ALMOST 10,000 lice-eating "cleaner" fish have been culled at a Shetland hatchery to help contain the first outbreak of a common virus in the species.
The sea wrasse had been brought into the islands by fish farming giant Scottish Sea Farms from the west coast of Scotland.
The 9,393 fish were in holding tanks at Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre when the outbreak of marine Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (VHS) virus was found last month.
The wrasse were waiting to be released onto fish farms sites to attack the sea lice that have been causing massive problems on some Shetland fish farms in recent months.
Government fish health inspectors from Marine Scotland have launched an investigation into the source of the outbreak, which has affected other parts of Scotland too.
Controls have been placed on the NAFC and fish farm sites linked by movements of wrasse to minimise the risk of spreading the disease, which poses no threat to human health.
Scottish Sea Farms have been experimenting with wrasse to control sea lice for the past two years.
Shetland Aquaculture general manager David Sandison said the trials had been going well and this latest development was “a setback”.
He said: “These wrasse came from a hatchery in the west of Scotland having been wild caught.
“This is a setback for the individual company, but it’s too early to speculate further because this is something new.
“We have not seen marine VHS in wrasse before so this comes as a surprise.
“Salmon are not susceptible to marine VHS so it’not a problem from that point of view, but there is the loss of a stock that has to be paid for.”
It is believed the cash value of the fish that have been culled is around £20,000.