Over a hundred thousand deformed salmon have reportedly escaped from cages and could be in any river in Ayrshire.

It is reported that three cages holding as many as 165,000 fish ruptured off the coast of Arran on Thursday, August 20.

Fisheries Management Scotland, the representative body for Scotland’s District Salmon Fishery Boards and Fisheries Trusts, said they anticipated that a 'significant numbers of adult' salmon may have escaped.

Anglers across Ayrshire have been warned to report any obviously farmed salmon to the Ayrshire Rivers Trust.

The farmed fish are identifiable because of deformed or shortened features such as their fins, gill covers and snouts.

Their pigmentation can be heavier with more spots than are usual on wild salmon.

The farmed fish can have a devastating impact on the wild population and the reported escape has caused frustration among anglers.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Carradale North farm at its secured location 800 metres out of position. Credit: MowiCarradale North farm at its secured location 800 metres out of position. Credit: Mowi

An Ayrshire Rivers Trust spokesperson said: "We have unconfirmed reports that three salmon cages ruptured at some point yesterday near Carradale to the west of Arran in the Firth of Clyde.

"While we await more details of the size of fish that may have escaped... we do understand it could be as many as 165,000 fish that are now in the wild and they may appear in any Ayrshire river at any time.

"Anglers catching what are obvious farmed salmon are asked to report them to us and supply a photograph too. We will be putting together a response from the Ayrshire DSFB's (District Salmon Fishery Board) and other rivers on behalf of Ayrshire Anglers in due course.

"We understand that high winds are being blamed for this incident but in our opinion, that is unacceptable and a poor excuse."

The fish farm, west of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, was reportedly damaged by Storm Ellen.

The farm contains around half a million fish but owners Mowi said the pens have been temporarily secured after their seabed anchors became dislodged.

The firm said it informed Marine Scotland of the potential for some fish to escape 'immediately'.

Images show three of the cages have suffered damage and Ayrshire Rivers Trust has warned anglers to beware ahead of confirmation.

Dr Alan Wells, Chief Executive of Fisheries Management Scotland, said: “This is clearly a very concerning event, and we need to understand the circumstances which led to the integrity of the farm being compromised to this extent during weather conditions not unknown in the Firth of Clyde.

"In Norway, interbreeding between wild and escaped farmed fish is considered the greatest threat to wild Atlantic salmon and it is important that all avenues are explored to mitigate impacts on wild salmon arising from this event. We will be working with Mowi Scotland and Marine Scotland to ensure that this occurs. In the longer-term we must learn the lessons required to ensure that it is not repeated in future.

“Fisheries Management Scotland have contacted the relevant District Salmon Fishery Boards and Fisheries Trusts to alert them to this situation and to remain vigilant to reports of capture of these fish. It is important that anglers remain alert to any farmed fish entering our rivers. Any farmed fish caught by anglers should be humanely despatched and reported to the Fish Health Inspectorate.”

Mowi, which owns the salmon farm at Carradale North consisting of 10 circular net pens, released a statement that said: "On August 20, 2020, Mowi’s salmon farm at Carradale North, consisting of 10 circular net pens containing 550,000 salmon (at approximately 4.2kgs), shifted position after its seabed anchors became dislodged during Storm Ellen that has hit the UK and Ireland.

"The company’s priority is to secure the fish cages and to safeguard staff, contractors and fish stock. 

"The company immediately informed Marine Scotland of the event and Marine Scotland is aware of the potential for some fish escape. This story will be amended after the recovery is complete."

If anglers catch suspected farmed fish they should alert Marine Scotland’s duty inspector mailbox at ms.fishhealth@gov.scot.