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News From Around the Fish Farms, April 2004

How Shetland salmon farming works

Few better understand that charity begins at home than Shetland Island Council (SIC) and their salmon farming chums. Four fish farm companies have gone bankrupt there recently, the latest casualty being SSG Seafoods Limited, down the tubes to the tune of £13.5 million, nearly £6 million of which is public money owed to Shetland Development Trust; set up by SIC to promote and protect business development in the islands.

When SSG Seafoods Ltd crashed in January, three of its seven directors had close links to the council and to the Trust: Alistair Goodlad, a former SIC councillor, Leslie Angus, a serving SIC councillor and chairman of Shetland Development Trust, and Wendy Goodie, an employee of Shetland Development Trust. Alistair Goodlad was also joint owner of Bressay Salmon which also went bust in January.

Morgan Goodlad, SIC Chief Executive Officer and brother of Alistair Goodlad, commenting to the local newspaper on a request for a public inquiry, said: “It is not going to tell us any more than we know. But if it’s a matter of being seen to be done then quite honestly we’ll do it.” No such inquiry has been announced. However, a private individual is alleged to have lodged a formal complaint with the Audit Commission asking for an investigation into the probity of the use of public money in Shetland.

But it’s hard to keep a good lad down. Shortly after receivers Ernst & Young arrived in January to wind up SSG Seafoods affairs, a new salmon farming company, Foraness Fish Limited (FFL) was formed with Alistair Goodlad as a director. FFL bought 300,000 salmon from the receivers at an undisclosed price, believed to be not unadjacant to £1.00 per fish, whilst a further 500,000 have been sold to other Shetland fish farmers; proving yet again that charity really does begin at home and that there is no such thing as an ‘ill wind’, at least not for Shetland salmon farmers.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s fisheries minister, Allan Wilson has rushed to the aid of the beleaguered and near-bankrupt Shetland fish farming industry; announcing £1m of grants to 10 islands fish farming companies through the Scottish Executive and European Union financial instrument for fisheries guidance grants, including £199,590 to Johnson Sea Farms to help them diversify into cod farming.

Johnson Sea Farms claims to have already arranged £8.5m finance to support their cod farming plans amongst city investors. Doing so, it is reported, was greatly helped by a high-powered team including James Bellini, a former presenter of the prestigious BBC TV Money Porgramme show. Coincidently, a current member of the BBC Money Porgramme staff, Helen Britton, seems to be canvassing support for Johnson Sea Farms - she says that they are “really very nice people” - in preparation for a possible programme devoted to, guess what? Cod farming.

Scottish Executive and Scottish fish farmers seek EU controls to protect industry from ‘cheap’ salmon imports from Norway and Chile

Scotland’s foreign-owned fish farmers have persuaded the Scottish Executive (SE) to complain to the EU about unfair competition on the part of Chilean and Norwegian fish farmers. They say that they are being financially disadvantaged because of over-production and dumping of ‘cheap’ fish from Norway and Chile onto European markets. To stabilise prices and protect Scottish fish farmer’s interests, the SE is seeking an end to these allegedly illegal practices.

However, these same Scottish fish farmers continue to expand their own production levels, regardless of the so-called crisis that they say they face. For example, Orkney Island fish farmers produced 2,108 tonnes of fake salmon in 1994. Production for 2003 is expected to have rise to more than 10,0000 tonnes.

Discharge consent applications are flooding into the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) seeking permissions to open new farms, increase the number of fish farmed, and to increase the use of toxic chemicals to treat the sea lice that plague caged salmon and kill wild fish.

Here are some recent applications:

Hoove Salmon Ltd, for consent to discharge trade effluent into Controlled Waters. This application refers to a new installation at East of Oxna, Oxna, Shetland Isles.

Mainstream Scotland Ltd, for increased production and the use of additional chemicals for treating sea lice infestations at Chalmers Hope, Scapa Flow, Orkney, and Bay of Vady, Rousay, Orkney

Mainstream Scotland Ltd, for increased production and the use of additional chemicals for treating sea lice infestations at West Fara, Scapa Flow, Orkney

Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd, to discharge 50,000 m3 per day of trade effluent into the River Moriston from their Inchmore Hatchery

Lakeland Marine Farm Ltd, to discharge trade effluent from an existing installation and incorporating the addition of a second installation of similar biomass in the same location, and the release of medicines for the treatment of sea lice infestations at Loch Shuna in the Sound of Jura

MJM Salmon Ltd, to discharge trade effluent to Controlled Waters. This application refers to an existing installation, including an additional release of medicine residues for treating sea lice infestations at Ronas Voe, Shetland

Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd. This application refers to a change to the release of medicine residues used for treating sea lice infestations at Loch Kileravagh, Isle of Benbecula

This stream of applications for permissions to use ‘medicines’ to treat sea lice infestations is strange, given the fact that the fish farmers say sea lice are not a problem. Indeed, Graeme Dear, until recently Managing Director of Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd claimed last year that his company did not have a sea lice problem in their salmon cages in Loch Ewe in Wester Ross.

