The representative body for the salmon farming industry, Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, is to write to the University of St Andrews demanding an independent enquiry into the conclusion and promotion of a scientific paper published yesterday (7th November 2012), insisting that an apology and retraction is issued.
A media statement from the University of St Andrews claimed that sea lice are responsible for 39% of ocean mortalities of wild salmon in the Northeast Atlantic. However the lead author of the paper has now confirmed that the interpretation in the media statement is wrong.
Professor Phil Thomas, Chairman of Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), said: “This story has now been exposed as a scandal – it is a major blunder by the University of St Andrews. The institution has misled the nation.
“For a prominent Scottish University like St Andrews to behave in this way is inexcusable, whatever its need for publicity. To make these wholly incorrect and unjustifiable claims damages both the scientific reputation of the individuals concerned and the institution.
“But worse, it erodes the already shaky public confidence in science and scientists, and that is ultimately to the detriment of Scotland,” added Professor Thomas.
The vast majority of the data in the paper published yesterday, 7th November 2012, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, is not new and has previously been analysed and reported. Those earlier studies show that effects of sea lice on the ocean mortality of wild salmon are very small, representing about 1% - 2% of salmon mortality.
Contrary to the claims in the St Andrews press statement, the figures in the new paper do not report salmon mortality at sea, but effects on the number of salmon that return to spawn. Given that ocean mortality is widely recognised to be at over 95%, which is acknowledged by the authors, the SSPO believes the findings to be consistent with the 1% - 2% impact of sea lice on mortality already reported in the comprehensive earlier scientific studies.
Professor Chris Todd, one of the authors from the University of St Andrews, implies (as does the synopsis of his paper) that the sea-lice mortality relates to fish farms. However, the SSPO points out that this is not assessed or tested in the paper.
Professor Thomas added: “The paper itself contains individual observations that are in fact contrary to that conclusion. More significantly, as Professor Todd must be aware from other work he has published, the decline in salmon returns on the North and East coasts of Scotland – where there is no salmon farming – are the same as those found elsewhere in Scotland and beyond. This simply demonstrates that his inferences are not soundly founded.”
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