Publication - FOI/EIR release

Meall Mhor fish farm: EIR release

Published: 25 Aug 2021

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004

Published:
25 Aug 2021
Meall Mhor fish farm: EIR release
FOI reference: FOI/202100216680
Date received: 23 Jun 2021
Date responded: 16 Aug 2021
Information requested

Information concerning a disclosure made to Scottish Government relating to a possible offence under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007 at Meall Mhor fish farm.

Specifically:

1. Was the disclosure notified to others within Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government? Please set out the positions held of all those individuals that were subsequently notified of this disclosure, when and how.

2. Did anyone within Marine Scotland or the Scottish Government have contact with TSSC after the disclosure of a possible offence? Please provide details (dates, times and methods) of all contacts (which may include but not be limited to email, letter, telephone, messaging services or similar) between any part of the Scottish Government and The Scottish Salmon Company (or anyone(body) representing them) from the time of disclosure to the present (the search should not be limited by any terms).

3. Please provide copies of all correspondence, discussion, meeting notes, that would fall within the scope of question 2.

4. Has anyone within Marine Scotland or the Scottish Government visited Meall Mhor fish farm? Please provide details (dates, times, duration) of any visits by the Scottish Government to the fish farm concerned since the date of disclosure.

5. Please provide specific details of the activities undertaken and copies of information gathered during any visit which falls within the scope of question 4. 

6. Please provide details of, and copies of, any correspondence, discussion, meeting notes, telephone calls with third parties in relation to Meall Mhor fish farm since the date of disclosure.

7. On the 25th May, 1:45 BST, a FHI inspector accessed information that was disclosed in the original email of 12th May. This was done using a personal email account. Why was a personal email account used rather than an official government email account? Why was the information disclosed not reviewed for two weeks following the disclosure?

8. On 11th June, 10:54 BST an email was received from the Director of Marine Scotland which confirmed "there is no further information to gather, however the investigation is still ongoing." Please provide copies of all "information" that is being considered as part of the investigation.

9. With reference to  question 8 has Marine Scotland had any contact with Police Scotland and/or taken any legal advice in relation to this investigation? Please provide copies of any correspondance

10. The initial disclosure was supported with detailed video and photographic evidence. Has this all been reviewed within Marine Scotland? How has Marine Scotland analysed this evidence and what conclusions has it drawn from it? To what degree does Marine Scotland accept that video evidence can provide an accurate assessment of the sea lice abundance on salmon in individual cages and farms overall?

Response

As the information you have requested is 'environmental information' for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA. 

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.

We have responded to each part of your request specifically as detailed below.

1.   The disclosure was discussed at a operational level within Marine Scotland’s Fish Health Inspectorate as well as with colleagues within Marine Scotland Compliance and the Marine Scotland Director’s office.

Those communications were undertaken by email and MS Teams and included:

  • FHI Group Leader shared by email with an FHI Technical Manager – 12 May 2021
  • FHI Group Leader discussed with Marine Scotland Compliance Technical Assurance Lead – MS
  • Teams call 20 May 2021
  • FHI Group Leader discussed with MS Director’s office – MS Teams – 11 June 2021, this was undertaken subsequent to a complaint made to the Director’s office
  • The sharing of the disclosure by email on 17 May 2021 through the MS FishHealth mailbox to the Fish Health Inspector undertaking the records and paperwork inspection for Meall Mhor
  • The suggestion of false reporting of sea lice numbers at Meall Mhor (indicated through the disclosure) was communicated to fish health inspectors through a weekly FHI meeting on 14 May 2021. This communication did not involve sharing the whole disclosure made

2. Contact was made with TSSC following the disclosure. This part of the request has been restricted to any communications across SG only where they concern the disclosure made on 12 May, as per the clarification detailed above. Please find below a list of how and when the SG communicated with TSSC regarding the disclosure of 12 May:

  • A telephone conversation on 17 May 2021 @ 11:06 with TSSC business correspondent, with regards to arranging the paperwork part of the inspection resulting from the disclosure.
  • A telephone phone call to the Meall Mhor shore base with no answer @ 11:43, followed by a telephone call to a TSSC representative’s mobile phone number @ 12:15 for a conversation to arrange the completion of paperwork for the inspection.
  • A MS-Teams meeting invitation on 17 May 2021 by e-mail for undertaking the paperwork part of the inspection on the 19 May 2021. This communication included a template copy of the paperwork requiring completion as part of the inspection and registration details associated with the business and site
  • On 07 June 2021 three Fish Health Inspectors received an e-mail from the TSSC business correspondent with respect to the report issued following the site inspection. This email was seeking clarification over whether any further correspondence was to be expected with this case. As there were no recommendations made following the inspection, the case inspector confirmed that the case was closed. The business correspondent replied enquiring if information could be shared on the complaint which had been submitted. This request was handled under the EIRs (further details below). Although out with the time scale of your request I can advise you that a response to the request (FoI 202100212441) was issued and has been published on the Scottish Government’s website: https://www.gov.scot/publications/

FHI Technical Manager communication:

  • An email communication to TSSC Business Correspondent in response to an information request on 24 May 2021
  • Two telephone calls with TSSC Business Correspondent to query the numbering of cages on the Meall Mhor Loch Fyne site on 02 June 2021. Outgoing call made @ 13:50, incoming call received @ 15:10
  • An email communication from TSSC Business Correspondent with cage numbering on 03 June 2021
  • An email communication discussing sea lice count procedure with TSSC Business Correspondent on 04 June 2021
  • An email acknowledgment to TSSC Business Correspondent on 22 June 2021 of FoI 202100212441

