MAKING their debut at Seafood Expo in Brussels this week are ballan wrasse, the cleaner fish that are helping to rid salmon farms of sea lice.
About half a dozen of the fish, along with a few other marine species, are attracting great interest in a mini aquarium on the stand of Wester Ross Fisheries, Scotland’s oldest independent salmon farmer.
They made the long journey from their Highlands loch to the bright lights of Brussels via the Caledonian Sleeper and the Eurostar, accompanied by Wester Ross managing director Gilpin Bradley, who is also the chair of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation.
He said he wanted to demonstrate the wealth of marine life found around a salmon farm.
As well as the ballan wrasse, the tank contains a corkwing wrasse, a rockling – a fish that is prolific on the west coast, a small turbot, a starfish, a brown crab, and a hermit crab.
‘All these were caught around the farm. It’s important that we remind people that fish farming is enhancing the marine environment,’ said Bradley.
‘Thousands of trade buyers come to meet salmon farmers at the exhibition but very few have the opportunity to see a salmon farm in action in Scotland. So we thought we would bring a tiny part of it to them.
‘In particular, we want to highlight the successful introduction of wrasse as a very effective and environmentally friendly way to keep salmon free of lice, which occur naturally in the water.’
Bradley boarded the sleeper at Inverness with his tank of live creatures, for the 12-hour journey to Euston. He admits he didn’t get much sleep but said he was glad he booked a first class cabin so he wouldn’t have to share with other passengers, and his coffin-like luggage could occupy the top bunk.
In London, he was advised not to take the Tube so wheeled his precious cargo along the Euston Road to St Pancras, from where they all boarded the Eurostar.
The trip went without a hitch, said Bradley, and was well worth the effort, judging by the number of visitors the aquarium has drawn to his stand in the Scottish pavilion.
The welfare of the live exhibit is Bradley’s priority and when the show closes in the evening he covers the tank as the wrasse prefer the dark.
His farm is almost like ‘a little nursery’, he said, with the richness of species it supports. The nets, for example, are a good growing area for queenie scallops, which his team harvest for their dinner parties.
‘It’s fascinating to see the secret life that goes on in the seabed around the farms – like the growth of scallops, prawns, even a baby turbot,’ said Bradley.
‘A significant variety of marine life thrives around salmon farms, something which is not fully recognised by regulators.’