MORE THAN 150,000 farmed salmon have escaped from a fish farm in Shetland as a result of violent January storms.
Meridian Salmon Group confirmed on Wednesday that its Ness of Copister fish farming site had suffered serious damage.
The company said that almost half of the 364,000 fish were lost on 19 January when the mooring of eight cages failed due to gale force winds and a huge swell.
The January and February storms were so bad that farm workers did not managed to get to the site on the south tip of the island of Yell for two weeks, according to a company spokesman
It is not the first time that Meridian Salmon has lost hundreds of thousands of fish as a result of winter storms.
Meridian said on Wednesday the company was only now able to make a statement as it had taken until earlier this week to complete its mandatory report to government agency Marine Scotland.
"Fish from three of the cages were safely removed during the initial salvage exercise.
However, after weather conditions relented to allow a thorough site assessment, it has been determined that 154,569 fish were lost. All remaining fish on the site have also been removed to new locations," a Meridian statement said.
Marine Scotland said late on Wednesday afternoon that it was likely the escaped fish had not survived.
"Meridian Salmon Farms Ltd notified Marine Scotland on 20 January 2014 of the breach of containment at the Ness of Copister site involving 154,569 Atlantic salmon.
"Due to the nature of the incident, it is likely a number of these fish would have been dead when they have breached the containment of the cages."
It added that the Fish Health Inspectorate was awaiting further information from the company as investigations into the cause of the mooring failure have been delayed due to the weather.
Meridian said: "While it is widely accepted that we were dealing with exceptional weather conditions – local reports indicate the unrelenting gales that have battered the east coast of Yell are the worst in decades.
"However, losses like this are not acceptable and we will be carrying out a full review of our systems to ensure we have no similar incidents in the future."
At Christmas 2011, 12 Meridian Salmon Group cages near the isle of Uyea, south of Unst, broke free from their moorings and were washed out into the North Sea.
In that incident the company lost 300,000 fully grown salmon with a market value of around £3 million.
It also emerged on Wednesday that Unst-based Balta Island Seafare lost 2,500 salmon between 14 and 29 January, also due to the weather.
And Marine Scotland is currently awaiting confirmation of the number of fish that escaped from a salmon farm at North Voe, in Whalsay, owned by Hjaltland Sea Farms, on 11 February.