FHI Group Leader communication:

  • A telephone conversation with TSSC Veterinarian querying the evidence upon which the sea lice investigation is based on 19 May 2021 @15:31
  • A telephone conversation with TSSC veterinarian on 17 June 2021, regarding TSSC request for information on the original intelligence leading to the sea lice inspection @16:45 

3. Copies of all relevant information held is attached.

With respect to the MS-Teams meeting invitation on 17 May 2021, referred to above, a template copy of the paperwork requiring completion as part of the inspection and the registration details associated with the business and site have not been provided to you through this response. This is because this information is publicly available. In the case of completed paperwork relating to the inspection this is available through the Scottish Government website. With respect to registration details these can be accessed through Scotland’s Aquaculture website as well as the Scottish Government’s register of Authorised Aquaculture Production Businesses:

https://www.gov.scot/collections/publication-of-fish-health-inspectorate-information/
http://aquaculture.scotland.gov.uk/
https://www.gov.scot/collections/fish-health-inspectorate-authorisation-and-registration/

4. The Fish Health Inspectorate, in investigating the information provided, undertook an inspection of paperwork and records remotely over MS Teams on 19 May 2021 and a physical site inspection was conducted on 20 May 2021.

5. The focus of the inspections was to establish if there was any information which would give substance to the alleged offence. To facilitate this, a Sea Lice Enhanced Inspection was conducted and to ascertain whether the site had satisfactory measures in place for the prevention, control and reduction of sea lice with respect to the farmed fish population on site.

FHI case number 20210151 is relevant to the investigation which was conducted. This information has been made publicly available through the Scottish Government’s proactive publication of information associated with aquatic animal health surveillance:

https://www.gov.scot/collections/publication-of-fish-health-inspectorate-information/

6. Details of third party communications concerning the disclosure in relation to Meall Mhor include:

  • An email complaint received from Argyll Fisheries Trust (AFT) on 13 May 2021. A copy of which is provided with this response.
  • A telephone conversation between the FHI Group Leader with AFT Senior Fisheries Biologist, discussing the content of the complaint received from AFT – 13 May 2021 @ 17:09

7. The information provided in the email of 12 May 2021 was reviewed on that same day together with the images and video footage provided through Google Drive. When the Google Drive footage was accessed on 12 May 2021, no login was required.

Subsequent attempts to access the Google drive footage without a login were unsuccessful so a staff member used a Google account established for work purposes to login to Google Drive. When the information held on Google Drive was accessed on 25 May, following the inspections referred to in point 4, above, and to review all of the evidence and information available in order to reach a conclusion, additional images and video footage appeared available to that which was accessed on 12 May 2021.

8.The information that was considered as part of the investigation is contained within the FHI inspection paperwork and the report issued to TSSC. This information, recorded through FHI case number 20210151, is publicly available on the SG website:

https://www.gov.scot/collections/publication-of-fish-health-inspectorate-information/

9.Marine Scotland has had no contact with Police Scotland and has not taken any legal advice regarding the investigation which has been undertaken. Therefore we are refusing this part of your request under the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) (information not held) of the EIRs. Please see section on the exceptions that have been applied to this request below for more details.9/

10. The number of gravid female L. salmonis indicated that further investigation was justified. From the analysis of the first pen, it was evident that a number of fish had gravid female sea lice attached in single figure numbers. The second pen also had gravid female sea lice attached in single figure numbers, although slightly higher than the first pen. Following the investigation conducted under case 20210151, a more detailed analysis of sea lice by stage and number was not considered necessary for the purposes of investigating a potential offence of The Fish Farming Businesses (Reporting) (Scotland) Order 2020 in relation to sea lice management on the aquaculture animals at the site.

The use of video evidence can provide a limited picture of the parasites, as defined in the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, present on aquaculture animals. If the population sampled by video does not cover all parts of the population present on site, or is focussed on individual animals or subpopulations, this can provide an incomplete picture of the situation on the site. Sea lice numbers are most accurately estimated through random sampling, for example through the procedure recognised as industry best practice and as detailed within the CoGP (Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture). Current sea lice management requirements are in place to enable Aquaculture Production Businesses to demonstrate that satisfactory measures are in place for the prevention, control and reduction of parasites in respect of the fish farm and its farmed population.

From the information provided and the follow up investigation undertaken by the FHI it was concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegation of an offence in relation to sea lice reporting. Whilst there were a number of individual fish demonstrating morbidity, physical damage and the presence of adult female sea lice numbers above the average data level which has been reported, this was not uniform throughout the entire population of fish held on site. No evidence of sea lice data misreporting has been established and consequently the case inspection was closed with no further action required.

Exceptions apply
Some of the information you have requested is publicly available – details have been provided above within the responses issued to the specific questions. Under regulation 6(1)(b) of the EIRs, we do not have to give you information which is already publicly available and easily accessible to you in another form or format. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website(s) listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information (specifically that requested at point 9 above) you have requested. Therefore we are refusing your request under the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) (information not held) of the EIRs.

This exception is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. While we recognise that there may be some public interest in information about the handling of complaints made, clearly we cannot provide information which we do not hold.

An exception under regulation 11(2) of the EIRs (personal information) applies to some of the information requested, as well as some of the information within question 7 of your request, because it is personal data of a third party and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This exception is not subject to the 'public interest test', so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception.

About FOI

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Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
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