RETAIL GIANTS like Tesco were today urged to recognise the environmental damage caused by salmon farms which fail to prevent accidental releases of fish into the wild, following an escape of up to 100,000 smolts into Loch Lochy, near Fort William, Scotland.

In a thinly-veiled call for a boycott of salmon farmers, such as Marine Harvest, by major retailers, Andrew Wallace, managing director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) and the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS), raised the temperature of the war of words between the administrators of Scotland’s wild salmon fisheries and the salmon farming industry.

Andrew Wallace, ASFB: Escapes 'appalling'

Wallace denounced as “appalling” an escape of Atlantic salmon smolts from Marine Harvest cages in Loch Lochy, part of the Caledonian Canal, north of Fort William. He said:

“We keep on hearing about the high standards the industry purports to work to but elementary problems such as containment remain unresolved.

“We remain highly sceptical that the regulatory framework for salmon farming and the industry’s much-trumpeted Code of Good Practice are anywhere near adequate to properly manage an industry that only gets away with this sort of incompetence because the problems are out of sight and out of mind”.

The ASFB claimed Marine Harvest, a Tesco supplier, had been unable to put an exact figure on the smolt escape which it said had been caused by a “storm event” at the end of last month.

Wallace’s broadside continued: “This latest escape suggests that the industry’s appalling record on containment is continuing. It has occurred at a new so-called ‘state of the art’ farm which, despite industry fanfare, has proved incapable of withstanding the impact of moderate winds, the kind that are hardly uncommon in the west Highlands.

“It makes a mockery of Marine Harvest’s mission statement – to ‘minimise the environmental impact of its activities and operate in harmony with the environment’.”

And he added:

It is time that responsible retailers such as Tesco considered the environmental damage caused by suppliers like Marine Harvest”.

Wallace’s comments are bound to call into question the current effectiveness of the Government’s Tripartite Working Group, set up in 1999 to try to forge “trust and consensus” between the aquaculture industry and wild salmon interests.

Both the ASFB and the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) are represented on the body.

Neither the SSPO nor Marine Harvest was contactable for comment tonight, but Between The Lines will seek responses from both organisations as soon as possible and an explanation for the growing anger expressed by the ASFB.

The ASFB and SSPO locked horns last autumn over a claim by the SSPO chief executive Scott Landsburgh, that wild Scottish salmon stocks were already in decline before the advent of farm cages n 1972. Wallace said the statement was “unacceptable”.

In January Jon Gibb, Clerk to the Lochaber District Salmon Fishery Board, responsible for wild fish stocks in the Lochy catchment, which has one of the highest densities of fish farms in Scotland, backed conservationist pleas to the Government for more rigorous controls on sea lice infestations in aquaculture cages amid growing fears of the effect of parasites on natural salmon and sea trout populations.

Gibb said today: “Through interbreeding escaped farmed salmon pose a major risk to the genetic integrity and thus the survival of wild salmon populations. Just a few miles away there are huge non-migratory fish waterbodies such as Loch Laggan that could easily accommodate many of these smolt farms. But yet they continue to proliferate in pristine salmon and sea trout lochs where they are proven to have a detrimental impact.”

He said he feared that “Lochy salmon could be driven into extinction before someone has the sense to put a stop to this madness.”