By JOHN ROBERTSON
Four salmon farm sites off Aith are up for sale after being closed due to sea lice and high costs. Mainstream Scotland announced it would cease operations in the area by next month to concentrate instead on its farms and fish packing station in Yell.
Four jobs look set to be lost among the company’s Shetland workforce of 46 with the closure of the base in Aith, situated near the lifeboat station. Mainstream managing director William Young said the company appreciated the contribution made by its staff in Aith and the impact lost jobs had on small communities. It has four other salmon sites off Mid Yell and Hascosay of which three are currently operational and not so prone to sea lice. Mr Young said the decision had come after a thorough review of its operations which concluded that the company did not expect to produce salmon “efficiently” in the area “even after the present sanitary problems have been managed”.
The sea lice infestation, which has plagued salmon farms around the west coast, had prevented fish growing to their expected size, he said. “It’s just the way things are at the moment. It is economically tight and you have got to have a solution to these problems.”
In the current economic climate with businesses struggling to source funds for investment, the Aith sites may only be of interest to the biggest operators with the financial might to finance expansion and risk a sea lice problem. Mr Young said they could still be suitable for salmon but the potential buyer would need “the structure and basis to improve operational cost”. “If we could find a buyer that would be a good solution for us,” he said.
Shetland’s two biggest salmon farmers, Hjaltland and Scottish Sea Farms, who might be potential buyers of the sites, have also been hit badly by sea lice on sites south-west of the Mainland and infectious salmon anaemia was eventually found in two of their sites in that area in January.
Hjaltland’s owner, Greig Seafood, reported “extraordinary high mortalities” in the area during recent months due to “a severe salmon lice incident”. It informed the Oslo Børs stock exchange it was now co-operating with other fish farmers in the area to try to improve the biological situation.
SalMar, owners of 50 per cent of Scottish Sea Farms, reported that income had been hit due to low average fish weight and high production costs in the same area.
It told Oslo Børs: “During large parts of 2008 this area of Shetland struggled with salmon lice and PD [pancreas disease], which is due to heavy overall production burden.” The company no longer has any fish in the area after harvesting it all in January.
Mainstream arrived in Shetland after buying Shetland-Norse fish farm in 2000. It owns farms in Orkney and the west coast of Scotland and is part of the Norwegian giant Cermaq which farms around the world and controls one of the world’s biggest fish feed companies, Ewos.