish: and, during the period 1 st July to 31 st January inclusive, an average of 1.0 adult female L. salmonis per fish. A key objective of the strategy is to minimise adult female lice on farmed fish in the Spring as this is when wild salmon and sea trout smolts leave fresh water and enter the sea.

56. There are some associated risks of increasing resistance to therapeutants and tensions with fish health and welfare considerations, but we believe there is a case for additional measures. We believe that Scottish Ministers should have the power to determine a lower threshold above which remedial action needs to be taken in these months in, for example, key areas of Scotland with significant wild fisheries and/or where fish farming involves high biomasses of fish (meaning the overall burden of lice may be significant), subject to consultation with appropriate local interests in the areas concerned. We envisage that it might be possible in certain Farm Management Areas in relatively few parts of Scotland, where wild populations might warrant additional protection, that trigger points could be lower than the norm. This step would be expected to be utilised as part of a suite of protective measures to be taken by both wild fisheries and fish farming interests. It is also consistent with similar practices in Norway and in Canadian provinces.

57. The intention would be for there to be discussions between Marine Scotland, the relevant farm operator and their veterinary advisor about options for measures to address the lice burden on the farm, taking into account both farmed fish welfare and wider environmental impact considerations.

Q Do you agree that there is a case for giving Scottish Ministers powers to determine a lower threshold above which remedial action needs to be taken in appropriate circumstances and potentially as part of a wider suite of protection measures?

Containment and Escapes

58. Tackling fish farm escapes has been identified as a key priority in A Fresh Start - the renewed Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture. Concerns relate to perceived impacts of escaped fish through behavioural and ecological interactions and through competition for food and habitat - for example, farmed salmonids escaping directly into salmon and sea trout habitat and then 'homing' to these spawning grounds and interbreeding with native fish. As well as the well-publicised escape events involving medium to large numbers of fish, there is also anecdotal evidence suggesting ongoing 'leakage' of small numbers of fish, over time, into the freshwater system. It has been suggested that, despite greatly reduced levels of reported escapes, these 'drip' losses of fish pose a threat to the gene pool of wild salmon.

59. The Improved Containment Working Group, established in September 2009 under the auspices of the Ministerial Group on Aquaculture, is making significant progress on a range of actions to improve containment. This, along with increased awareness of containment issues, Marine Scotland Science's containment inspection regime, and significant investment by the salmon farming industry in new equipment, has led to the lowest reported fish farm escapes in 2010 since statutory reporting began in May 2002. Reported escapes in 2011 are at a similar level.

60. This progress is very welcome, but it is vital as part of the aquaculture industry's sustainable development that the level of escapes is minimised - in particular where they may be due to equipment which is inappropriate or unsuitable for the location in which the farm is operating. This has been recognised and is being addressed by the industry.

Establishing a Scottish Technical Standard for fish farm equipment

61. Continuing progress we believe requires clearly defined and auditable standards to be put in place. This would provide clarity for both industry and regulators, planners and equipment suppliers. It would also bring Scotland into line with best international practice: Norway already has a technical ( NYTEK) standard in place (since 2003) which took over 10 years to develop and implement and was further updated in 2010.

62. Through the Improved Containment Group, industry has agreed to a Scottish Technical Standard for fish farm equipment. We propose to make this a statutory requirement, with sanctions for non-compliance. The standard would apply to all Scottish freshwater and marine finfish farms and would cover nets, pens and mooring systems. It would be site specific and cover physical considerations such as wave height, wind and current speeds. There would also need to be an appropriate lead-in period to allow for existing equipment to be replaced during business cycles.

