Press release: OHAFF Opposes trial of electro-fishing for razor clams – Scot Gov / SEPA not a fit and proper regulator

OHAFF Press Statement – no embargo

3rd April 2017

OHAFF Opposes trial of electro-fishing for razor clams – Scot Gov / SEPA not a fit and proper regulator

OHAFF opposes The Scottish Government’s trial of electro-fishing for razor clams for two reasons – firstly, razor clam stocks and the marine environment are already over-stressed and over-fished. 

Secondly, as recent revelations of Scottish Government / SEPA kowtowing to salmon farming industry demands has shown, Scot Gov / SEPA are not a fit and proper regulator or custodian of Scotland’s seas and freshwater environments. OHAFF has no confidence that Scottish Government / SEPA can or will adequately and independently conduct the proposed trial and protect the marine environment from commercial over-fishing if this plan progresses, leading to a damaging depletion of razor clam numbers. 

OHAFF spokesperson, Peter Urpeth, said:

“At a time when the Scottish Government and SEPA have already been exposed as actively protecting the financial interests of shareholders in fish farming companies instead of protecting Scotland’s marine environment, it is totally wrong that new forms of potentially damaging industrialisation of our seas – requiring new forms of regulation and enforcement – have been placed in their hands.

“Just one day after control of the Crown Estate marine areas was transferred to Scottish Government control, the Scottish Government is increasing industrialisation of Scotland’s seas. This does not bode well for the future health and sustainability of Scotland’s marine environment. How long will it be before press leaks expose the Scot Gov / SEPA regulatory authorities as being weak in the face of the electro-fishers’ demands for greater and greater quotas? Or to having given in to industry demands to silence criticism of the industry in the press? OHAFF has no confidence that this Government and its weak regulator, SEPA, can or will protect Scotland’s marine environment in the face of such strong commercial interests and in the absence of a proper regulator no trial should be begin.”



Press Release – SEPA’s collusion must end

Press Release – 21st March 2017
For immediate use – no embargo
SEPA’s industry collusion must end
Revelations published by The Sunday Herald on Sunday 19th March 2017, confirm this campaign’s fears that SEPA have actively colluded with the industry to protect fish farmers’ financial interests and in so doing to enable the continuation of known and proven harm to Scotland’s marine environments.
The report reveals that in August 2016, SEPA dropped plans to restrict the use of sea-lice treatment chemical SLICE (emamectin) after pressure from the fish farmers industry body. SEPA had identified that SLICE was causing severe harm to Scotland’s marine environment and had planned to restrict use of the chemical from 2018. Instead, after interventions from the industry with warnings about the reputational and commercial impacts of the plan, the policy was dropped.
OHAFF spokesperson Peter Urpeth said:
“This campaign has long warned that the unchecked use of SLICE in this industry is causing great harm to Scotland’s marine environments, and SEPA’s own evidence supports that claim. The licensing and use of this chemical, and the monitoring of compliance with regulations, is SEPA’s important job. Instead, SEPA have put aside their responsibilities to protect Scotland’s environment in favour of protecting the profits made by Scotland’s fish farmers.
“SEPA must stop its shameful and cosy collusion with the industry and must now answer for its actions through a public enquiry. Scotland’s marine environment is already suffering from the impacts of salmon farming. Sea lice infestation, fish disease and pollution are rampant problems and without a fully independent and functioning environmental protection agency the impacts of the industry’s many problems will only increase. Scotland needs an environmental protect agency that is seen to be open and independent, what we have instead is an organisation that can seemingly be influenced in the shadows by industry lobbyists to change its policies.”
The Sunday Herald article can be read here:



OHAFF Press Release – Call for independent enquiry

Outer Hebrides Against Fish Farms

Press Release – 7th March 2017

For immediate use – no embargo

OHAFF calls for full independent enquiry into SEPA and Scottish Government’s links with the fish-farming industry

The exposure of SEPA’s willingness to bend to the will of the fish-farmers’ lobbying machine and to withhold damning environmental data from the public, is the smoking gun of everything that is wrong in the relationship between the Scottish Government, its environmental ‘protection’ agencies and the fish-farming industry in Scotland.

