Angling and fisheries organisations are celebrating news that plans for a fish farm off the Cornish coast have been abandoned. This follows robust criticism of the initiative, which would have posed serious threats to salmon, sea trout and marine fish stocks.
The idea, promoted by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), a Government agency, was to grow rainbow trout in an open net cage unit. This would have been a similar system operated by the salmon farming industry off the west coast and Islands of Scotland, which has caused significant damage to wild salmon and sea trout, principally through the transfer of lethal parasitic sea lice and the interbreeding of wild and escapee farmed salmon, thereby diluting natural gene pools built up since the Ice Age.
There are presently no marine cage farms around the Welsh and English coasts, and fisheries organisations were universally opposed to creating what would have been a dangerous precedent. Such farms increase parasite infestation on wild fish, pollute the sea bed and surrounding waters, and risk escapes of farmed fish which compete with wild fish.
The coalition opposed to the scheme includes the South West Rivers Association (SWRA), the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers, the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA), the Angling Trust (AT), the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST), Wild Trout Trust (WTT), Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) and the Rivers Trust. The coalition lobbied CEFAS, Defra and Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, to squash the project on the grounds that it would be wholly irresponsible to jeopardise wild Cornish salmon and sea trout, and the vital local economy and jobs they support.
Roger Furniss, Secretary of South West Rivers Association, which first brought this issue to the public attention, said:
'Our salmon and sea trout stocks already face too many threats from pollution, abstraction and low marine survival rates. The unwelcome proposal being promoted by CEFAS, a Government agency, could have been the final straw. The decision to abandon the project is great news.'
Paul Knight, S&TA’s CEO added:
'English and Welsh salmon and sea trout have many man-made dangers to face, but thankfully not open net marine fish farming at the moment. Our experience in Scotland has shown that a farm off the Cornish coast could have killed wild salmon and sea trout by transferring disease and parasites from farm to the natural environment, and escapee rainbow trout would have run up Cornish and Devonian rivers, predating native species and competing with them for scant freshwater resources.'
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said:
'It is good to see that this bizarre idea has been binned. Farming fish in the wild has had disastrous impacts in Scottish lochs, and it is hard to see how these risks couldn’t be much worse in seas that get battered by Atlantic storms on a regular basis. Our members in the south west are breathing a sigh of relief that this particular threat to their fishing has been removed. We remain concerned about the government’s interest in farming fish however, and will resist vigorously any initiatives that might put wild fish at risk.'
The coalition now plans to write to George Eustice and his Defra Department outlining the lessons learnt from this exercise. It will reiterate its previously stated view that no open cage salmonid units should be authorised in English coastal and off-shore waters and that any future marine salmon or trout farms must be in closed containment units which impose an impenetrable barrier between wild and farmed fish, completely preventing the dispersal of disease, parasites, waste matter and escapee farmed fish.