Sea Trout Loss Linked to Salmon Farm Parasite

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Even when a fish is caught these days, it doesn't necessarily bring anglers a feeling of satisfaction.

"There's one, in particular, that's etched on my mind," said Jackson. "But for its eyeballs it was completely pink, with only the stubs of its fins remaining. The fish was being eaten alive by hundreds of immature lice."

Mark Vincent, who runs the Loch Maree Hotel, welcomes the findings of the Shieldaig study. "It's only what we've been saying for years, but it's nice to have scientific proof," he said.

He thinks salmon farms in the area must be removed if Loch Maree is to be given the chance of returning to its glory days. "I've got nothing against aquaculture in general; it's having salmon farms on a migratory route for wild salmonids that I object to."

Wildlife Concern

These sentiments are echoed by the World Wildlife Fund in Scotland.

"This new evidence reinforces WWF's call a year ago for an immediate moratorium on any further expansion of the industry until a proper strategy is put in place," said Helen McLachlan, a marine policy officer with WWF.

"For the sake of Scotland's remaining wild salmon and trout," she said, "we need to know just how many fish farms Scotland's coastline can support. In the meantime, we need to start relocating farms out of hotspots right now."

Scottish Quality Salmon, the industry's promotional body, believes such talk is an overreaction. Communications Director Julie Edgar says that since the Shieldaig study was completed last year a new sea lice treatment has proved extremely effective in combating the parasites, without harming the environment or compromising consumer safety.

The treatment, called Slice, has been approved by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The agency has also speeded up the application process for its use on fish farms.

"It's a young industry and we're learning a lot as we go along," said Edgar. "Area management groups have now been set up along the west coast where wild and farmed fish interests get together and decide on a local level how best to deal with their loch systems."

The Scottish Government is also consulting with angler and conservation groups in a review of guidelines governing the location of salmon farms. Decisions made in the near future could decide the fate of the northwest's wild ocean wanderer.

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