Recent revelations in Scotland’s national media (The Ferret, 6 March 2017) that SEPA “suppressed a critical report on pollution after private lobbying by the fish farming industry”, come as no surprise to campaigners against the destructive and unchecked spread of fish farms in our seas.

In recent years Outer Hebrides Against Fish Farms (OHAFF) has repeatedly highlighted that the Sottish Government’s relationship to fish-farming companies has been one of protection, secrecy and permissiveness – and collusion with the financial interests of Norwegian shareholders has been allowed to take precedence over the protection of Scotland’s marine environment.

There is now an urgent need for a full and independent enquiry into the relationship between SEPA and the fish-farming industry, and for the immediate suspension of senior SEPA staff managing and in decision making positions in terms of all aspects of aquaculture development and the protection of Scotland’s marine environment.

OHAFF spokesperson, Peter Urpeth, said:

“Nothing but a full and independent enquiry into SEPA and the government’s links with fish farming industry will work to secure public confidence in SEPA – and the Scottish government’s ability to independently and effectively protect Scotland’s marine environments. We have long argued that the relationship is too close and that, as a consequence, the proper enforcement of regulation is failing, and secrecy and PR spin are being allowed to replace the proper processes of public awareness and scrutiny of this industry and its impacts.

“We all know that the industry’s methods means it is facing huge issues with the spread of disease, and we have also constantly highlighted the wider and damaging environmental impacts of excessive chemical use in our seas. That has to stop, and the government has to stop the culture of collusion with the industry before it is too late for the wider marine environment.”



The Ferret: Government watchdog bowed to industry pressure on fish farm pollution

The Ferret


Government watchdog bowed to industry pressure on fish farm pollution


Rob Edwards on March 6, 2017


The Scottish Government’s green watchdog suppressed a critical report on pollution after private lobbying by the fish farming industry, according to internal emails published by The Ferret.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) bowed to pressure from the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) not to publish an article in August 2016 highlighting concerns about a fish farm pesticide killing wildlife.

The decision followed SSPO paying for two dinners out for Sepa executives. One at a restaurant in Perth in November 2015 included four senior Sepa staff and fish farm company directors, and the other in April 2016 involved Sepa chief executive Terry A’Hearn.

Sepa is accused of having “cravenly kowtowed” to salmon farming companies by environmental campaigners. But the idea that Sepa could be influenced over a couple of dinners was dismissed as “risible” by SSPO.

On 5 August 2016 Sepa emailed SSPO with a draft of an article it was proposing to publish on the use of pesticides to control sea lice. The article was due to coincide with new scientific evidence suggesting that contamination of the seabed was causing “substantial, wide-scale reductions” in crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans.

SSPO, however, refused to make a contribution to the article. It warned that a proposed Sepa statement on future use of the pesticide emamectin was “pre-emptive, controversial and could undermine commercial confidence in the industry”.

SSPO chief executive Scott Landsburgh told Sepa: “Should you publish this statement in its current format, I suspect that it will lead to a good deal of media scrutiny which will seek to undermine the industry’s reputation and will probably damage all of our reputations.”

Instead he urged Sepa to agree “a consensual position based upon mutual respect for all parties and to hold a media line based on openness (without divulging unestablished concerns) and reassurance.” He proposed a joint media statement saying that “further research is required to reach a firm conclusion”.

Landsburgh also emailed Sepa boss A’Hearn directly saying he was “disappointed” that Sepa was proposing to publish its plans for emamectin, marketed as Slice. SSPO had been “trying to agree a common media position with all parties in order to minimise the controversy,” he said.

It is in all our interests to deal with such a sensitive subject delicately and proportionately Scott Landsburgh, Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation

“I believe that it is in all our interests to deal with such a sensitive subject delicately and proportionately,” Landsburgh added. “At a stroke, a published position like this will become the centre of media attention and will make it difficult for some accommodation in the future.”

No statement on emamectin was published by Sepa in 2016, though it did post online a statement announcing a “tightening” of the pesticide’s conditions of use last week (see below). This immediately followed Sepa’s release of the emails in response to a freedom of information request by Don Staniford from the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture.

“It is shameful that Sepa has once again cravenly kowtowed to pressure from the salmon farming industry,” alleged Staniford. He criticised Sepa for accepting hospitality from the industry.

