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News From Around the Fish Farms, April 2005

Fish farmers ‘discipline’ Scottish Executive over deformed farmed salmon statement

For a number of years the Scottish Executive (SE) has asked fishery owners to tell them how many farmed salmon they catch in their waters each season.

This is to enable the SE to compile annual catch statistics for all salmon and sea-trout caught during the year.

As such, the SE thoughtfully used to include guidance notes in the catch return forms to help owners identify farmed salmon:

Identification of Farmed Fish

Salmon of farmed origin may exhibit some or all of the following characteristics. For the purpose of this return, a salmon is classified as being of farmed origin if it exhibits two or more of these features:

1. Deformed or shortened fins, especially the dorsal, pectoral and tail fins;
2. Deformed or shortened gill covers (may be only on one side);
3. Deformed or shortened snout;
4. Heavy pigmentation, spots more numerous that are usual on a wild salmon

When Brian Simpson, ceo of Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS) learned of this for the first time last May he was hugely dismayed. This was not information his members wanted broadcast about their fish. SQS claims that their fake salmon are “naturally the best”.

It came as no surprise, therefore to find that when the forms went out to owners at the end of 2004 they contained a small ‘amendment’:

“In previous years, the form asks that escaped farmed salmon be recorded separately from wild fish. The physical characteristics which are used to identify fish of farmed origin have been removed from the form but are listed below. Your may wish to retain the list for future reference.”

Well done, SQS and, of course the SE! Everyone’s backside is neatly covered and the embarrassing truth that the Scottish Executive themselves admit that farmed salmon are ‘deformed’ is thus removed from public view.

Toxic algal blooms continue to poison Scottish coastal waters and freshwater lochs – new study claims presence of blooms associated with Alzheimer’s disease

The SFPG has consistently highlighted a perceived link between untreated waste from fish farms and the increasing occurrence of toxic algal blooms in West Highland and Islands waters where fish farming takes place. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and the Scottish Executive (SE) have just as consistently denied the existence of any such link.

Scottish Waters Currently Closed to Shell fish Fishing, April 5th, 2005

But for how long will they be able to maintain this pretence? Vast areas of waters are now regularly closed to shellfish fishermen because these blooms poison shellfish. There is only one recorded incidence of a West Highland toxic algal bloom prior to the expansion of fish farming in 1989, and that was close to an outfall of a pipe from a fish farm at Otter Ferry in Argyll.

An ever-increasing number of freshwater lochs with fish farms are being necklaced with notices warning the public not to drink the water, swim in it, let their pets swim in it or to eat fish taken from the loch: Loch nam Brac (Sutherland) Loch Baravat (Great Bernara, Lewis), Loch Ereray (Lewis), Loch Arkaig (Lochaber), Loch Lochy (Lochaber).

The research paper most quoted by the SE, Sepa and the industry to support their contention that there is no link between the discharge of untreated waste from their farms and these blooms was commissioned by Sepa and carried out by Professor Paul Tett, School of Life Sciences, Napier University, Edinburgh.

The report, the results of which were published in 2003, concluded (2.3) “That the present level of fish farming is having a small effect on the amount and growth rate of Scottish coastal phytoplankton but that this effect should not be a cause for concern except for in a few, heavily-loaded sea-lochs.”

What the fish farmers conveniently ignore, however, is the first conclusion of the report (2.1): “Lack of long term monitoring programmes over the past 30 years has made it difficult to judge whether the perceived increase in Harmful Algal Blooms is real and related to expansion in the fish farming industry.”

There has been no research into the dumping of untreated fish farm filth into freshwater lochs, although there is a substantial amount of anecdotal information: loss of wild fish stocks, deformities in the few who survive, displacement of breeding black-throated divers, deaths of pet animals that stray into toxic waters.

However, a global study, reported by Sunday Herald environment correspondent Rob Edwards (4/4/05) claims toxic algae is a causative factor in Alzheimer’s disease; detailed in research findings produced by an international scientific team, including three from Dundee University, detected the presence of an associated neurotoxin in 29 out of 30 samples of blue-green algae that they tested. The toxin, known as beta-methyl-amino-alanine (BMAA) has been linked to a high incidence of a disease similar to Alzheimer’s amongst people living on the island of Guam in the Pacific.

What is most worrying, however, in the light of this recent research, is the fact that Scottish Water is installing a new water supply for the town of Fort William in the West Highlands from aquifers downstream from two fish farms in Lochs Lochy and Arkaig, (noted above) both of which are known sites of toxic algal blooms.

(Read also Northern Climes –

SFPG chairman to ‘chair’ May 2005 Scottish West Highland marine pollution conference

SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison is to chair a conference that will debate the implications of the recent report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Turning the Tide, on the impact of fisheries on the marine environment.

The report was published in December 2004 when the commission recommended, amongst other measures, the establishment of a network of marine nature reserves to allow fish stocks to recover, and to reduce the environmental impact of aquaculture [on wild fish].

