SALMON farming controls in Scotland have been described as "not fit for purpose" by an anglers' rights group.

Fish Legal, which also acts for fishing clubs and fishery owners has raised new concerns that the government "lacks suitable powers" to require a farmer to stop farming salmon where lice levels on a farm are out of control.

And it said that regulation must provide a "genuine sanction if the farmer exceeds farm lice levels".

"Very simply put, if the farmer cannot farm to a required standard then he should be required to stop the job," Fish Legal said.

It comes as concerns rise about a surge of parasitic sea lice which is disrupting salmon farms around the world. The tiny lice attach themselves to salmon and feed on them, killing or rendering them unsuitable for dinner tables.

Fish Legal, in a report to the Scottish Parliament's inquiry into the salmon farming industry raised the "inadequacy of sea lice treatment" to protect wild salmon.

And they said that Marine Scotland has not been given the duty to consider and protect the interests of wild salmon as part of their general duties to regulate aquaculture.

They say standards have been "watered down" by the Scottish Government with current notification set at three lice per fish and treatment at eight per fish.

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The group said: "Current treatment levels are not designed to protect wild fish and they do not. However even if more exacting standards are set, then there will be no benefit to wild fish unless there is a regulatory system capable of enforcing those standards, and no such system exists at the moment.

"Sea lice are in effect a pollutant and like any pollutant, the more that is emitted in a sea loch area the greater risk of damage. It follows from this from a regulatory point of view that if we are to limit damage then ‘threshold levels’ of maximum lice emissions must be set to try and ensure that receiving waters are kept safe. Those levels must be set at both farm level and in each farm management area.

"We call upon the Environment Committee to recommend to the Scottish Government that it must recognise the uniqueness and value to Scotland of its west coast fisheries and take serious measures to protect them before it is too late. "

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It comes as one salmon farming company admitted a major escape from one of its cages anchored in Loch Snizort, near the Isle of Skye.

Grieg Seafood said it believed about 21,700 fish escaped, with an average weight of 2kg.

The damage was discovered by a diver during a routine check at the fish farm on 11 February. It was immediately patched up.

A report was submitted to the government agency Marine Scotland.

Grieg Seafood, based in Norway, has seven pens in Loch Snizort, where it grows more than 400,000 salmon.

Most of its UK operations are around Shetland.

With concerns that farmed fish can damage wild populations, a company statement said it takes fish containment very seriously, and that it is carrying out an in-depth investigation to avoid the escape being repeated.

Grant Cumming, managing director of Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd, said "Our priority is to prevent escape and a temporary mend to secure net was immediately applied.

"Marine Scotland were informed of the incident and the net was repaired the same day.

"We are conducting an in-depth investigation to discover the root cause of the breach in the net to ensure it does not reoccur."

Grieg Seafood issued its October to December financial results last week, warning of lower production than previously set out. The company said this was partly explained by sea lice problems.

It stated that it was attempting to move from chemical solutions to mechanical ones, including treatment with warm or fresh water.

Sea lice that thrive on commercial salmon farms are killing tens of thousands of wild fish in Scottish, Irish and Norwegian waters.

A review of more than 100 scientific papers found that up to 50,000 wild salmon die as a result of the parasites in Norway and similar conditions in Scotland and Ireland meant that intensive salmon farming had a “general and pervasive negative effect”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government takes its responsibility to protect the marine environment extremely seriously.

“We welcome the Parliament’s inquiry into this sector, which contributes nearly £1 billion annually to the Scottish economy, and will consider carefully all the evidence received, the report and any recommendations from the committees."