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News From Around the Fish Farms, April 2006

  • Marine Harvest 'admit defeat?' over Little Loch Broom fish farm failure
  • Secret pact exposed
  • Is the Scottish Executive’s Tripartite Group working?
  • Worms are beginning to ‘turn’
  • But still the money rolls in.
  • Omega 3 myths?

Marine Harvest 'admit defeat?' over Little Loch Broom fish farm failure

Marine Harvest (Scotland) ceased production at controversial Static Point fish farm, after just two years salmon production (one growth cycle). Residents of the Scoraig peninsula are left guessing as to the future of a controversial fish far site at Static Point at the mouth of Little Loch Broom, Wester-ross.

Aaron Forsyth, Scoraig Community Association chairman said, “Local rumour suggests that the farm is being decommissioned, the cages have been towed to another Marine Harvest site nearby at Ardessie, all that remains is the redundant C-CAP automatic feeder. It is unclear weather there have been any job losses.”

The Static Point farm, Marine Harvests most exposed site, was the centre of a floating demonstration in November 2003 when around fifty locals launched their boats in protest against the development. Residents were concerned about the lack of local consultation, the inevitable environmental impacts and the integrity of the cage design.

Download the full text of Aaron Forsyth's press release.

Secret pact exposed

The secret pact between fish farmers, Scottish civil servants, Crown Estates and river owners that consigned West Highlands and Islands wild fish to extinction, has been highlighted yet again. Nick Yonge, clerk to the Tweed Commissioners, commenting on the decline in West Coast wild salmonids (5th April), said: “Our catches have remained good for more than a decade. There was always an unwritten presumption against salmon farms on the east coast.”

Two other sources substantiate the existence of this ‘presumption’ to keep fish farms from damaging Scotland’s big four salmon streams, Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey. The first came from Brian Simpson, of Scottish Quality Salmon. He was taking part in a BBC Radio Scotland debate with Lesley Riddoch (October 2002) on the decline in West Coast salmon. Lesley Riddoch pointed out that Norway kept salmon farms away their salmon rivers because of the harm they did to wild fish.

Brian Simpson interjected, “Just a little point I would like to clarify here. We actually have agreed many years ago that the whole east coast of Scotland should not be allowed to develop salmon farming, that it should in fact be confined to the west.” When Lesley Riddoch asked why, Brian Simpson replied: “ Well, remember that we have got very big important salmon rivers over here, and again with the potential concerns of them, a decision was taken that we would not develop salmon farming on the whole east coast of Scotland. The second confirmation was made by Michael Forsyth (Scottish Secretary from 1995 to 1997), when he was complaining about a proposal to establish a salmon hatchery on the banks of the River Ettrick, a major tributary of Tweed: “When one of the Tweed's best Ghillies, Colin Bell, told me that a Norwegian company wanted to set up a smolt farm on the Ettrick within the Tweed catchment, I assumed he must be mistaken. There was an understanding, I thought, that no fish farms would be allowed in the East Coast,” he said.

Is the Scottish Executive’s Tripartite Group working?

Apparently not, according to a recent report in ‘The Sunday Herald’. The group was set up by the Scottish Executive in 1999 with the aim of “achieving healthy and sustainable farmed and wild salmon on the west coast of Scotland.”

Only 5 of the Group’s (estimated) 30 attendees actually have any hands-on experience of wild fisheries. The other 25 come from the industry, Scottish Executive, SEPA, SNH, and other government departments. The Group has been chatting away merrily since 1999 without actually producing any visible sign of benefit to Scotland’s beleaguered West Highland and Islands wild fish populations (see above).

However, the Norwegian fish farmers who own most of Scotland’s west coast aquaculture resource, have got along just fine; producing 65 million fake salmon each year; polluting Scotland’s marine and freshwater environment; killing wild salmon and sea trout; sacking local workers and employing thousands of economic immigrants to process their product.

To paint themselves green, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSOP) have produced a code of good practice that they say has been adopted by 90% of salmon farmers. But the environmental and wild fish interests on the Tripartite Working Group have called ‘foul’, claiming that their input had been largely ignored. They say that an original promise to produce “a code of ‘best environmental practice’ has not been fulfilled. Instead there is a ‘good practice’ code that simply reflects what most fish farmers already do (see above).”

