AN AWARD winning salmon farm is under investigation after being accused of causing high levels of pollution and of having fish infested with lice.
Wester Ross Fisheries near Ullapool, which has received £630,000 in funding from the taxpayer, is under investigation by the government and voluntary agencies following a complaint from local landowner, Jenny Scobie.
She alleges that sea lice from the caged salmon at the farm are contaminating wild populations on the River Ullapool, which flows through her land on the Rhidorroch Estate.
Government figures, released under the freedom of information act, show the three of the firms sites, at Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom have had numbers of sea lice which exceed those recommended by the industry’s good practice guide six times this year.
Information released by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) also shows “unsatisfactory” levels of pollution of the sea bed below the three sites – Corry, Ardmair and Ardessie.
The same sites have been rated “unsatisfactory” 20 times in the last decade and “borderline” on eight occasions.
At Ardessie the weight of caged fish licensed under environmental rules was breached five times in 2006 and 2007.
The farm, which produces 1500 tonnes of salmon a year, was given a £631,720 grant by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in March to help it expand.
Just months later the company won a “stewardship award” at The Crown Estate’s marine aquaculture awards for “sustainability of the business in its environment”
And the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) lists the brand as one of its “freedom foods”, given for having good standards of animal welfare.
But Ms Scobie’s solicitor Guy Linley-Adams has now written to HIE urging for the grant to be “urgently reviewed”, to The Crown Estate slamming the award and to Sepa demanding a crackdown on the firm.
He said: “It’s quite simple. Polluting farms with bad sea lice problems should not win environmental awards and obtain grants to expand.”
He added that he was unclear as to why Sepa had failed to act on the “unacceptable” levels of pollution.
Ms Scobie said: “Wester Ross Fisheries’ serial failure to preventsea bed pollution and to control sea lice makes a mockery of the industry’s oft-quoted contention that it is tightly regulated.”
However, the company strongly defended its practices.
Managing director, Gilpin Bradley, said: “Some of these outrageous allegations are inaccurate, and will jeopardise the crucial employment in the largest private-sector operation in the Ullapool area.
“Wester Ross Fisheries is fully compliant with the legislation affecting salmon farming and in addition we meet the standards of the code of good practice for fish farming and the RSPCA welfare standards.
“HIE said the allegations were being investigated as a formal complaint and would respond as soon as possible. The grant secured 36 jobs and is expected to create a further 21 jobs by 2015.
The Crown Estate said that their award “recognises specific initiatives that have contributed to the sustainability of the business in its natural, stakeholder or community environment.”
Sepa said Wester Ross Fisheries was not on this year’s action plan for cutting pollution but was “likely” to be included next year.
The RSPCA said it would be visiting the site “to ensure RSPCA welfare standards are being maintained.”