NEW money is being injected into new fish farm health projects in the wake of "shocking" record levels of fish deaths in Scotland due to diseases and parasites.

The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre - has confirmed £2m in funding for five new "innovation projects" to improve fish health and wellbeing, along with the management of disease.

Initiatives selected for funding include using novel technologies for sea lice control, finding quicker ways to diagnose disease, and looking at methods for minimising the risks from natural causes that lead to mortality in farmed fish at sea.

SAIC said: "Projects range from 12 to 24 months in duration and underpin the innovation centre’s commitment to encouraging collaboration on priority issues and drive innovation across the sector."

READ MORE: Concern for native fish in Loch Etive and River Awe after mass trout escape

The salmon farming industry came under fire when figures last year revealed that the amount of destroyed fish has risen by two-and-a-half times in four years with 25,737 tonnes - more than 11 million fish - being thrown away in 2017. Fifteen years ago the mortality rate was more than a fifth of the current level at 4,613 tonnes.


Campaign groups have said the figures are "shameful" and called for "drastic reductions" in salmon production before the lice and disease crisis spirals yet further out of control.

Graeme Dey, the convener of the parliamentary environment, climate change and land reform committee in a commentary on a Holyrood inquiry into the environmental impacts of salmon farming last year said that he and his colleagues are "concerned that the industry and regulators appear to be incapable of reducing the level of mortality".

READ MORE: Scots fishing tourism to be hit by wild salmon stocks crisis

He added that the death levels would "not be considered acceptable in other livestock sectors and should not be considered to be acceptable in the salmon farming industry."

Sea lice, which have been a major problem for the farmed salmon industry, feed on the skin and blood of salmon, and can weaken the health of a fish and its growth.

In 2016, the Scottish Government supported a working group which launched a strategy to boost the value of Scottish aquaculture from £1.8bn in 2016 to £3.6bn by 2030. There was also a desire to see the number of jobs double to 18,000 over the same period.

Salmon is Scotland's single biggest food export – worth £600 million – and is estimated to provide nearly 2,500 jobs directly with thousands more supported by the aquaculture sector in rural and coastal communities.

The new spending comes a matter of days after it emerged an investigation has been launched after 33,000 rainbow trout escaped from Dawnfresh fish farm in Loch Etive in the south west Highlands - raising new concerns for the wild salmon stock.

READ MORE: Video: Disease concern as Scots salmon farmers' produce "stomach-churning" record levels of fish deaths

SAIC has committed £743,000 in funding to the new projects, with the rest coming from industry and 9% from academia.

Footage of an adult wild salmon being eaten alive by sea lice in Scotland was a result, it is claimed, of intensive salmon farming activities in the area. By Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland.

Heather Jones, chief executive of SAIC, said: “The valuable research should help the industry to find ways to better control sea lice and mitigate disease and climate change risks in future. Fish health is a priority and critical to the future of aquaculture.”

Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, added: “Government and industry in Scotland are working to improve farmed fish health in Scotland, and ensure the sustainable growth of Scotland’s most valuable food export. Innovation projects like these are vital to those ambitions, making the industry more streamlined, improving the environment and fish health, and helping to create and support jobs.

"It’s great to see projects like this, which directly align with the ambitions of Scotland’s 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework, receiving funding.”

Last year in Scotland, a total of 37,196 wild salmon were caught and released, representing just 67% of the previous five-year average total. It is the lowest since records began in 1952.