A new net material for Scotland’s salmon farmers is being pioneered in Sutherland and the Western Isles and could play a major role in reducing escapes in the aquaculture industry.
The first in a series of trials is being hosted by Loch Duart Ltd at one of its main production sites in Badcall Bay, Scourie, under the auspices of a new industry-wide research and development project co-ordinated and part-funded by Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO).
A second experiment is also due to commence shortly, which will be conducted on the Isle of Harris by Marine Harvest Scotland. The total cost of the trials and commercial evaluations is over £100,000.
Other partners and funders in the project include the Scottish Government, fibre manufacturers DSM Dyneema, mesh material producer Badinotti and net manufacturer Boris Net Company Ltd.
The high strength, lightweight Dyneema fibre is to be used, which is up to 15 times stronger than quality steel on a weight for weight basis, and is described as the ‘world’s strongest fibre’.
A recent analysis of the causes of reported breaches of containment in 2006 in Scottish aquaculture revealed that an estimated 35% of incidents were the direct result of predation (principally seal attack).
Standard nets used in the aquaculture industry are mainly made from nylon or similar materials. Advances in technology have led to an approximate two-fold increase in the tensile strength of this new net material.
Invented by DSM, the material has a unique combination of properties and is used in applications including bullet resistant armour, cockpit doors of aeroplanes, racing sails, safety gloves for the metalworking industry and cables for tanker mooring.
With 14 new nets now in place and the first smolts put to sea last month, Nick Joy, Managing Director of Loch Duart, said: “We are delighted to be contributing to this project both financially and by proving this material in the field. The strength of this netting should benefit our production in many ways. Our record on escapes has not matched our high ideals and this material could be the answer. It is reputed to be less prone to abrasion and inclined to resist the deposition of marine growth. We hope these benefits will also yield better growing conditions for our fish.”
Alan Sutherland, Managing Director of Marine Harvest Scotland added: “This is an extremely important project to be involved in and one the salmon farming industry and stakeholders will be watching closely. The benefits of using this type of material appear to be very clear and we are hopeful that its application will greatly assist in improving the secure containment of our stocks.”
The net trials are part of the industry’s ‘Demonstration Project’ which is a programme of research and development initiatives. SSPO chief executive Sid Patten said: “This project is one part of a much wider strategy created to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to further improving its performance on containment.
“More than twice as expensive as conventional nets, this represents a significant investment to investigate the potential effectiveness of the novel net material. An evaluation of suitability and commercial viability will be carried out over a full production cycle and disseminated to the whole of the industry.”
Welcoming the announcement, Andrew Wallace, managing director of the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland and Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, said: "High standards of containment of farmed salmon are important to fish farmers for obvious business reasons but also to wild fisheries to avoid problems associated with hybridisation with wild stocks.
“It is extremely encouraging to see such a significant investment in this issue and pioneering new technology to address the problem. We look forward to working with the industry on this project and to seeing the results.”