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“If Marine Harvest, with their chemicals, bath treatments and cleaner fish can’t control the sea lice then how on earth can this ‘organic’ project be different?” – South Skye resident

SEA LICE Infestation by sea lice is the bane of the salmon aquaculture industry. Scottish seas are a veritable ‘soup’ of predatory louse larvae, ready to latch onto any delicate young fish they encounter. In fish farms, the salmon are trapped, concentrated in cages, so lice soon find themselves in a paradise full of their favourite food and zillions of other lice with which to have sex. Salmon farms soon become overrun with lice, little crustaceans that feed voraciously on the skin and surface flesh of their prey, which weaken and pick up secondary diseases that may kill them. Sometimes an infestation of sea lice can be so severe that the entire farm has to be emptied and the carcases – known as ‘morts’ – transported south for rendering.

The industry throws everything it can think of at the problem – organophospahtes, avermectins, hydrogen peroxide, warm water, fresh water, cleaner fish – yet the lice keep nibbling!

That is the way with monoculture, be it a field of wheat (rust, mildew and aphids) or potatoes (aphids, viruses and blight) or battery hens, factory pigs and cattle (parasites, viral and bacterial epidemics). When will they ever learn? The one thing most fish farmers refuse to do is erect an exclusion barrier to protect their salmon: do away with the cages and convert to tanks.

ORGANIC? Certain conventional practices are forbidden to the organic salmon farmer, notably chemical sea louse treatments. They are bound by Soil Association standards and rules, including:

“A prohibition on the use of organophosphate or avermectin-based [e.g. emamectin benzoate] veterinary medicines due to their detrimental effect on the aquatic environment, including sediment-dwelling organisms.” – Soil Association aquaculture standards (2016)

Organic Sea Harvest Ltd. (OSH) does not have the equipment required for bath treatments and cleaner fish – though sanctioned by the Soil Association as ‘organic’ – are not as effective as claimed and wild trapping has catastrophic ecological consequences all round the UK coastline.

If, as proudly boasted by Scott Landsburgh of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation on BBC R4 Farming Today, annual sea lice control costs the Norwegian corporations who operate in Scotland £55m annually and the lice remain barely controlled, what chance does an outfit with reported assets of £75 of maintaining organic methodologies? They are already prepared for having to relinquish their organic status:

“It is intended that treatments be limited in accordance with Organic Standards but that licences are in place to allow for additional treatments if required to switch to conventional farming. Modelling has been carried out for the infeed treatment, Slice, with the active ingredient Emmamectin [sic] Benzoate (EMBZ), using the AutoDepomod model.” – OSH Environment Statement 17/04749/FUL

“It is recognised that if the farm breaches the Organic Standard there may be the need to farm under conventional farming methods.” – OSH Environment Statement 17/04749/FUL

We may reasonably predict that ‘organic’ will evaporate as soon as the sea lice find these new salmon farms, and it won’t take long.

North Skye residents supporting these planning applications (Culcacnoc & Scorrybreck plus two more proposed by OSH) because of the promise of organic might wish to reconsider their opinion. Anyone who does change their mind, please tell the Highland Council by 22 December (HOW?).

Please note that this article does not discuss the impacts of fish farm generated sea lice on wild popuations of sea trout and salmon. See HERE.



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