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SEPA tightens fish farm licences amid pollution fears

THE SCOTTISH Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) is “tightening” salmon farm discharge licences in response to evidence suggesting that a pesticide used to kill sea lice is causing toxic pollution.

Following an investigation by the Sunday Herald last month, the regulator has confirmed that it is tightening the conditions for the use of emamectin, a chemical fed to salmon to destroy the lice.

SEPA confirmed after a scientific study had found evidence that emamectin had contaminated sea lochs and voes – including 11 where salmon farms are sited in Shetland – in breach of environmental limits since 2006.

Following discussions with the UK Government’s veterinary medicines directorate, SEPA has confirmed that it is “beginning the issuing of these new licences”, with the process expected to be completed by the end of April. 

A study commissioned by SEPA from the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum suggested that the use of emamectin was associated with “substantial widescale reductions in both the richness and abundance of non-target crustacea” including crabs and lobsters.

In a statement last week SEPA said restrictions would remain in place “while SEPA and the industry carry out further research to either confirm or confound the apparent link between SLICE [the industry name for emamectin] use and possible environmental effects”. 

Shetland News has approached Scottish Sea Farms, which owns several salmon farms dotted around the Shetland mainland, for comment but it has not responded.

A local Scottish Natural Heritage spokesman said SNH worked with regulators and developers in the islands “to make sure that fish farms avoid adverse impacts on the most sensitive habitats and species”.

Don Staniford, of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, said SEPA had bowed to lobbying from the salmon farming industry by not publishing a drafted article about the pesticide in August last year.

He described the regulator’s behaviour as “shocking” and said the scientific assessment left SEPA with “no choice but to take drastic action”. Staniford is calling for an outright ban on the use of emamectin.