Information ‘relating to reporting of unexplained mortalities of cleaner fish in relation to Scottish Salmon production’. Specifically you requested information from January 2017 to the present (15 August 2022), as follows:
1) Have, as part of the requirements of the Aquatic Animal Health (Scotland) Regs 2009, any instances of unexplained mortality of cleaner fish been reported to the competent authority for the above periods.
a) If so, on how many occasions?
b) If so, what were the numbers of mortalities reported by incident or total per period/year (as your data provides)?
c) If so, were improvement recommendations or similar given by the competent authority and/or was action taken against the salmon producer?
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.
Some of the information you have requested is available on the Scottish Government website and specific details concerning this are provided below. 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.
The Fish Health Inspectorate can be informed of mortalities from aquaculture sites either directly through communications from industry stakeholders or through our active surveillance activities involving communication with farm staff and site inspection.
I can confirm that, with respect to cleaner fish, and in relation to the time period of your request, we have received two communications concerning unexplained mortalities relating to cleaner fish, although subsequently an explanation for both the mortality events was established.
Firstly, information was provided to Marine Scotland’s Fish Health Inspectorate in 2021 concerning mortality at Organic Sea Harvest’s Culnacnoc fish farm site. This information has already been the subject of a freedom information request and has been released and published on the Scottish Government website: https://www.gov.scot/publications/foi-202200277100/
Secondly, Marine Scotland’s Fish Health Inspectorate received a report of mortality in 2020 relating to Organic Sea Harvest’s Invertote fish farm site this included:
- 1st to 7th August (inclusive) – Lumpfish - 5,576 for a total of 30.79%
- 8th to 10th August (inclusive) – Lumpfish – 490 for a total of 3.05%
At that time the site had been treating for sea lice infestation and further details of the reasoning and extent of mortality are available through case 20200465 which is publicly available on the Scottish Government website:
The above information is extracted from email communications held.
We hold no further direct reports from stakeholders of unexplained mortality relating to cleaner fish with respect to the timescale of your request.
As referred to above, reports of mortality, both explained and unexplained, can also be obtained through the FHI active surveillance programme. The information recorded through surveillance includes specific mortality details collected by individual fish health inspectors. Information relating to this surveillance, including the findings of any investigations, case paperwork and the reports issued by the FHI to aquaculture companies are subject to an active publication plan. Information is published on a monthly basis, one month in arrears, following the closure of the case. You can access this information through the Scottish Government website: https://www.gov.scot/collections/publication-of-fish-health-inspectorate-information/
We do not hold tabulated data of mortality events associated with cleaner fish which detail the number of occasions reports have been received and the number of mortalities, either per incident or per time period.
It may be beneficial to consider some further context with respect to the requirements within the Aquatic Animal Health (Scotland) Regulations 2009. In accordance with regulation 23(2) of the 2009 Regulations, a relevant person is guilty of an offence if that person-
- (a) knows or suspects that increased mortality has occurred or is occurring in aquaculture animals; and
- (b) fails immediately to notify the competent authority or a veterinarian of that knowledge or suspicion.’
In this case the Fish Health Inspectorate undertake the function of the competent authority on behalf of Scottish Ministers. Importantly, the legislative requirements also allow notifications to be made to a recognised veterinarian and that can either be a third party or company veterinarian of the relevant aquaculture company. Most aquaculture businesses have recognised veterinarians whom would receive this information in the first instance and thereby meet the legislative requirements.
It is also important to consider that the term ‘increased mortality’ is defined through Annex I of Directive 2006/88/EC as:
‘unexplained mortalities significantly above the level of what is considered to be normal for the farm or mollusc farming area in question under the prevailing conditions. What is considered to be increased mortality shall be decided in cooperation between the farmer and the competent authority’.
Under the terms of the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs (information not held), the Scottish Government is not required to provide information which it does not have. The Scottish Government does not have information relating to ‘improvement recommendations or similar given by the competent authority’ or information relating to ‘action taken against the salmon producer’. No information is held because no such improvement recommendations or enforcement actions have been taken against salmon producers in relation to the subject area of cleaner fish mortality, within the time period of your request.
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 improvement recommendations and enforcement actions relating to cleaner fish mortality, clearly we cannot provide information which we do not hold.
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
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