THE SCOTTISH Green Party have hit out after the Scottish government allowed a case of salmon poisoning which last year killed more than 20,000 fish in Shetland to slip through the net.
Environment agency SEPA announced on Tuesday that they had abandoned an investigation against a Shetland salmon farm for using illegal chemicals in August 2010, despite overwhelming evidence.
More than one year after the inquiry into Hoganess Salmon began, SEPA have said that they are unable to pursue the company because of a legal technicality.
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “This is a truly shocking case of environmental destruction and bureaucratic incompetence.
“A series of government agencies gathered strong evidence that illegal and dangerous chemicals were used at this salmon farm, chemicals that kill wildlife indiscriminately as well as killing salmon, yet none of them were prepared to act and bring prosecutions.”
The investigation was led by SEPA and animal charity SSPCA after 100 tonnes of farmed salmon died suddenly at the fish farm off Shetland’s west coast.
SSPCA officers submitted a report to the procurator fiscal five months later and two men were charged with cruelty to animals.
However the case relied on SEPA’s report, who were pursuing the company under regulations covering the discharge of chemicals into the sea from fish farms.
Fourteen months after the initial raid, SEPA this week announced that they had dropped the case, saying they had been using the wrong legislation as the discharges had been from a well boat on which the fish had been treated for sea lice.
Insiders say that highly toxic chemicals Deosect and Cyperguard, commonly used for treating horses and sheep for lice, were found during the raid on the fish farm. These chemicals are banned from the marine environment because they are so toxic and long lasting.
Salmon companies have long been accused of using such chemicals because sea lice have built up a resistance to authorised treatments, such as Excis, Salmosan and Alphamax.
Sea lice have been described as the industry’s biggest problem, and three years ago they cost Shetland’s salmon farmers millions of pounds in dead fish.
On Tuesday SEPA said: “Following discussion of the circumstances with the procurator fiscal, it was identified that there was no basis for taking action under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011, the legislation used by SEPA to regulate fish farms.”
However Marine Scotland, who should be responsible for this case, have also declined to submit a report to the fiscal.
A government spokeswoman said: “Given the time elapsed it would not now be appropriate or practical to pursue a case under another regulatory regime.”
She added: “Apparent infringements of this type are by their very nature particularly complex and establishing what has happened after the fact is less than straightforward.
“We will consider whether there are any lessons to be learned in terms of simplifying the regulatory regime as we develop proposals for the forthcoming Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill.”
Patrick Harvie warned of a danger that the fish farming industry might feel they could get away with poisoning the environment.
“SNP ministers must give clear instructions to their agencies that these crimes matter and prosecutions will be brought, otherwise the impression will grow that they have no interest in protecting Scotland’s waters if that means running up against their friends in the fish farming industry,” he said.
Hoganess Salmon is currently being investigated by the SSPCA for the unlawful killing of seals.
Mark Warrington, managing director with parent company Meridian Salmon, said that he had only just been appointed to replace Willie Liston, and he was not yet in a position to comment.
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