Scotland lags far behind all North Atlantic countries in failing to properly protect wild fish from sea lice coming from fish farms, relying only on gentlemen’s agreements , an anglers’ leader claims.

Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), is reporting the country was” publicly shamed” last week over the issue at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the inter-governmental North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) in Germany.

In particular the continuing failure to have in place effective regulation to control numbers of sea lice parasites on salmon farms, in order to prevent deadly infestation of vulnerable wild salmon and sea trout.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), said Norway, Canada, Ireland and the USA, were all ahead of Scotland when it came to protecting wild fish from the impacts of salmon aquaculture. “The contrast between the strict statutory controls elsewhere and the paucity of regulation in Scotland is extreme.

“When it comes to the most serious threat to wild salmonids, sea lice produced by the billion on salmon farms, Scotland essentially relies on what are little more than gentleman’s agreements and unenforceable codes of good practice with the industry which have no status in law. In contrast, the Faroese have almost zero tolerance of any build-up of sea lice and the Norwegians accept no more than 0.5 lice per farmed fish. Yet the Scottish regime now allows up to an astonishing eight lice per farmed fish before any serious remedial action must be considered.”

He said it was very noticeable amongst the NGOs present that, although none of them thought their respective Governments were doing enough to protect salmon from aquaculture, they were all astonished at just how lax Scotland was "and how the Scottish officials appear deluded that their latest plans for supposedly tougher regulation will provide any meaningful protection to wild salmon and sea trout.”

Hughie Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TCS, added:

“It is a sad state of affairs when Scotland has considerably weaker regulation than even the Faroes. Anyone who has seen immature salmon and sea trout in the west Highlands and Islands being eaten alive by these sea lice will understand that the Government’s comprehensive failure to introduce proper protection for our wild fish is Scotland’s shame.”

But a Scottish Government spokeswoman had a different perspective. She said:

“Scotland has a robust legislative and regulatory framework in place which continues to provide the right balance between growing aquaculture and protecting the environment. The Scottish Government takes considerable steps to protect wild salmon, including a presumption against development of marine finfish farm developments on the north and east coasts which covers approximately 80 per cent of Scotland’s wild caught salmon. There are also a number of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) where wild salmon are afforded additional protection."

She said the Scottish Government had worked co-operatively with the fish farming industry to agree a strengthened sea lice management policy for the prevention, reduction and control of sea lice on farms which took effect in May.

"This includes agreed reporting levels where increased monitoring and intervention are required, recognising the benefits to the sector and in turn to the wider environment, including wild fish.”

*A conference is being jointly organised by the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Tweed Foundation to address the important issue of improving Salmon and Sea-trout smolt survival during the critical early stages of their migration, in rivers and in estuaries.