PRINCE Charles spent the morning with Scottish fish farmers, visiting Marine Harvest’s site at Loch Leven and holding talks with leading industry representatives.
Charles, who is known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland, took a particular interest in the use of cleaner fish, which the Loch Leven farm has deployed as a biological means of controlling sea lice.
The farm is chemical free and was the UK’s first to receive the eco label ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) accreditation when it was certified last year. Marine Harvest Scotland said its target is for all its farms to be ASC accredited by 2020.
Charles apparently requested the farm visit on behalf of his International Sustainability Unit (ISU), which he set up six years ago to resolve some of the key environmental challenges facing the world.
He took a boat out to tour the Loch Leven sea pens, which hold wrasse and lumpsuckers as well as salmon, and dropped in on the Marine Harvest shore base to see how a modern farm operates.
Steve Bracken, business support manager for Marine Harvest Scotland, explained the cleaner fish project. He said: ‘We use commonly found fish, such as wrasse and lumpfish, which nibble the lice from the salmon as sea lice is a huge problem for the industry.
‘We want to move away from medicinal methods of removing sea lice, and we have also been working with new technology to get rid of the sea lice using high pressure water jets or warm water.
‘We are delighted that His Royal Highness has come to look at our cleaner fish project because we have had such success in using these smaller fish to get rid of sea lice.
‘This is a really welcome opportunity for Prince Charles to come and visit and I hope he will be impressed by our welfare standards.’
Farm manager Andy Martin said: ‘It was a great honour to meet the Prince of Wales who was very interested in hearing more about our work with wrasse.
‘It was great to be the first salmon farm in the UK to be ASC approved and we were really pleased the Prince of Wales came to visit to find out more about what we have achieved here.’
Charles also spoke with Marine Harvest veterinarian David Cockerill and Ronnie Hawkins, the cleaner fish manager.
Cockerill said: ‘We have 40,000 to 60,000 salmon in each cage here. We try to make all our sites sustainable in terms of feed and getting rid of parasites.
‘This non-medicinal way of managing sea lice is a natural solution to problems facing the salmon industry.
‘We feel that we understand the spawning process of the wrasse and lumpfish, and now the goal is to be able to use cleaner fish on all our farms.
‘About three-quarters of our cleaner fish are farmed at several hatcheries across the UK. We think by 2018 we will have sprouted enough for our farms, and by 2020, 100 per cent of our cleaner fish will be farmed as opposed to caught wild.
‘I have worked as the vet here for 10 years and non-medicinal methods of getting rid of sea lice is the way forward.’
Hawkins said: ‘Prince Charles was very excited about it, as am I and all of my colleagues. This could make a big difference to the way we work and the whole process of salmon farming becomes much easier.
‘I was impressed with his engagement with the whole process. We have used wrasse since 2012 with 100 per cent success. Today we have 12 farms stocked with cleaner fish and next year this will rise to 22.’
Prince Charles then attended a meeting at the Ballachulish Hotel, chaired by John Goodlad, senior fisheries advisor to the ISU.
Also understood to be present at the meeting were Chris Ninnes, CEO of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, Beth Hart, Sainsbury’s head of fresh and frozen food product development, and Marine Scotland officials, as well as senior Marine Harvest staff.
The purpose of the discussions was for HRH to hear from industry experts about measures to make the sector more sustainable.
The presence of Charles among salmon farming royalty will be seen as an encouraging development by the industry, which has tried to build better relationships with the often hostile angling community.
As patron of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, and a keen angler, Charles is closely associated with the wild salmon lobby, which has been a vocal opponent of fish farming, which it blames for the decline in stocks.
In the past, Charles has expressed concerns that fish farms were damaging Scotland’s wild salmon population. He reportedly held talks at Balmoral with Scottish ministers in 2002 to voice his fears over fish escapes and sea lice infestations.
But more recently he has supported sustainable aquaculture projects, such as an aquaponics unit – where fish and food are grown in a recirculating aquaculture system – in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
He is a long-time advocate of green causes, and has pioneered organic farming and established himself as an outspoken campaigner on climate change.
Marine Harvest holds the Royal Warrant for the supply of fresh farmed salmon to Her Majesty the Queen.
Picture: Prince Charles looks at cleaner fish with Marine Harvest’s Ronnie Hawkins (left) and David Cockerill. Picture by Iain Ferguson