UK takes action to uphold sustainable fishing amid toxic chemical concerns

As the UK launches the latest phase of its proposals to help achieve sustainable fishing levels by 2020, new research has exposed a 10-fold rise in the use of toxic chemicals on Scottish salmon farms over the past 10 years.

The Government has strengthened action to boost sustainable fishing as the next phase of the discard ban for demersal species in the North Sea and North Western Waters including cod and pollack comes into force.

Fisheries Minister George Eustice announced on Sunday (1 January) the introduction of the ban, known as the landing obligation, which requires fishermen to land everything they catch. The law is expected to halt the wasteful practice of throwing dead fish overboard.

Eustice said: “Fishing sustainably is one of our biggest priorities, both now and for the future, and the discard ban is an incredibly important step to help us reach maximum sustainable yield by 2020.

“While there will always be challenges in adapting to new polices , ending the wasteful practice of throwing dead fish back overboard will not only help maintain stock levels, but will help create a profitable fishing industry for years to come.”

The landing obligation, which is being phased in from 2015 to 2019, applies to quota species and any other species subject to catch limits. Existing bans for species such as sole, plaice and haddock have also been extended to include more vessels, following the successful implementation of the law to pelagic species such as mackerel and blue whiting.

‘Fighting a losing battle’

The latest phase arrives at a time of great concern regarding catching methods in UK fishing waters, with new figures showing that the use of toxic chemicals on Scottish salmon farms is now ten times higher than a decade ago.

Data obtained by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) reveals that, while salmon farming production has increased only by 35% since 2006, the use of chemicals to control flesh-eating sea lice has increased by a staggering 932%. The chemicals include compounds connected to reduced fertility in wild salmon and mortality in shellfish such as lobsters.

According to the data, Scottish-farmed salmon has been subjected to a total of 8,416 separate chemical treatments since 2002. The data also highlights an alarming mortality rate among the species. And 10 million Scottish farmed salmon were killed during 2016, with a mortality rate during the seawater phase alone of nearly a quarter, figures suggest.

Critics of the practice have suggested that Scottish salmon farming has “lost the chemicals arms race” and is “fighting a losing battle” against chemically resistant sea lice.

The Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture director Don Staniford said: “The drugs don’t work anymore so farmers are having to use more and more toxic chemicals – including the deadly organophosphate Azamethiphos. 

“Sadly, Scotland’s lobsters and other shellfish are collateral damage in the salmon farming industry’s war on sea lice. The chemically embalmed salmon farming industry is Scotland’s Silent Spring of the Sea. To save Scotland’s shellfish and wild fish, the public must boycott cheap and nasty toxic Scottish salmon.”

Supermarket sourcing

The data suggests that salmon farming companies exceeded SEPA biomass limits 858 times since 2002, racking up 74,284 tonnes of overproduction. In the run up to Christmas 2016, supermarket giants Sainsbury’s and the Co-op were called upon to stop putting Scottish farmed fish on their shelves to maintain sustainable sourcing credentials. A salmon conservationist group stated that both supermarkets have been selling fish sourced from areas of Scotland where louse numbers have been recorded well over both industry criteria and new Government trigger levels.

Despite these recent development, Sainsbury’s has been involved in a number of sustainable fishing initiatives. Last year, the supermarket giant was among a number of leading UK supermarkets including Tesco and Marks and Spencer (M&S) that voluntarily signed a cross-sector agreement to protect a key Artic region from industrial fishing. The agreement prevents suppliers from expanding cod fisheries into pristine marine waters.

George Ogleby

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