This alleged truth was echoed by Scottish Executive fish health expert, Paul Shave last September, when he said: “Farm fish sea lice are not driving wild fish to extinction for the simple reason that there are very few sea lice on Scottish fish farms”. Why then the rush to approve the use of new and ever more potent chemicals to treat “very few sea lice”? One thing is certain, however, SEPA approve every application to do so.

Of the hundreds of applications submitted in recent years to the best of my knowledge only one - for an increase in fish production at a site in Loch Ewe - has been rejected. Scrawled on the front of this application was a note to the effect that it was being refused because the loch was already grossly ‘overloaded’ with discharges from fish farms. SEPA subsequently overturned the refusal and, coincidently, moved the official responsible for issuing it to other duties.

Even stranger is the fact that primary fish farm business accused of creating mayhem in the European market and amongst Scottish fish farmers are, essentially, one and the same. For instance, Dutch multi-national Nutreco own Marine Harvest (Norway) Ltd, Marine Harvest (Chile) Ltd, and Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd. Nutreco expanded production in Chile by 45% in 2003 whilst, at the same time, relocating their burgeoning cod farming enterprise from Scotland to Norway and reducing production and staffing levels in Scotland. Why is the SE trying to protect foreign business interests?

The Very Model of a Modern Major General

Major General Seymour Munro has been appointed director of the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST). The 55-year-old has already identified what he sees as being his priority task, reversing the decline in wild salmon stock: “There is so much to do in a short space of time and we need to have government money to do it and that’s where I cone in,” he said.

General Seymour explained, “Already anglers are deserting Scottish rivers for more plentiful locations in other countries. Scotland used to be the place to come for the best fishing in the world, but we are struggling to hold on to that reputation. The income generated from angling is worth at least £70 million a year to the economy, so I feel it is about time the Executive - and Westminster - put their hands in their pockets.”

The General was commenting on a study carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University and Cogentsi Research International that showed that Scottish game fishing was worth £113 million (£73 million of salmon and sea-trout fishing) a year to the Scottish economy and supported 3,000 jobs. The AST requires additional funds to help sustain the £10,000-per-day needed for scientific research in the Atlantic. General Munro said, “All of the trust’s campaigns have been based on solid research.”

The General is the former head of NATO’s Rapid Reaction Corps and believes that his distinguished military career has given him influential contacts; “I already have a meeting lined up with someone at high level within the Executive who is sympathetic, and I expect to meet the acting Scottish Environment Minister Allan Wilson soon afterwards.”

I am quite certain that General Seymour will be welcomed with open arms by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Ministers. After all, he clearly understands how the ‘talking game’ is played in the corridors of power: consultation, debate, research, reports, followed by more consultation, debate, research and reports.

And, above all, he as shown that he knows what not to talk about: the damage fish farming is causing to wild salmon and sea-trout and to the marine environment. When asked about the recent USA Science Magazine report that fingered Scottish farm salmon as being the most dioxin-ridden and contaminated in the world, he said that he personally ate farm salmon far more frequently than recommended by the Food Standards Agency.

The General further demonstrated his complete grasp of the subject by saying that fish farmers who operate at the mouths of rivers and other sensitive locations would have to clean up their act: “If someone is going to occupy a sensitive spot then they will have to take great care in how they operate.” Yes indeed, General, yes indeed.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – the decline of wild salmonids in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland

It is a universally accepted truth that sea lice infest and feed on farm salmon and transfer to and kill wild fish as they pass by fish farm feed lots. These problems have been identified in salmon farming areas in Scotland, Ireland, Norway and Canada. James Butler, former fisheries scientists for the Wester Ross Fisheries Trust in the Scottish West Highlands notes that in Norway “…up to 95% of wild smolts die due to lice infestations,” and also, “…in Western Scotland at least 14% - 40% of sea-trout carried potentially lethal lice infestations in June 1998 – 2000.”

The Scottish Executive disagrees. Whilst they reluctantly admit that sea lice from fish farms might be implicated in the catastrophic decline in West Highland and Island wild salmonid populations, they claim that scientific proof-positive does not exists to support this allegation. As such, the Scottish Executive continues to promote fish farming to the detriment of wild salmon and sea-trout, numbers of which in fish farming areas are at their lowest recorded levels since accurate recording began in 1952.

