Shetland’s largest salmon producer has hit back after being expelled from the industry trade and promotion body, Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation.
The SSPO board decided on the punishment at a special meeting after a “serious contravention” of its code of good practice for finfish aquaculture.
Hjaltland Sea Farms, which produces over one-third of Shetland’s annual salmon harvest, was given its marching orders for importing smolts from Norway without quarantining them, as is obliged by SSPO rules for Norwegian imports.
The quarantine, a voluntary measure agreed by all SSPO members, is aimed at reducing the risk of spreading diseases like infectious salmon anaemia (ISA).
However Hjaltland managing director Sigurd Petterson said that the firm had taken the best option open to it by importing the Norwegian smolts without the “unnecessary” quarantine.
Mr Petterson said: “The legality of what we have done is unquestionable in Scottish and Norwegian law and the Norway-EU trade agreement. This was approved by the Scottish and Norwegian authorities.”
Chief executive of SSPO, Scott Landsburgh, said: “It is with deep disappointment that the board of SSPO has made the decision to expel a member company. However, the importation of smolts from a country with lower health status without undertaking a quarantine period is strictly against the code of good practice for fish farming.
“The potential consequences of bringing in smolts without quarantine are exceptionally serious for the whole Scottish industry. SSPO requires its members to participate fully in the independently audited code of good practice.
“In expressing their grave concerns about the company’s plans, other members of SSPO went to extraordinary lengths to help Hjaltland source smolts from Scotland. These offers were rejected”.
However Mr Petterson said that while it was true infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) was found in parts of Norway, the area the smolts were sourced from was disease free. Hjaltland Sea Farms was just as concerned as other producers not to spread infection.
Hjaltland had been put in a difficult position by the loss of 2.5 million smolts to infectious pancreatic necrosis at its Millbrook hatchery in Girlsta. “Not replacing the fish would have had serious implications for the production of Hjaltland,” said Mr Petterson. “We took the right decision.”
Attempts to source replacements from mainland Scotland had not succeeded as the fish were “clearly inferior” to the Norwegian smolts and had come from areas with disease problems.
The 1.7 million Norwegian smolts were put to sea at various Hjaltland sites off Scalloway. These would eventually make up to 8,500 tonnes of live fish – 45 per cent of Hjaltland’s yearly Shetland production.
Hjaltland is currently developing a new hatchery at Millbrook from where it will supply fish to its own Shetland operations and also sell them down south.
According to Mr Petterson Hjaltland will not be allowed back in membership of SSPO till the imported fish have been harvested, but this was “not an issue” of particular concern.
“On the positive side, we will be sponsoring events in Shetland rather than Scotland,” he said.
Mr Landsburgh paid tribute to the “enormous spirit of collaboration and support shown between companies to find a solution” to the problem.
“I am, therefore, all the more disappointed that every overture was rejected and it was agreed that we should take this step,” he added.
Under European legislation it is legal to import salmon smolts from another country that has equivalent fish health status; and also from “approved zones” within countries that have lower fish health status.
Since 2006 SSPO members have agreed to quarantining and testing of smolts imported from “approved zones and compartments” for at least three months. This policy is set out within the code of good practice.
The SSPO deemed Hjaltland’s actions in importing live salmon smolts from an approved zone within Norway without quarantine were in direct contravention of industry policy
“While There are no human health implications there is concern for biosecurity,” a statement said.