A controversial new ‘seal scarer’ device was covertly filmed at a fish farm supplying salmon to celebrity chefs and Selfridges, despite concerns it could be harmful to protected species such as dolphins and whales.
Footage obtained by the fish farm critic Don Staniford has revealed that a company called Loch Duart, based in Sutherland, installed new seal scaring technology at one of its sites.
Seal scarers are acoustic deterrent devices used to keep seals away from salmon farms. The farmed salmon industry says they are critical for protecting fish stocks because, it claims, seals kill around 500,000 caged salmon each year.
But critics claim seal scarers can cause hearing damage and stress in dolphins, porpoises and whales (marine mammals in the cetacean family) and therefore breach animal protection legislation.
They argue there are alternatives for the salmon industry to use to protect fish farms from seals, including the use of stronger nets.
The new seal scarer used by Loch Duart is called targeted acoustic startle technology (TAST). The device aims to keep seals from salmon farms using a sound like a dog whistle. Its impact on cetaceans including whales, dolphins and porpoises is being assessed.
GenusWave, which manufacturers TAST, claims the technology is “both effective and harmless” and does not harm cetaceans or salmon.
Critics fear the devices could harm protected species, however, and are urging chefs and restaurants to boycott Loch Duart’s farmed salmon.
The Scottish company’s farmed salmon has been served at Wimbledon and by celebrity chefs including Rick Stein and Raymond Blanc. Selfridges sells Loch Duart’s fish at its flagship London store.
Loch Duart says on its website that “fish welfare is at the heart of what we do” and that it “pioneers natural solutions for fish welfare and environmental management”.
Last summer The Ferret revealed that NatureScot – a public body tasked with protecting Scotland’s natural heritage – had granted a two-year research licence to Genuswave to test TAST at Loch Duart sites, prompting concerns.
NatureScot said the licence “permits the disturbance of harbour porpoise, bottlenose, common, white beaked and risso’s dolphins, minke and killer whale”.
Genuswave says on its website that TAST is “light-years more advanced than ‘primitive acoustic deterrent devices’” because it has a lower frequency. “TAST meets every requirement of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act and is the only acoustic deterrent approved by the influential and highly regarded Aquaculture Stewardship Council,” it adds.
The footage of TAST was obtained by Don Staniford, director of Scamon Scotland, and passed to The Ferret. It was taken at Loch Duart’s Reintraid salmon farm, at Loch a Chairn Bhain, last August. The video shows plastic bins full of dead fish, and a TAST device.
The mortality rate of salmon at the site last November was 7.5 per cent, according to an official report, with “predation” cited as a factor, which means seals were partly responsible for the fish deaths.
Every month firms report the percentage of fish lost on each of their farms, a measure of mortality used by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate when assessing the health of the fish on a farm.
Staniford told The Ferret: “The shocking video footage shot at Loch Duart clearly blows out of the water claims that salmon farming is welfare friendly. If salmon farmers cannot operate without allowing their stock to be eaten alive then they should be closed down. Operating salmon farms in areas habitually and historically used by seals is doomed to failure.”
Dr Matt Palmer, campaign manager at WildFish, a charity committed to protecting salmon and trout, also expressed concern over the potential impact of TAST. He said: “Loch Duart markets itself as Scotland’s premium salmon farming company, and is name-checked on a number of high-end restaurants, both in the UK and internationally.”
He added: “However, diners in these restaurants would be shocked to learn that the salmon they are being served has come from farms testing devices that could harm protected species such as dolphins and killer whales. Farmed salmon is fundamentally unsustainable, with inherent environmental and welfare issues, which is why we are urging chefs and restaurants to take it off their menus.”
The Telegraph reported in December that Selfridges had been forced to remove misleading sustainable salmon claims about Loch Duart’s fish. The retailer was forced to remove a promotional board from its Oxford Street fish counter after an intervention by Westminster City Council.
This followed Staniford accusing Selfridges of “deceiving” customers. He pointed to a 2019 ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority, as reported by The Ferret, that Loch Duart should not promote itself as sustainable after it upheld concerns over the environmental impacts of fish farming.
Staniford had also highlighted that Loch Duart rears salmon in open cages located in coastal waters, leaving fish vulnerable to attacks and infection from other creatures, not contained systems as Selfridges suggested.
Loch Duart declined to comment.
Selfridges, Stein, and Genuswave were asked to comment.
Raymond Blanc was not available for comment.