4. Farmed and Wild Salmonid Research Recommendations
4.1 Scottish Government should commit resources to review the research priorities identified in the Aquaculture Science and Research Strategy under the Ministerial Group for Sustainable Aquaculture and thereafter set out and commit to deliver a research strategy for wild salmonid research;
4.2 Following an independent peer review, the work undertaken by Marine Scotland Science in 2018 to determine the baseline for current levels of genetic introgression should be expedited for publication;
4.3 Efforts should be made to refine or develop genetic analysis tools to allow recent introgression arising from farmed fish escapes to be distinguished from any introgression arising from historic stocking activities;
4.4 A mechanism should be developed to secure access to biological information from past (if possible), current and future farmed strains, in a secure and safe manner to safeguard commercial and competitive interests, whilst delivering essential support to collaborative genetic monitoring and evaluation work;
4.5 The reforms to the regulatory system should encompass provisions to secure investment into addressing strategic research and innovation questions relating to farmed/wild salmonid interactions;
4.6 The SIWG acknowledges the importance of sea trout and recommends that further research is undertaken to understand sea and brown trout biology, the factors that influence anadromy in a population and the pressures affecting sea trout populations across Scotland including understanding the impact of sea lice and investigating whether any sea lice burdens are influenced by proximity to established farmed finfish sites.
Scottish Government Response to Section 4; Farmed and Wild Salmonid Research
Our freshwater fisheries and aquaculture scientists have progressively increased understanding of interactions between coastal aquaculture and wild salmonids.
Marine Scotland Science has now published the first national assessment of genetic introgression in Scotland. The study shows that there is a risk to wild salmon from introgression of genes from farmed salmon that escape, but that it may be low outside the aquaculture regions even though escaped fish may disperse widely at sea. The study is a snap shot in time and the findings are in line with observations from similar studies in Norway.
As a result of SIWG's recommendations and the recently published evidence of introgression in Scotland associated with fish farming, we will take forward a programme of work to strengthen the containment and escapes regulatory regime [see response to 2].
Our scientists have conducted a long-term monitoring study of the populations of trout in the River Shieldaig to assess impacts of sea lice and are currently finalising analyses of the data. Our scientists have already published analyses of the relationships between infestation of sea trout by sea lice and both stage of the farm cycle and distance from salmon farms including sites across the west coast of Scotland.
Methods developed initially for assessing salmon as part of the National Electrofishing Programme for Scotland will be adapted for assessing trout populations. This process will then facilitate an examination of pressures affecting trout across Scotland.
We are currently undertaking tracking studies to map distributions and migration paths of both sea trout and salmon from the Loch Torridon rivers. We have already reported on similar tracking studies of sea trout and salmon undertaken in Loch Linnhe. We are supporting a larger scale smolt tracking initiative, the West Coast Tracking Project, in collaboration with the Atlantic Salmon Trust and Fisheries Management Scotland and support from the SSPO, focussed on identifying migration behaviours of salmon but which may also record movements of sea trout tagged in other projects. Our scientists have generated lice dispersal models to understand movements and distribution of sea lice in relation to salmon farms and integrated best available data to understand how lice numbers on farms relate to likely consequences in terms of impacts on salmonid smolts.
We recognise that there remain challenges with assigning the resourcing required to fully deliver further research recommendations but as an organisation we are committed to improvement and will turn our attention to how these can be taken forward. We will consider how an enhanced containment regulatory framework might help us to deliver these recommendations. The Wild Salmon Strategy will identify and provide a mechanism for the coordination of wild salmonid research and we are committed to creating a vision and development strategy for Scotland's aquaculture industry and as part of that process we will consider aquaculture research priorities and how they are delivered.
In line with SNP manifesto commitments, the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party shared policy programme commits us to considering how the fish farming sector can contribute more to support communities, recreational fisheries, promote innovation and support services such as inspections and monitoring, including for the purposes of improving the scientific evidence base.
We agree with the SIWG recommendation which acknowledges the importance of sea trout and we commit to reconvening the Regulators Technical Working Group to discuss this issue.
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