He said: “Instead of reducing the use of toxic chemicals the salmon farming industry has focussed attention on lobotomising Sepa and silencing criticism of this polluting industry.”

SSPO confirmed that it had asked Sepa not to publish a statement. This was “because the article to be put into the public domain was going to be out of context,” said an SSPO spokeswoman.

The dinners were arranged to discuss general environmental policies across the world Spokeswoman, Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation

She added: “The idea that SSPO could influence Sepa executives over a couple of dinners is risible. The dinners were arranged to discuss general environmental policies across the world.”

A’Hearn confirmed that four Sepa staff had attended a dinner hosted by SSPO in November 2015, and that he had attended an SSPO dinner in April 2016. According to his declaration of hospitality released by Sepa, his first meal cost about £30, and the second £50.

“Engagement between Sepa and other organisations, including regulated operators, occasionally includes hospitality, subject to strict rules,” said A’Hearn.

“Sepa considers a wide range of views in its decision-making process, but the final decision is always our own, as it was in this case.”

The Sunday Herald, 26 February 2017 Revealed: pollution leaves 45 Scottish lochs a risk to human health



The Sunday Herald, 26 February 2017


Revealed: pollution leaves 45 Scottish lochs a risk to human health


Exclusive by Rob Edwards

AT least 45 lochs around Scotland’s coast have been contaminated by toxic pesticides from fish farms that can harm wildlife and human health, according to data released by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

Levels of chemicals used to kill the sea lice that plague caged salmon have breached environmental safety limits more than a hundred times in the last 10 years. The chemicals have been discharged by 70 fish farms run by seven companies.

The pollution has been condemned as a “toxic timebomb” by environmental campaigners, who are lodging a formal complaint with the European Commission. The fish farming industry, however, insists that it always tries to abide by the rules.

Sepa released a spreadsheet under freedom of information law showing the results of over 1,200 sampling operations at about 280 fish farms. It revealed that between 2006 and 2016 levels of anti-sea lice pesticides found in sediment 100 metres away from salmon cages exceeded environmental quality standards in 45 sea lochs and inshore waters.

They included Loch Linnhe, Loch Kishorn, Loch Nevis, Loch Ewe, Loch Torridon and ten others in the Highland region. There were 11 contaminated lochs and waters in Argyll and Bute, including Loch Fyne, Loch Creran, the Firth of Lorn, and the sounds of Mull, Jura and Gigha.

Another 11 voes and firths around the Shetland islands were polluted, as were seven in the Western isles and Lamlash Bay in North Ayrshire (see table). The companies named as responsible included Marine Harvest, Scottish Sea Farms, The Scottish Salmon Company and Grieg Seafood Shetland.

The main pesticide detected was emamectin benzoate. According to Sepa, it “is toxic to birds, mammals, fish and other aquatic organisms, particularly those living on the sea bed”.

Of its effect on human health, Sepa said: “Exposure to emamectin benzoate may cause irritation of the respiratory tract, eyes and skin. Animal studies suggest that exposure to emamectin benzoate may also cause tremors.”

Another fish farm pesticide that breached environmental quality standards in lochs was teflubenzuron. It can harm shrimps, crabs and lobsters, and may affect the human liver.

Vyvyan Howard, an emeritus professor of toxicology at Ulster University and a former government adviser on pesticides, was worried about the possible impact on health. “The main concern would be the long-term, low-dose effects,” he told the Sunday Herald. “The risk is ill-defined, and it should be better defined, particularly if there are these inadvertent releases.”

Dr Richard Luxmoore, senior nature conservation adviser to The National Trust for Scotland, warned that emamectin was a neurotoxin that could kill invertebrates and was “highly toxic” to birds and mammals. “The environmental standards have been put there for a good reason,” he said.

“It is highly worrying that they have been breached so many times. This is yet more evidence that the chemical warfare waged by fish farms against sea lice has essentially been lost and the application of toxins to kill them is spiralling out of control.”

Dr Sam Collin from the Scottish Wildlife Trust agreed emamectin was a major concern. “It’s worrying that there have been so many breaches of the standards for its use,” he said.

“This particular chemical stays in the marine environment for a long time and is capable of causing harm to a wide variety of sea life, in particular invertebrates such as shellfish.”