63. There is a number of reasons for introducing a Scottish Technical Standard:

  • the current system in Scotland relies on recommendations in industry's voluntary Code of Good Practice that ' Installations, facilities, moorings, pens and nets etc should be fit for purpose for the site conditions and installed by an appropriately qualified person.' There is currently no defined standard and no robust audit process;
  • to provides greater certainty as to what is and what is not suitable. Anecdotal evidence suggests that companies will balance risk with equipment quality and, ultimately, cost. The larger companies can generally afford higher specification equipment but some operators may risk using unsuitable or lower quality material. This will be more of an issue when farm gate prices of fish are lower and businesses have limited capital to invest in new and replacement equipment;
  • it is also common practice for businesses to rotate equipment between sites - sometimes with very different environmental conditions. This is based mainly on experience and local knowledge. A defined standard that states exactly what equipment is suitable for specific conditions would give confidence to the business but also to planners, regulators and insurers;
  • under existing powers in the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, Fish Health Inspectors inspect sites to ensure that measures are in place to contain fish and prevent escapes. However, they are not engineers and can only conduct an above-water-line check for obvious equipment failures. Inspectors will also check records for attestations from manufacturers that the equipment is fit for purpose, but cannot be expected to identify below-water-line failures or whether equipment is appropriately set up. A standard would help address this, at least to an extent;
  • industry have, in the past suggested that planning authorities have been reluctant to approve new sites, particularly where there may be local concerns about potential escapes and impacts on the environment. The current system relies on companies asking suppliers for attestations that the equipment is "fit for purpose". Having a standard in place would help reassure planners, decision makers and the public about the suitability of equipment;
  • Norwegian government and industry have advised that NYTEK raised the level of awareness around escapes and forced farm managers to improve training of personnel and to be more demanding towards equipment suppliers. We would anticipate similar benefits in Scotland;
  • work is well underway on developing global aquaculture equipment standards through an international standards technical working group ( ISO 234). It is possible that these will be adopted by the EU. Scotland (through the UK - British Standards Institute) is now represented on the group and will have the opportunity to ensure development of complementary standards.

64. Preliminary work on developing a draft standard is well underway. In late 2010, Thistle Environmental were appointed, through the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum ( SARF), to develop the draft technical standard in conjunction with industry. The team included specialist Scottish and Norwegian aquaculture engineers and looked closely at existing standards and protocols, including the Norwegian Standard NS9415 and the accompanying NYTEK legislation; identified which sections are transferable; and highlighted additional considerations for the unique Scottish circumstances. The project team is expected to deliver two key documents to SARF: a draft Scottish technical standard; and a gap analysis report recommending further information required to develop the standard (which will also include recommendations for inspection, certification and accreditation methods).

65. This process to date has been steered by representatives of the Improved Containment Working Group and involved close dialogue with Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout farmers; trade associations; pen, net and mooring manufacturers; engineers and Scottish Government. This is to ensure that the standard is developed appropriately and will be fit for purpose.

Q Do you agree we should provide powers for Scottish Ministers to require all finfish farms operating in Scotland to use equipment that conforms to a Scottish Technical Standard? (The technical content of the standard would be defined separately.)

Tracing Escapes

66. Despite progress and efforts towards technical solutions etc, escapes may not be totally eradicated. We therefore suggest some additional measures.

67. As genetic marking and tracing methods develop it is expected that it may become easier to trace escaped fish back to their farm of origin, so that the fish-farmer in question can be notified and if necessary take remedial action. Future methodological developments may allow tracing by a number of different means and we believe it would therefore be appropriate not to restrict any power to a specific type of sample.

68. While section 5 (3) (a) of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007 provides a power for inspectors to take samples of fish from farms for the purposes of ascertaining whether fish have escaped from that farm, these powers are tightly drawn and no specific power exists for Inspectors to take samples upon which future investigations and tracing could be based. We therefore propose to create a more general power for authorised officers to take or require samples of fish from farms.

Q Do you agree that there should be additional powers for Scottish Ministers to take or require samples of fish from fish farms, for tracing purposes?

69. For clarity, it is the intention that these powers would be used on a targeted basis. It is not the intention to undertake universal sampling and to create a national database of genetic samples, which would be impractical, unaffordable and unnecessary.