Acoustic Deterrents used at over 140 fish farms

Salmon, fish farm, ADDs, acoustic deterrents

CONCERNS have been raised after figures revealed more than 140 fish farms in Scotland are using controversial noise devices (acoustic deterrents) to scare off seals.

Official statistics show scores of farms use acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs), which critics say can cause serious pain and lasting damage to dolphins, porpoises and other marine animals.

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone has now raised fears the “free-for-all by large scale industrial fish farms” will get worse once a seal killing ban comes into force.

Fish farmers were banned from killing seals under the recent Animals and Wildlife Bill, which was passed by MSPs in June. This aligns with US rules, ensuring farmed fish can still be exported to the lucrative American market.

Ministers have also pledged to review the management and regulation of ADDs – which emit underwater sounds to deter seals – while the salmon farming industry recently announced its own review.  

The latest figures were revealed in a written response to a question lodged in the Scottish Parliament by Green MSP Mark Ruskell. 

‘Free for all’

Ms Johnstone said: “Acoustic deterrent devices can cause serious pain and lasting damage to dolphins, porpoises and other marine life, so it’s very concerning that they are so widely used in Scotland. There’s a danger that once the seal killing ban comes in, this free-for-all by large scale industrial fish farms will get worse.

“In the wildlife bill my colleague Mark Ruskell ensured that these devices will be reviewed by the government, so it’s interesting that Salmon producers have launched their own review. 

“However, we can’t expect an industry that uses them so widely to lead on this. Instead, we need to be looking at alternatives that don’t harm marine life as soon as possible.”

The figures show 142 fish farms in Scotland use Acoustic Deterrents. 

The Scottish Salmon Company was listed as the biggest user, with 45 of the devices. It declined to comment.

The statistics cover the period from October 2018 to September 2019, as reported in the most recent seal licensing applications.

Scottish Natural Heritage previously expressed concern about the use of ADDs and their impact on whales, dolphins and porpoises. It said there is “sound scientific evidence” the devices could cause hearing damage and stress among the marine animals.

Review of Acoustic Deterrents

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) referred The Herald to its earlier announcement of a review into ADD use. 

It said farmers will conduct risk assessments in conjunction with Marine Scotland, the Scottish Government agency responsible for aquaculture.

Officials at Marine Scotland will then decide whether European Protected Species (EPS) licences may be required for some sites.

Salmon farmers say they are required by law to protect their fish and ADDs are a vital part of the management techniques to help prevent attack by a growing population of seals.

Anne Anderson, sustainability director at the SSPO, said: “It is critical that, like any farmer, salmon farmers have a suite of deterrents, each of which offers a different protection against predation, particularly as they have a statutory duty to care for the welfare of their fish.

“This move shows that the salmon farming sector is serious about its long-term sustainability and its commitment to openness and transparency. It also reinforces the sector’s call for robust and intelligent regulation to enable it to operate, plan and grow sustainably.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Animals and Wildlife (Scotland) Act 2020 is an important milestone in our work to protect animals and wildlife, and sets out a number of measures to ensure the highest standards of welfare, including a statutory commitment to report on the use of acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) at Scottish fish farms to the Scottish Parliament by March 1, 2021.

“This report, which complements our ongoing review of the management and regulation of ADDs, will consider the impact of the use of ADDs on marine mammals at Scottish fish farms, the manner in which the use of these devices is monitored, whether existing animals and wildlife protection is sufficient and any future plans for regulation.”

This article was originally published as More than 140 fish farms in Scotland using controversial noise devices at The Herald.

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