Sepa’s spreadsheet was obtained by the anti-fish farming campaigner Don Staniford of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture. “Sepa is permitting salmon farmers across Scotland to pollute with impunity,” he said.

“Breaches of environmental standards for chemical pollution under salmon farms are now becoming standard practice as Sepa shamefully turns a blind eye.”

Staniford added: “Toxic chemicals from salmon farms have flooded Scottish lochs for over three decades contaminating shellfish and the seabed. Scottish salmon farming is a toxic time-bomb.”

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, which represents anglers, is referring the emamectin breaches to the European Commission in the belief that they contravene environmental law. “It appears that Sepa has been looking the other way and allowing excessive treatment chemicals to be used, which will have damaged the ecology of the sea lochs,” said the group’s Guy Linley-Adams.

“Sepa must use its statutory powers to order a reduction in the number of farmed fish allowed in the cages to a level at which the fish-farmers can control sea lice and, at the same time, stay within their pollution control licences.”

The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, which represents fish farming companies, referred inquires to Sepa. “Our members at all times endeavour to operate within the terms of their consents,” said the organisation’s chief executive Scott Landsburgh.

Sepa said it did not have time last week to estimate how many lochs or fish farms had breached environmental quality standards. But it explained in detail how to work out when breaches had occurred.

A Sepa spokesman pointed out that contamination found 100 metres from salmon cages was unlikely to spread a significant distance. Sampling was timed to give a “worst case” in terms of the levels of pesticide in the sediment.

“Sepa’s enforcement philosophy is to use the minimum amount of formal regulation necessary to secure compliance,” he said.

“An exceedance of an environmental quality standard is not in itself indicative of non-compliant or illegal activity on the part of the operator and thus a breach would not necessarily precipitate significant enforcement action.”

There were currently two instances in which fish farm licences had been changed because of pesticide pollution. “Where cases are referred to the procurator fiscal these will be reported where the case results in a conviction,” the spokesman said.


The 45 contaminated lochs

Inner Sound, Highland

Loch a Chairn Bhain, Highland

Loch Alsh, Highland

Loch Bracadale, Highland

Loch Broom, Highland

Loch Duich, Highland

Loch Ewe, Highland

Loch Kishorn, Highland

Loch Laxford, Highland

Loch Linnhe, Highland

Loch Nevis, Highland

Loch Sunart, Highland

Loch Torridon, Highland

Sound of Raasay. Highland

Firth of Lorn, Argyll and Bute

Kilbrannan Sound, Argyll and Bute

Loch Craignish, Argyll and Bute

Loch Creran, Argyll and Bute

Loch Fyne, Argyll and Bute

Loch Spelve, Argyll and Bute

Loch Tuath, Argyll and Bute

Shuna Sound, Argyll and Bute

Sound of Gigha, Argyll and Bute

Sound of Jura, Argyll and Bute

Sound of Mull, Argyll and Bute

Cat Firth, Shetland

Clift Sound, Shetland

Clousta Voe, Shetland

Colla Firth, Shetland

Dury Voe, Shetland

Lax Firth, Shetland

Off Lunnaness, Shetland

Olnafirth, Shetland

Ronas Voe, Shetland

Swarbacks Minn, Shetland

The Deeps, Shetland

East Loch Tarbert, Eilean Siar

Loch Boisdale, Eilean Siar

Loch Erisort, Eilean Siar

Loch Roag, Eilean Siar

Loch Seaforth, Eilean Siar

Loch Shell, Eilean Siar

Loch Skipport, Eilean Siar

Lamlash Bay, North Ayrshire

Source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Herald View: Sounding off as balance to be struck on fish farm sites

The Herald, 16 February 2017

STRONG opposition to a proposed new fish farm in the Sound of Jura cannot have come as a great surprise to the industry. It is not, as it were, flavour of the month. Massive problems with sea lice, in particular, and the use of chemicals to control them, have led to caution among coastal communities, never mind from environmentalists who find fish farming essentially unnatural.

Still, the industry remains an important part of Scotland’s hinterland economy, creating jobs, meeting demand for healthy food and contributing significantly to our exports. For all the problems, fish farms keep coming forward, seeing profits to be made in a product still cherished by our food sector.

Thus, Kames Fish Farming (KFF) Ltd is hoping to start a 12-cage operation at Dounie, in the new Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area.

