Salmon farm medicine having significant environmental impact, study finds

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Medicine used at Scottish salmon farms is having a significant impact on the marine environment, according to a study.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is calling for tighter regulation of the sector after research found the existing approach does not adequately protect marine life

The survey examined environmental impacts from eight Scottish fish farms, with scientists analysing
302 chemical samples from 93 sample stations and 296 ecological samples from 142 stations.

Samples taken for chemical analysis were analysed for the sea lice medicine Emamectin Benzoate (EmBz) and Teflubenzuron (Tef), last used in 2013.

The medicines were detected in 98% and 46% of samples respectively, with residues more widely spread in the environment around fish farms than had previously been found.

Sepa said “the status quo is not an option” and is calling for a revised regime that will strengthen regulation of the sector.

Proposals include encouraging operators to site and operate fish farms in less environmentally sensitive waters which could lead to fewer farms in shallower, slow-flowing waters and more in deeper and faster-flowing waters.

They also propose a tighter standard for the organic waste deposited by fish farms and a new interim approach for controlling the use of EmBz, as well as enhanced environmental monitoring and the creation of a new Sepa enforcement unit.

Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of Sepa, said: “Whilst a high-quality environment and abundant freshwater resources are vital to Scotland’s aquaculture sector, it’s an industry that attracts polarised positions, from those who cite its economic contribution to those who stridently oppose its existence.

“As one of a number of organisations regulating finfish aquaculture, Sepa is clear that our job is to make sure environmental standards protect the marine environment for the people of Scotland and we make sure the industry meets those. That’s unequivocally our focus.

“Consequently across the last 16 months we’ve done more science, more analysis and more listening than ever before. Whilst we’re seeing innovation in the sector, we’ve concluded that Scottish salmon farm medicine is significantly impacting local marine environments which increases the now substantial weight of scientific evidence that the existing approaches do not adequately protect marine life.

“We agree that ‘the status quo is not an option’, which is why we’re announcing firm, evidence-based proposals for a revised regime that will strengthen the regulation of the sector.”

Sepa is launching a seven-week consultation on the proposals and will host a series of nine events across Scotland during November and December.

Salmon farm
Sepa said Scotland is the largest Atlantic salmon aquaculture producer in the European Union (David Cheskin/PA)

“It is the culmination of years of collaborative work between the Scottish salmon farmers and Sepa to develop a new framework for the gradual and careful expansion of the Scottish salmon sector.

“We share Sepa’s vision of an innovative, sustainable salmon industry underpinned by clear and accurate regulation. This report will remove many of the barriers preventing the development of more modern facilities further from the shore and we look forward to Sepa’s support as the industry makes this change.

“The discovery of residues is important information but it should be remembered that salmon farmers were operating to Sepa guidelines throughout the past five years.

“We look forward to contributing to the consultation.”

Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell MSP said: “This is welcome research that further demonstrates the profound impact industrial fish farming is having on Scotland’s marine environment.

“However, the proposals to tighten regulations for fish farms simply don’t go far enough and may result in even larger farms.

“Further expansion of this industry whilst such serious concerns remain is unjustified and a moratorium on new farms is urgently needed.”

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