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The formal suspension applies to all sites treated for lice in Shetland, the company's wholly owned subsidiary Lakeland Group announced on August 27.
Although what exactly caused the deaths remains unclear, the company suspects the lice products were not approved for use on salmon.
The company will continue to collaborate closely with the Scottish Environmental and Protection Agency (SEPA), the animal welfare charity Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local Environmental Health Officers to establish the cause. The process may take several weeks as tests are undertaken.
“I can confirm that the Scottish SPCA is leading an investigation into alleged fish poisoning in the Shetland Islands, working with SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage, Marine Scotland and the police,” stated Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn, The Shetland Times reports.
“The investigation is currently ongoing therefore no further information is available at this stage.”
Marine Farms is also working closely with authorities in order to reassure them that no fish from the affected site entered the food chain after the incident took place.
Lakeland hired a team of external experts to conduct an internal investigation. They have thus far uncovered that during the treatment – meant to protect salmon from a parasite that affects both wild and farmed fish – lice products unapproved for salmon may have been employed.
According to the company, the use of such products clashes with its systems and public regulations.
The investigation will focus on uncovering all the facts and preventing the problem from reoccurring. The possibility of improper use of compounds, Marine Farms said, indicates a failing in the company systems.
Marine Farms will not harvest or transfer fish from the site in question until a satisfactory result is reached.
Welfare agencies became involved after the company began transporting dead fish to the Rova Head dump in Lerwick earlier this month. SEPA and the SSPCA sent inspectors to visit the farm over the weekend.
Lakeland Managing Director Willie Liston said he did not know when the investigation would be completed, but that it may end this week. He acknowledged there was a “higher level of mortality than we would have expected” in the cage for sea lice management.
The firm said the direct financial effect of the mortalities is assumed not to be significant.
Natalia Real (Fishing Information and Services)