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News From Around the Fish Farms, April 2003

Cash Bonanza to Save Wild Salmon

A 6 million pound plan to try to save Scotland's wild fish has been announced. The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB) has petitioned the European Life scheme for a 4 million pound contribution towards the project, the balance to be subscribed by river owners.

You might immediately, and reasonably, assume that, at last, the ASFB is to address the catastrophic decline in West Highlands and Islands (WH&I) wild salmon and sea-trout numbers, where distinct populations are being driven to extinction by fish farm disease and pollution.

And you would be wrong. The cash will be used exclusively to 'improve' salmonid conditions in the Aberdeenshire Dee, Angus Esks, Tay, Tweed, Spey, Teith, Oykle, Moriston and the River Bladnoch in south west Scotland. ASFB director Andrew Wallace said, somewhat enigmatically, "If we get [EU cash] it will be a highly significant advance of the Atlantic salmon."

Tax Payer Cash for Fish Farmers and Friends

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is splashing out 500,000 pounds of tax payer cash to help fish farmers and on-message agencies to "enhance and improve stocks of wild and farmed fish across the area".

And how will this be achieved? By setting up Area Management Agreements (AMA 's); private, behind-closed-doors talking shops where fish farmers, civil servants and river owners can chat in secret about how best to preserve their vested interests. There will be no public participation.

AMA's are the brainchild of the Scottish Executive's (SE) other talking shop, the Tripartite Working Group, set up in 1999 to, er, enhance and improve stocks of wild and farm salmon across the area. The Group claims to represent salmon farmers, salmon and sea-trout interests and the SE rural affairs department.

A tripartite structure would imply that there are three equal partners. However, of the 24 members, only one, Andrew Wallace of the ASFB (see above) , has any direct involvement with wild fish, and that is as the representative of the river owners. The majority of other members are fish farmers and their friends from the Scottish Executive. Representation of Scotland's 250,000 rod and line anglers is most noticeable by its absence.

Andrew Wallace said: "The development of AMA's and the promotion of a growing understanding between wild and farmed fish interests, combined with this important and much-needed support by HIE, are further important steps towards achieving an understanding of how aquaculture and wild fisheries can co-exist." There's nice.

More Tax Payer Cash for Fish Farmers

In Shetland, Scottish Seafarms, a wholly-owned Norwegian company, has been awarded a European grant of 233,875 to help them "improve fish quality and efficiency", whilst Papil Salmon Farm Limited received a grant of 165,375 to help them move their salmon cages further out to sea, so that the present sites can be used for potentially more lucrative cod farming.

Still in Shetland, Aqua Farms landed 60,717 to help them run a salmon packing station in north Mainland, whilst the Shetland Salmon Farmers Association got 87,500 to assist them in marketing the 'brand quality' of Shetland salmon.

The cash comes, essentially, from the European Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance. Scotland received a total of 3.5 million from the fund of which 97% was dished out to fish farmers various.

More More Taxpayer Cash for Fish Farmers

Scottish Executive Fisheries Minister, Allan Wilson, gave his fish farming chums a real boost on 24th March when he launched the SE's Aquaculture Strategy. Mr. Wilson announced, "Annual investment from the Executive of up to 100,000 pa to support the establishment of a Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum." And, even more good news for the fish farmers, "The forum will also receive funding from other sources."

Lost, Stolen or Sprayed?

As reported last month, Dutch-owned Marine Harvest was busy blowing its own trumpet mightily about their claim that no antibiotics had been used on company farms last year.

Not to be outdone, Pan Fish, wholly owned by Lighthouse of Scotland, was quick to take up the challenge. Pan Fish production manager, Alan Sutherland, told the trade magazine IntraFish: We haven't used any antibiotics at all for the past five years."

This was followed by a blast from David Sandison of Shetland Salmon Farmers Association who claimed that, "to the best of his knowledge scarcely any antibiotics were used on Shetland salmon farms."

However, according to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), some two tonnes of antibiotics were used during the year 2000, and that they were used to medicate fish. So who used them? Unfortunately, the VMD can't say. They only record the total usage, not who uses the antibiotics.

Industry sources have not been slow in coming up with an answer. The missing two tonnes of antibiotics, they suggest, went into gold fish bowls, and other locations hosting ornamental species. Nothing to do with the fish farmers.

More Trumpeting

Northern newspapers were 'blitzed' recently with self-promoting plugs for Norwegian-owned Marine Harvest, Scotland's largest fish farmer. The company wanted the world and its neighbour to know that it had achieved 'Investors in People' status.

Hans Rissmann, chairman of Investors in People Scotland, presented the award to a smiling Graeme Dear, Marine Harvest MD, at the companies Edinburgh headquarters, whilst at Fort William, Scottish Quality Salmon boss, Lord Jamie Lindsay, presented the company with a plaque commemorating their magnificent achievement.

Graeme Dear said: "Our accreditation will demonstrate to our customers and consumers that our high standards of quality reflect not only the excellence of our product, but also the efforts of everyone concerned with production, processing and sales."

Marine Harvest has also been busy with the Scottish Woman's Rural institute Fort William Branch, where David Corrigan, Marine Harvest's deputy fish farm manager was guest speaker at a recent meeting. Supper? Yup, you guessed, farm salmon.

'Technetium 99 With Your Fish, Madam?'

After announcing a 100,000 project to cultivate seaweed, Western Isles Council might be forced to think again: the seaweed could be irradiated with Technetium 99, an artificially-made element regularly discharged into the Irish Sea by Sellafield nuclear power station in Cumbria.

The project was aimed at using seaweed to absorb nitrogen produced by fish farms, thus making for a cleaner marine environment. Last year, fish farms discharged 11,000 tonnes of nitrogen in the form of ammonia into West Highlands and Islands waters.

Nutrient enrichment of coastal waters has been linked to untreated fish farm waste discharges and the now-regular occurrence of toxic algal blooms that make shellfish poisonous. In spite the claims of fish farmers that they are not to blame, the link between toxic algal blooms and fish farm waste seems to be beyond reasonable doubt.

Prior to the massive development of fish farming in 1989, there were no recorded instances of toxic algal blooms anywhere in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Now, they are an unsavory fact of everyday life, regardless of the time of year. For instance, a ban on fishing for king scallops in Scapa Flow in Orkney because of Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning toxins has just been lifted (20th March).

Therefore, using seaweed to sop up excess nitrogen would have been useful, particularly for the tarnished image of the fish farmers. Sadly, however, with Sellafield pumping radioactive waste that currents push through the Minch and into the North Sea, this may be inadvisable: radionuclicde levels are highest in bladderwrack seaweed.

According to Margaret Becket, UK Environment Secretary, there are millions of gallons of radionuclicde stored at Sellafield and she claims that they will have to be pumped into the Irish Sea, "quickly if no alternative disposal methods were found".

Apart from seaweed being contaminated, there may be danger to Western Isles crofters, many of whom traditionally use seaweed to fertilise their potato crops. The potatoes could also become contaminated. And what effect does all this free-floating Technetium 99 have of the flesh of captive farm fish? And, of course, there is coolant from nuclear submarines. They also discharge spent radioactive waste into West Coast waters.