The conference, to be held in the West Highland fishing village of Ullapool, will be opened by Peter Peacock, former Highland Council leader and now Scottish Executive Minister for Education and Young People.

The conference takes place on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th May. Further details from conference organiser Ramsey McGhee on tel: 07730 58 94 58, or email or log on to

A surfeit of McVicars – fish farm sea lice apologists

The Royal Society report (see International News) on sea lice levels on pink salmon smolts migrating to sea in the Broughton Archipelago, Canada, has been challenged by a fisheries consultant from Westray in Orkney, one of Scotland’s most remote northern isles.

The author of the ‘critique’, Dr Alasdair McVicar, appears to be former employee of the Scottish Office (now Scottish Executive) who, until he retired, worked at the Fisheries Research Service Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen.

Could this be the same Dr McVicar who worked with the Canadian department of fisheries and oceans (DFO) in Ottawa a few years back; or the same Dr McVicar who presented a paper (Are salmon lice infections in farms a real hazard to wild salmonid populations?) at an aquaculture conference in New Brunswick in July 2003?

If so, then why did that Dr McVicar give Aberdeen as his address (Garien, 47 Linton, Sauchen, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire AB51 7LG, Scotland) if worked in Ottawa? Is this the Alasdair who rubbished the Broughton sea-lice study and who signed off as being from a company called Garien Aquaculture and Fish Health Consultants, Craigmyle, Westray, Orkney KW17 2DH?

I tried to find out by looking up the Highlands & Islands ‘phone book, but there is no listing for any McVicar on the Island of Westray in Orkney. Neither could I find a listing for Garien Aquaculture in the ‘phone book or in the Yellow Pages under Fish Health Consultants.

However, an Alasdair McVicar is currently listed in the Inverurie/Aberdeen ‘phone book at the address noted above (Garien, 47 Linton, Sauchen, Inverurie). There is no listing for Garien Aquaculture and Fish Health Consultants but a Google search did produce some results.

My guess is that all these Alasdairs are one and the same person; as active now as he was when part of the Scottish Office team (including Professor Tony Hawkins, Dr Ron Stagg and the Messrs Davies at the Marine Lab) who denied that sea lice were responsible for the collapse of Scottish West Highland & Islands wild sea-trout populations.

But why did Dr McVicar choose to use his Orkney address, probably a holiday home, rather than his permanent Inverurie address? Could it be that he was trying to make it as difficult as possible for people to contact him by telephone and, if so, why?

However, should anybody want to speak directly to Dr McVicar about his concern over the validity of the Broughton Archipelago study they should ‘phone the following UK telephone numbers: for Orkney, 01857 677380, for Inveruire, 01330 833796.

Former SFPG md congratulates British Columbia Salmon Farmers’ Association

The recently published book about fish farming practices in British Columbia, Canada, A Stain Upon the Sea, has been short-listed for a prestigious Roderick Haig-Brown regional prize. He book was co-authoured by former SFPG managing director, Don Staniford, currently working with the environmental group, Friends of Clayoquot Sound. The honour, which comes with a CA$2000 prize, is awarded to the book that contributes most to the enjoyment and understanding of British Columbia.

Staniford commented: “I would like to personally thank the sea cage salmon farming industry, the DFO and MAFI without whom A Stain Upon the Sea simply would not have been possible. A special mention ought to go the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association for providing so many bad examples of shoddy environmental practice, non-compliances, fines, violations, mass-escapes, infectious disease, sea lice infestations and toxic chemical use. And to the Canadian Government for the shameful way it has promoted an industry that is a hazard to both marine and environmental public health,” he said.

“The success of the book is a testament to an Atlantic salmon farming industry that operates with nothing more than contempt for wild Pacific salmon and the marine environment. Writing about the salmon farming industry is rather like opening a can of worms. With so many horror stories this dirty industry will provide plenty more material for years to come.”

Staniford added, “A stain Upon the Sea does not paint a pretty picture, but the truth hurts – just ask campaigners like Alexandra Morton [see March edition or] who have been demonized and victimized for telling the truth about an industry that is ethically, morally and financially bankrupt.”

(Order A Stain Upon the Sea from The Salmon Farm Protest Group at £15.00 including p&p).

And finally, this from SFPG supporter Mike Connor; to be read to the music from Mozart’s Musical Joke which opens the Horse of the Year Show

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” But as far as the Scottish Executive’s support for fake fish farming goes, a whole range of far more advanced strategies are employed:

Buying a stronger whip.

Changing riders.

Threatening the horse with termination.

Appointing a committee to study the horse.

Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

Reclassifying the dead horse as “living impaired”.

Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.

Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.

Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed it is less costly, carries lower overheads it contributes substantially more to the bottom line economy than some other horses.

Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

Feeding the dead horse to farmed salmon after you get sick and tired of trying to flog it.