Salmon Stocks: Parasite Control (Hansard, 18 November 1987)
HL Deb 18 November 1987 vol 490 cc192-4

2.57 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to prevent the spread to the United Kingdom of the parasite gyrodactylus salaris, which has drastically reduced salmon stocks in an increasing number of Norwegian rivers, and whether they are in touch with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to concert measures to protect wild and farmed salmon stocks in the British Isles against it.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)

My Lords, I am aware of the effects which the parasite gyrodactylus salaris is having on Norwegian salmon stocks.

The parasite is transmitted among live salmon in fresh water. Imports of such fish into Great Britain are prohibited under the diseases of fish legislation and very strict health controls also operate in Northern Ireland. These controls provide an adequate means of preventing the spread of the parasite to Great Britain. However, as was indicated in another place earlier this week, the Government have, as a precautionary measure, decided that we should bring this parasite within the control provisions of the Diseases of Fish Act 1937.

As far as I am aware, there is no evidence to suggest that salmon stocks in the Republic of Ireland are affected by the parasite, but I have no reason to think that the authorities there will not enforce such measures as are available to them to prevent the introduction of this parasite into their waters.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that broadly reassuring reply. Is it correct that this organism, related to that unsatisfactory creature, the liver fluke, has spread rapidly in Norwegian rivers since 1985 and is now affecting at least 29 rivers, and that scientists are still not certain how it spreads? Is he aware that the Norwegian authorities have found that the only way to control it effectively is the drastic measure of removing all the hosts; that is, poisoning all the fish in a river system with Rotenone?

If that is so, is it not essential that we should take the most stringent measures to prevent it spreading to rivers, hatcheries or fish farms in this country? Will the Minister confirm that we are talking to the authorities in the Republic of Ireland about this problem, which could easily spread across the border either way?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I can confirm that this is a serious matter for the Norwegian authorities. There is no evidence that the parasite can be transmitted through salmon ova, which is an important point in terms of our import controls. Secondly, no imports of live salmonids from the Republic of Ireland are permitted. As a matter of course we consult with other laboratories, both in Norway and in other countries, which deal with these diseases. I underline the importance the Government attach to dealing with this kind of disease, which has been devastating in Norwegian waters.

Baroness White

My Lords, has there been any consultation with the Atlantic Salmon Trust, a very reputable body, which I believe drew the attention of the Ministry to this problem?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. We keep in close touch with such organisations, which have been very helpful. I understand that they welcome the move the Government have made this week in this direction.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Government's failure to licence salmon dealers has opened up so many different ways in which poachers can get rid of wild salmon that the chances of inspecting them for signs of disease are absolutely nil?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am well aware of the passing of the Salmon Act 1986 and of the fact that the salmon dealers' licensing has not yet come into effect. I hope that my noble friend will be reassured that the days when this will take place are near.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what quantities of live salmon are exported from Norway and to which countries they are exported?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Viscount any indication of the amounts of fish that come from Norway, save to say that we have strict regulations on imports. Our current import controls for live fish and eggs are effective, however, and in my view there would be no justification for applying a complete ban on Norwegian imports. I cannot give the noble Viscount the actual figures for imports but I shall write to him with that information.

Lord Moran

My Lords, is it correct that this parasite can also live on rainbow trout? If that is so, is there a danger of it spreading through the movement of live trout in Europe?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, as far as I am aware, the answer to that question is, no. However, there is a problem with regard to cold water ornamental fish and we are looking at the problem quite closely. It is intended to review the existing licensing controls for these fish.