A small, experienced Scottish family business seeking to expand, KFF says it will create six jobs, has no plans to pollute the Sound (indeed needs a clean marine environment for its product) and has strict containment protocols to stop farmed fish escaping. In addition, it will farm rainbow trout which, it points out, are less susceptible than salmon to sea lice.

This has not prevented a loud chorus of opposition from echoing across the Sound. Objectors fear the farm could pollute the water with uneaten food, faeces and chemical residues, affecting a habitat of endangered skate in a deep trench nearby, not to mention wild salmon and sea trout that breed in the River Add.

Humans, too, might suffer: a local wild swimmers’ club says its members would no longer feel comfortable while other objectors adduce the visual impact on a site of natural beauty.

This is an application in its earliest stages, with many hurdles to jump. No one wants to throw the baby out with the seawater but the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (KFF’s first port of call) will clearly have to consider the sheer weight of opposition, though – as ever – dispassionate, scientific evidence should also inform any decisions.



The Herald, 16 February 2017

Opposition claimed against plans for new fish farm in Sound of Jura

David Ross

Unprecedented opposition is being claimed against plans for a new fish farm in the Sound of Jura, as the wider industry faces a threatened crisis over the chronic problem of sea lice infestation.

The weight of Scottish farmed salmon fell in the final three months of last year by 4 per cent compared to the previous year, because sea lice. This meant them being harvesting younger. Industry giant Marine Harvest estimate that it could have lost 1,500 tonnes out of 40,000 tonnes of annual production last year because of the parasite.

But the planned Sound of Jura development at Dounie, just south of Crinan on the mainland, would grow rainbow trout.

A dozen 100m circular cages are proposed by Kames Fish Farming Ltd (KFF), whose HQ is in Kilmelford south of Oban, and says it would create much needed jobs.

However local SNP MSP Mike Russell, normally supportive of fish farming, has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing saying:

“I have never experienced the weight of objections to a fish farm proposal that I have seen in this proposal.” It would require “very special and very careful consideration.”

The fish farm would be in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) specifically designated to conserve common skate in local waters. Sea lice, chemicals and escaping fish are seen as threats to the species as well as to wild salmon and trout from a local river. There is also the issue of increasing visual impact, with a number of fish farms already in the wider area which is famed for its beauty.

The Friends of the Sound of Jura has been formed. One supporter Jane Smith explained: “Our group is a platform for local people and visitors to collectively voice concern over a proposed fish farm sited in an entirely inappropriate place. Dounie is in the heart of the Knapdale National Scenic Area with Scotland’s highest form of landscape protection.”

Winter swimming enthusiasts from the Mid-Argyll Wild Swimmers recently swam at the fish farm site.

One of the club’s 50 members Iona Barr said: “I have been swimming in the Sound of Jura all my life. It is quite simply the most beautiful place in the world. I am horrified that Dounie could become the site of an industrial and intensive fish farm. No one would want to swim anywhere near here with all the fish sewage and chemicals polluting our clean water.”

Stuart Cannon, KFF managing director, said the plan was still a long way off being approved. It had to be considered by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Natural Heritage, Marine Scotland and the planners. “This is just the SEPA application. It is very early days. We have a small Scottish family business which we would like to expand. It would create four permanent jobs and probably two part-time, maybe more, and would help us support the 25 we already employ.”

Experts at the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) were being employed to assess the environmental risks, he said.

“We want to do this responsibly. We have been in production for 45 years, and are not going to suddenly pollute the whole of the Sound of Jura. Sea lice are not nearly the same problem for rainbow trout as salmon.”

The sea lice issue is not new to fish farming, but has deepened as the parasites become resistant to the chemicals used against them. Production has reduced. However this combined with a global rise in demand, pushed the price of Scottish salmon up by 81 per cent.

Marine Harvest doubled its profits despite a 16 per cent drop in volume for the fourth quarter of 2016.

Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the industry body Scottish Salmon Producers Association, said sea lice were the subject of scare stories from campaigners against fish farming.

“Sea lice is a natural phenomenon, albeit that it’s made more odd because it’s in a farming environment. All livestock on farms, terrestrial or marine, are encountering some kind of parasite or a tick, and they’re dealt with. And that’s part of livestock farming.”