ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have called for a halt on any further expansion of the Scottish salmon farming industry after tens of thousands of fish died in an outbreak of seaborne plague.

The charity Save Our Seals Fund and the pressure group Animal Concern have called on the Scottish Government to bring in a moratorium blocking new farms until it can be made safer for the fish and disposal sites can be created near lochs used by the industry.

Major company Marine Harvest admitted yesterday that 125,000 salmon had fallen victim to the bacterium pasteurella skyensis at the end of August at its farm at Loch Erisort on the Isle of Lewis.

This comes after new figures showed that the industry threw away up to ten million salmon last year – nearly a quarter of its stock – because of diseases, parasites and other problems.

John Robins, Secretary of the Save Our Seals Fund, believes that a public inquiry is now needed to investigate problems within the industry.

Mr. Robins said: “Instead of encouraging an industry which is causing major animal welfare and environmental problems the Scottish Government must exercise control over it.

“How many more millions of fish have to suffer and die and how much toxic waste has the industry to create before our politicians act?”

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It has been reported that lorry loads of dead fish were collected at Loch Erisort following the outbreak of the bacterial infection, which takes its name from the Isle of Sky where it was first identified.

Most diseased salmon are transported south to be burnt at an incinerator in Widnes near Warrington in northwest England, and Mr Robins warned that this brings further risks to the environment.

In a letter to Aquaculture Secretary Fergus Ewing and Environment and Animal Welfare Minister Roseanna Cunningham, he said: “As with previous mass mortalities I assume that once again trucks are carrying tonnes of dead, diseased fish to England for destruction as toxic waste.

“These contaminated convoys cross many rivers with vulnerable populations of native wild salmon on the way to the Widnes incinerator.

“Instead of continually kowtowing to the mainly foreign owned salmon farming industry the Scottish Government must address the welfare problems on salmon farms and protect our marine environment and our native salmon and sea trout from this polluting industry.”

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Marine Harvest say that pasteurella skyensis is “completely harmless” to humans, and that the outbreak was contained to Loch Erisort.

Steve Bracken of Marine Harvest said: “The mortality is in the region of about 500 tonnes.

“The fish are around about four kilos so it is about 125,000 fish we have lost during this period.”

He added: “It’s extremely unfortunate but we do see from time to time that there are these outbreaks of infections that are hard to explain.

“In this case we have seen it before.”

Mr Bracken said the company believes it is now “through the worst of it” it will continue to monitor the situation.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Fish and shellfish farming contributes £620 million to Scotland’s economy every year and supports more than 12,000 jobs.

“We have a duty to protect Scotland’s marine environment and the health and welfare of farmed fish is of utmost importance.

“The Scottish Government are committed to working actively with the aquaculture sector to develop a strategic health framework that ensures we make further progress in tackling major problems, including emerging disease and sea lice.”

Bury Times: A salmon fishery on Loch Fyne, Argyll.