The SE’s refusal to accept that fish farm sea lice destroy wild fish is, in my view, disgraceful. In the most serious criminal cases, a guilty verdict may be established on evidence which shows ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the defendant committed the crime of which he is accused. The prosecutor does not have to produce incontrovertible scientific evidence. Why, therefore, are those concerned for the survival of wild fish expected to do so? Surely the onus should be upon the Executive, and the fish farmers who profit from the industry, to produce scientific proof that sea lice are not the cause of the demise of wild salmon and sea-trout?

It is beyond reasonable that sea lice infestations are the cause of the collapse. Professor David Mackay, former North Region Director of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency said as much at a conference in Norway a few years ago, that the link between fish farm sea lice and the decline in wild fish populations should be accepted as being “beyond all reasonable doubt.” Dr Richard Shelton (see guest column), Officer in Charge of the government’s Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory at Pitlochry for 20 years, is on record as saying that the link is “as plain as the nose on your face.”

Further compelling proof of the impact fish farm sea lice have wild fish is to be found in ‘Salmonid and Freshwater Fisheries Statistics for England and Wales, 2002', published by the Environment Agency. To the best of my knowledge, there are no marine fish farms in England and Wales, but whilst catch figures show a gradual decline in wild salmonid numbers, stock levels are generally healthy and at or above their long-term average.

In 2002, English and Welsh rod and line anglers caught 15,282 salmon. The declared salmon rod catch was 6% up on the previous year and 2% above the five-year mean average. The 2002 sea-trout rod and line catch of 49,796 fish was the highest recorded since 1987 and 20% above the five-year mean average.

Scottish Executive fisheries statistics also show that where there are no salmon farms, on the East Coast and South West Coast of Scotland, wild fish stocks are generally healthy. Salmon and particularly sea-trout catches in the major east coast rivers, including Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey are in reasonable health. What is beyond dispute, however, is that West Highlands and Islands salmonid populations have suffered a catastrophic collapse following the massive expansion of salmon farming in the late 1980’s.

Out of a total rod and line catch for the year 2002 of 57,920 salmon and grilse and 35,469 sea-trout, less than 5.2% of salmon and grilse and less than 18% of sea-trout came from the West Highlands and Islands Scotland. To be fair, however, I suppose it depends upon how one interprets the figures. Here is how the Scottish Executive does it on page 3 of their ‘Stastical Bulletin, Scottish Salmon and Sea Trout Catches, 2002’:

“Taking wild salmon and grilse which were retained together with those released, a total of 57,920 wild salmon and grilse were caught by Rod & Line in 2002, a decline of 20% compared to the 2001 catch and 89% of the 1997-2001 5-year average. The total number of sea-trout taken by Rod & Line (caught and released plus caught and retained) in 2002 was 35,469, an increase of 11% over the 2001 catch and 99% of the 5-year average.”

The Scottish Executive make comparisons based upon the past five years, including catches from all Scottish regions. This enables them to ‘pretend’ that fish farming is not a problem for wild fish. What they carefully avoid doing is showing wild fish catch statistics in fish farming areas. Where they to do so, it would show that since the expansion of these farms in the late 1980’s, wild salmon and sea-trout numbers have fallen by up to 90% - and that salmon that used to run many streams in the area have been declared extinct.

Just as deceitful, in my view, is their ‘Introduction’ to the Bulletin: “Catch size is influenced by many factors and differences in catch between years do not necessarily reflect differences in the abundance of the populations from which the catch is derived. The effect of the foot and mouth outbreak during 2001 and the resulting restrictions imposed upon access to the countryside during much of that season, needs to be taken into consideration when comparing the 2002 catch figures with those of 2001.”

The only place in UK where wild salmonid stocks have utterly collapsed is where there are fish farms. Catches for the Scottish South West and East Coast, and catches reported in England and Wales – where there are no fish farms - show beyond all reasonable doubt that fish farm sea lice are destroying West Highlands and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout.

Lost at sea

West coast fish farmers Lighthouse of Scotland made a loss of £36 million last year, its Norwegian parent company Pan Fish has revealed as part of its global accounts. The deficit is a consequence of cutbacks, restructuring and the impact of low prices for farmed salmon.

Lighthouse made the £36 million deficit against a turnover of £333.8 million. Lighthouse made significant redundancies in Wester Ross two months ago. It is closing down sites at Mid Strone, Kenmore, Achnasheen and Loch Ness.