A SCOTTISH fish farm company has paid out more than  £13,000 compensation in a unique out of court settlement after admitting it accidentally released juvenile salmon into a river system with a risk of polluting the wild strain of fish.

Mainstream Scotland, a subsidiary of the Norwegian salmon conglomerate CERMAQ,  paid the money to the  Forth District Salmon Fishery Board (FDSFB) after being presented with “incontrovertible evidence” that smolts from its land-based facility at Fossaway Bridge in Clackmannanshire had escaped into the River Devon, a tributary of the Forth.

The FDSFB said salmon farm escapees carried the threat of disease and posed a real threat of diluting the genetics of wild fish. “These factors have the potential to compromise severely the survival fitness of wild fish,” it said.

The case represents another pollution scalp for Fish Legal, formerly the Anglers’ Conservation Association.  Its Scottish solicitor, Robert Younger, told Between The Lines today:

“This is a unique result.  It is the first case of a successful claim for a freshwater land-based escape of fish and is important because it demonstrates that we are prepared to fight pollution wherever it happens.

“Fish farmers must be made to pay for the costs of the pollution caused by their industry.”

Fish Legal was first approached Mainstream last autumn. They responded with an out and out denial, according to Younger, despite the fact that  the smolts were found upstream of a waterfall that is impassable to wild salmon.

Presented with evidence from Marine Scotland, Sepa and the results of DNA testing, the fish farm company admitted liability and agreed to settle the FDSFB costs and the expenses of cleaning up the river.

Patrick Fothringham, director of the River Forth Fisheries Trust, said: “As far as we are aware this is the first example in Scotland of an escape from a so-called ‘closed containment unit.’

“The company maintains that it was adhering to the salmon farming industry’s much-vaunted code of good practice.  If it was, the fish still managed to escape.

“This suggests that, as many of us have argued for years, this code falls far short of being fit for purpose in terms of minimising the impact on wild fish.”

Andrew Wallace, managing director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) said: “This episode should be seen as a warning shot across the bows of the freshwater aquaculture industry where a culture of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has been allowed to develop.”

He said the ASFB was currently looking at other escapes on the Tay, Awe, and Garry systems and four freshwater lochs on the Isle of Lewis.