Imports of salmon eggs from Norway have been banned over fears a deadly viral disease could spread to Scotland, we can reveal.

New documents disclose that exports of Norwegian eggs were banned last June following an inspection by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a ban that remains in place.

The Scottish Government says it is pressing Norway to resolve the situation and that the fish farming industry has an “adequate” supply of eggs.

Millions of salmon eggs, also known as ova, have been imported from Norway to Scottish salmon farms in recent years but there have been concerns over Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), a viral disease affecting Atlantic Salmon.

Hundreds of thousands of fish have previously been slaughtered in bids to control outbreaks of ISA, with affected fish farms disinfected and placed under close surveillance.

ISA first emerged in Norway in 1984, but has since been reported in Canada, the USA, the Faroe Islands, Ireland and Scotland.

ISA causes severe anaemia in fish but is not harmful to humans. There are no treatments for the virus and it can cause major losses at infected farms.

The new documents revealing the Norway ban were released after a freedom of information request by campaign group, Scottish Salmon Watch (SSW)

They reveal that following an EFTA inspection in May 2019, a temporary suspension of exports of salmon and rainbow trout ova from Norway was established.

Deadly virus outbreak prompted fears over import of fish farm eggs to Scotland

In its reply to SSW the Scottish Government said: “The EFTA surveillance authority, responsible for assessing control systems related to food and feed safety, raised a number of concerns relating to the trade in live aquatic animals (including ova).

“Norway is unable to ensure that farmed fish/shellfish sent for export to other European Economic Area states will not affect the health of farmed fish/shellfish in those receiving countries. As of the date of this communication (17 February 2020), the suspension remains in place as corrective measures are taken and implemented.”

The ban on ova exports from Norway in June 2019 led to zero Norwegian imports of ova to Scotland for the rest of the year, after a shipment to fish farm company, Mowi, arrived on 22 May 2019.

SSW said that all shipments after that date – at least up to the end of 2019 when data is available – came from an Icelandic firm called Stofnfiskur.

The documents also reveal that in 2018 Scotland imported 66 million ova in total with 48.3 million from Norway, 10.1 million from Iceland, and 7.3 million from the Republic of Ireland.

Last February, The Ferret reported that Scottish and UK government officials had raised concerns over the import to Scotland of salmon eggs from Norwegian firm, AquaGen, after the outbreak of a deadly virus. AquaGen is one of the world’s major suppliers and exported 22.6 million ova to Scotland in 2016 alone.

Salmon farming is a disease-ridden nightmare. Don Staniford, Scottish Salmon Watch

Don Staniford, director of Scottish Salmon Watch, said: “Salmon farming is a disease-ridden nightmare. Discerning consumers will be shocked to discover that the vast majority of ‘Scottish’ salmon marketed in glossy advertising by supermarkets is actually sourced as eggs from Norway, Iceland and Ireland.

“Iceland has now become the number one importer of ova for use on Scottish salmon due to disease risks in Norway. The ban on imports of ova from Norway should be extended to other countries to protect the genetic integrity of Scottish salmon.”

He added: “The ban on ova imports from Norway is a slap in the face for Norwegian companies exploiting Scotland’s wild image. It beggars belief that Norway bans imports of Scottish ova yet the Scottish Government are falling over themselves to import ova from countries with a history of disease problems.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are confident Scotland’s aquaculture industry has access to an adequate supply of salmon ova and don’t expect any impact on production in 2021 and 2022. Since the suspension of imports from Norway, new salmon hatchery facilities have come on stream in Scotland, supplying much of Scotland’s ova needs.

“In addition, Scottish fish farmers continue to use their own broodstock and are importing more ova from elsewhere, including Iceland which operates within an approved zone free from listed disease. We are, however, monitoring the situation very closely and continuing to press Norway to resolve this matter.”

Hamish Macdonell, of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, which represents salmon farming companies, said: “The increased production of Scottish ova and imports from countries other than Norway has meant that there is no problem with the supply of eggs. Indeed, the Scottish salmon sector is thriving with production up and exports up – trends which we expect to continue, proving there is no problem whatsoever with egg supply.”

The Norwegian Government has been contacted for a comment.

Under European Union legislation urgent action must be taken to contain an outbreak of ISA. EU rules will remain in place until the end of this year. Two outbreaks of ISA in Scotland in 1998-99 and 2008-09 were successfully eradicated.

Photo thanks to iStock/sheva07. This story was updated at 07.49 on 25 February 2020 to add a comment from the Scottish Government.

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