HL Deb 17 November 1966 vol 277 cc1345-9

3.6 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the number of outbreaks of the Irish salmon disease so far notified in England, Scotland and Wales; whether the disease appears in all respects similar to that of the Irish rivers and what steps are being, and can in the future be, taken to reduce its spread.]


My Lords, outbreaks of columnar is disease have recently occurred in salmon and sea trout in ten rivers in Cumberland and Lancashire, and in the Border Esk, which is partly in Scotland. An outbreak of disease on the Kirkcudbrightshire Dee is being investigated. In the summer similar outbreaks occurred among coarse fish in a number of rivers and enclosed waters, particularly in the Lincolnshire, Well and and Nene, Trent and Severn River Authority areas.

In these outbreaks similar organisms have been identified and the symptoms have also been generally similar. But in England and Scotland, unlike Ireland, sea trout have been more affected than salmon, and there has been a higher incidence of disease among coarse fish, though the disease has proved much less lethal to them than to salmon and sea trout.

The areas affected, in which disease has been confirmed, have been designated as infected areas under the Diseases of Fish Act 1937, and the fishery authorities con- cerned have been empowered to remove and destroy all dead and diseased fish by the most suitable means, including methods normally illegal. Movement of all live fish and eggs out of the areas is prohibited or otherwise controlled. In addition, anglers have been advised to disinfect their gear as a precaution against the transmission of disease from one river to another.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his very full reply, may I ask him this question? Is he aware that there are grave misgivings felt by all fishing interests, private and commercial? While the emergency of this disease lasts, would the Government consider issuing a monthly communiqué to fishing associations, to river boards, and indeed to the public Press also, giving information on any new outbreaks during the previous month, what the position is in respect of those rivers where outbreaks have already taken place, and also information on improved methods of prevention or suggestions as to what river keepers and those watching rivers should do? Such a communiqué would stop ill-founded rumours and be of great assistance to those bodies I have mentioned.


My Lords, it seems to me that the noble Lord has made some really excellent suggestions, which I shall be happy to pass on to my right honourable friend. Clearly, the noble Lord would not expect me to answer any of the points, because he has not asked them particularly, but I certainly think the suggestions are well worthy of consideration by my right honourable friend.


My Lords, this is just about the time when the salmon are beginning to spawn. Can the noble Lord say whether there is any evidence that this disease is hereditary and can be passed on to the young salmon fry when they are hatched.


My Lords, I do not think there is any such evidence, but naturally I will pass the noble Lord's thoughts on this matter to the scientific officers of the Ministry. Up until now such discussions as I have had with them have not indicated that this possibility is in their minds. But, of course, a scientist must consider everything.


My Lords, would the Government bear in mind that a serious extension of this disease to the major rivers of Scotland would mean, if it lasted for any time, a great loss of rates to the local authorities which are known to take rates from fishings, and also to a great increase in local unemployment?


My Lords, all this has been very much in Her Majesty's Ministers' minds, and I think the answers that I have given in this House from time to time have indicated this to be the case. We certainly recognise the seriousness of this disease and wish to prevent it.


My Lords, can the Minister say whether it has yet been ascertained whether this is a bacterial or a virus infection?


My Lords, there has been a lot of investigation into this. We are not wholly satisfied that this disease is columnar is. A number of organisms have been identified, but it appears that the symptoms indicate that the main one operating with the others is columnar is. We have named it in the Orders under the Act because we have to name a disease in order to issue the Order. But we are not absolutely convinced that columnaris is the cause, or the main cause.


My Lords, as the incidence of the disease has grown to such a serious extent, and as the noble Lord will remember I asked him a question about the scope of research into the disease, I wonder whether he can tell the House just what the provisions are, and what is the prospect of extending the research arrangements, so that we know a little more about the cause of the disease and the best methods of prevention.


My Lords, I should not like to give an answer on that "off the cuff". If the noble Lord would care to put down a Question, I will let him know exactly how many scientists are employed on this, the amount of time they spend on it and so on. We are, of course, seized of the seriousness of this whole problem.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether this disease has spread from rivers into lakes? If it has not yet done so, are there any special measures that might be taken to prevent the further spread into lakes and, indeed, into reservoirs as well?


My Lords, there have been all sorts of suggestions for putting up barriers to prevent the spread, but this is rather difficult. I gather that if barriers were put up to prevent salmon from going up to spawn for three years in succession, it would kill the salmon and prevent that river from being again a salmon-producing river, unless special measures were taken to restock it. This problem is under consideration. The difficulty, of course, is to find the best means of so doing it.


My Lords, may I, with some apprehension, ask my noble friend a question from the consumer's point of view? What possibility is there of this diseased fish getting into the shops?


My Lords, so far as the salmon disease is concerned, I do not think there is any possibility of its being transmitted to human beings. When this disease originated in Ireland, where they have an export of salmon valued at about £1 million a year, they took special measures to ensure that diseased fish were not exported from Ireland. But naturally it will be for the fishmongers themselves to make sure that nothing is sold to the public that ought not to be.


My Lords, is it not a fact that boiling fish kills the disease and makes them quite safe for human consumption?


My Lords, I am not sure, but I rather think so. I believe that to he so in the case of germs. In any case, this disease is caused by bacteria, which I think would be killed by the act of boiling.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether this disease affects the salmon in the sea that are caught by the fishermen, or is it confined entirely to rivers?


My Lords, I think there is some little evidence to show that the disease is caught or spread in the estuaries, rather than in the sea. But the fact that it has spread here from Ireland indicates, unless some other factor came in, that it must have travelled by sea.

Back to