Poison blamed on fish farms; Expert critical of officials

Copyright 1999 Scottish Media Newspapers Limited

The Herald (Glasgow)

August 9, 1999

SALMON farming is the main cause of a poison that threatens all shellfish fishing off the West of Scotland, an expert in marine biotoxins has claimed.

In the most blistering attack yet on the Government's stance of not questioning the industry's methods, he has accused the Scottish Executive of misleading people and fishermen over the deadly Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) toxin.

ASP was found recently in scallops off the Western Isles and causes a brain disease in humans not unlike CJD and BSE in cattle.

As salmon naturally produce high ammonia waste products, Mr Allan Berry says there may be no alternative but to stop sea cage fish farming to prevent Scotland's waters becoming a cauldron of deadly poison.

Mr Berry, an acknowledged world authority on algal toxicology, has had his claims rubbished by the Government for the last 10 years. Now he has gone public just as fish farms have also been blamed by a leading figure in the Scottish Environmental Protect ion Agency (Sepa) for harming wild stocks.

Mr Berry, 62, of Cannich, Inverness-shire, chairman of Knapdale Seafarms at Lochgilphead, in Argyll, has warned that current intensive farming methods, with high-oil feed pellets containing up to 7% nitrogen, produces liquid waste.

The farmed salmon's runny faeces, instead of dropping as pellets to the sea bed when in the wild, is instead borne a considerable distance from the cages and has a profound effect on water quality.

At more than 8000 square miles, the current Scottish scallop banned area due to ASP is probably the world's largest so far. The first-ever cases were recorded in 1987 in Canada.

Loch Roag, around the island of Great Bernera on the west of Lewis, where there are a high number of salmon fish farms, was the latest area to have a Government ban confirmed last week.

Mr Berry said: "Personally I would not eat anything from the sea in that area. At the height of summer there could be as much as five tonnes of ammonia a day going into Loch Roag from the local salmon farms.

"That is why it happens at this time of year - not just because algae occurs naturally in summer." He claims the Government's own data shows a nitrogen deficit in the seawater at this time and that nutrient stress on some affected organisms is known to cause biotoxin production.

Civil servants in Edinburgh and Westminster, he maintains, continue to twist the truth so as not to upset the Minister responsible and cause difficulties for the fish farming industry which the Government has decided must succeed politically.

One difficulty, he stresses, is that they demand absolute proof from Government scientists before action is taken, whereas it has long been clear that judged as civil law - on the balance of probabilities - which is ultimately 51%, discharges of ammonia to coastal waters promotes the production of these nitrogenous toxins.

Mr Berry says it has been calculated that the discharge of ammonia from salmon farms to Scottish coastal waters at the height of summer equates with that from the raw sewage produced by a human population of more than seven million people.

At a conference in Norway at the weekend, Professor David Mackay, a regional director of Sepa, said current practices are causing damage which is reaching "near crisis" level. He believes expansion of the industry may have to be halted, acknowledging that some fish farming practices are damaging stocks of wild salmon and sea trout.

For the first time, Professor Mackay agrees that production of 100,000 tonnes of fish a year leads to discharges of approximately 10,000 tonnes of nitrogen which distorts the production of primitive organisms at the base of the food chain and could cause "major ecological change".

At the weekend, the Scottish Executive responded to Mr Berry's claims by asking him to prove his case. A spokesman said: "If Mr Berry has any evidence to back up his claims, we would be delighted to see it.

"The question of what causes toxic algal blooms is the subject of worldwide research of which the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen plays an important role."The Scottish Executive has already commissioned detailed research with the MLA on this issue and no correlation between pollution and contaminants in sea water have so far been established."

LOAD-DATE: August 10, 1999