An all too familiar cycle has played out once again on the rainbow trout farms operated by Dawnfresh Farming Ltd in Loch Etive.
Unacceptable levels of sea lice
Data for September and October has shown unacceptably high infestations of sea lice this year.
The Code of Good Practice – agreed upon by the industry body Salmon Scotland – says that there should not be more than 1.0 lice per fish during these months. Despite this, Dawnfresh’s Aird Point farm reported an average of 17.7 lice per fish for the week beginning the 3rd of October.
Figure 1: The average sea lice per fish reported each week on Dawnfresh Farming Ltd managed farms.
Unfathomably, at no point this year have the Scottish Government stepped in to require any action to address this problem. No farm registered over 6.0 lice per fish for four continuous weeks, and so no action was required under current guidelines by the Scottish government. This is unacceptable.
The risk to wild fish
Sea lice move freely into the water column in Loch Etive. These lice infest wild salmonid populations, particularly because Loch Etive connects to the River Awe, an important habitat for the declining populations of Atlantic salmon and sea trout.
Not only are the sea lice a threat to wild salmonid populations, but the treatments used on farms can cause widespread damage to the surrounding ecosystem.
Last year Dawnfresh used deltamethrin and azamethiphos to try and reduce sea lice numbers during the outbreak. Both chemicals are known to cause harmful effects in wild organisms living near salmon farms.  This year they have not specified what chemical treatments they are using.
A history of environmental harm
It might seem hard to believe that the levels can get so out of control, but this is not the first time that sea lice numbers have been catastrophically high on Dawnfresh farms. Last year between July and October the sea lice numbers surpassed 25 lice per fish on one farm.
In fact, Dawnfresh have over a decade of mismanagement causing serious harm to the environment under their belt.  Previously thousands of fish have escaped from their farms into the surrounding environment. Rainbow trout are not native to the UK. When they escape they compete for food and resources with the native and declining populations of Atlantic salmon and sea trout adding further pressure to native wild species.
The local group Friends of Loch Etive called for a long fallow period on the farms to try and limit the parasite numbers in the loch and provide some respite to the wild salmonid populations. Dawnfresh did not follow this advice, resulting in the same unfortunate and predictable outbreaks of lice this year.
Figure 2. Loch Etive, marked on the map, is located in Argyll and Bute on the west coast of Scotland.
Turning a blind eye
Dawnfresh Farming Ltd went into administration in March of 2022 because of rising costs. They continue to operate under administration as they search for a buyer. 
Open-net fish farming is not sustainable. The consequences for wild salmonids are unacceptable. It should not take repeated failure to protect our wild fish from these harms to prove this point.
- Urbina, M.A., Cumillaf, J.P., Paschke, K., Gebauer, P., 2019. Effects of pharmaceuticals used to treat salmon lice on non-target species: Evidence from a systematic review. Science of The Total Environment 649, 1124–1136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.08.334
- Argyll District Salmon Fishery Board sets out objection to Loch Etive fish farm application – Fisheries Management Scotland, 2013. URL https://fms.scot/argyll-district-salmon-fishery-board-sets-out-objection-to-loch-etive-fish-farm-application/ (accessed 11.7.22).
- Trout farmer for sale as Dawnfresh folds [WWW Document], 2022. URL https://www.fishfarmingexpert.com/arbroath-dawnfresh-farming-dawnfresh-seafood/trout-farmer-for-sale-as-dawnfresh-folds/1308653 (accessed 11.7.22).