If any further evidence is required to demonstrate that the Tripartite Work Group is simply a facile talking shop to keep environmentalist and wild fish interests feeling important and busy, that was provided by Fisheries Minister, Ross Finnie when he welcomed the award of £114,000 of public cash to SSOP to support the industry Code of Good Practice (CoGP): “I am particularly pleased to announce support to take forward the industry CoGP and I am delighted to provide financial assistance to help make it happen,” he said.

Worms are beginning to ‘turn’

Worms are beginning to ‘turn’ in the Scottish West Highlands and Islands as more and more local jobs are shed by multi-national fish farmers. This is being fuelled by the recent takeover of the world’s largest salmon farmer Marine Harvest by its Norwegian rival Pan Fish. It now seems likely that Pan Fish will make it a hat-trick by snapping up Fjord Seafood as well. As such, Pan Fish will control more than 20% of global salmon production and virtually all salmon production in Scotland. Speaking to The Scotsman newspaper in March, Dr Michael Foxley, Highland Council vice-convener said, “Norway would not have allowed the Scots to take over one of their strategic industries in the way we have allowed Norwegian companies to take over salmon farming.

Numbers of jobs in salmon farming in remote areas have already dropped like a stone, with now a third of the workforce on farm sites and loch systems compared with eight years ago. As jobs dwindle, the political and local support for the industry will drop.”

Not, however, according to Sid Patten, the newly appointed boss of the newly formed Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSOP). Mr Patten predicts that farmed salmon sales will “soar”, and that the industry, armed with its new Code of Good Practice (see above) will provide sustainable jobs and investment opportunities over a number of years.

The truth of the matter is somewhat different. According to the governments Fisheries Research Services, there were 315 salmon farming operations around Scotland during 2004, down 11 on the year before. In the same year, the industry produced 158,009 tonnes of salmon, down 7% on the previous year and the first decrease in production since 1992. The total number of staff directly employed full time and part time in salmon production was 1,161, down 56 on 2003.

Just how many workers will be left after the recent mergers and fish farm closures remains to be seen, but the Scottish Executive’s sole rational for pouring millions of pounds of public money into fish farming - that it provided employment in remote, fragile, rural areas – is discredited and in tatters.

But still the money rolls in.

EU grants under the terms of the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) will see Scotland’s Norwegian-owned fish farms collecting a large chunk of the £3.75 million announced by Fisheries Minister Ross Finnie. Since 2002, the FIFG scheme has brought £55 million to Scotland, with £17 million going to the Highlands.

Amongst the happy beneficiaries of public largesse are: Lerwick Fish Traders, Shetland, £290,000 for a new value-added fish processing facility; Marine Harvest, Fort William, £123,000 for additional processing capacity; Mainsteam Scotland Ltd, Shetland, £138,000 for quality and environmental improvements; Hjatland Seafarms, Shetland, £60,377 for the development of a new cage system; and Scottish Sea Farms, Ross-shire, £22,269 for the construction of an improved access road.

Not to be ‘outdone’ Highlands and Islands Enterprise, a firm friend to fish farmers, has doled out another bucket-full of public cash to two Sutherland fish farm companies: £56,100 to Loch Duart Ltd of Scourie, to help then upgrade their equipment and infrastructure, and Migdale Smolts Ltd of Bonar Bridge are to receive £21,700 towards the construction of transportation units.

Omega 3 myths?

When a team of researchers lead by Lee Hooper of the University of East Angling published a report in the British Medical Journal questioning the value of omega 3 fatty acids in fish, the salmon farmers reacted with predictable fury. Industry advertising constantly highlights the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids as found, they say, “in fish such as farmed salmon”, claiming for them an ever-increasing range of properties; omega 3’s may curb prostrate cancer; they make children clever; can reduce the risk of heart diseases; makes you hair grow.

But Dr Hooper’s team, which included Professor George Davey-Smith of Bristol University, searched the medical literature for studies of fish oil and reviewed 89 studies on omega 3 impacts. They concluded, when the results were analysed, that there was no clear evidence of health benefits and that more research was required.

Not so, said Sid Patten of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation who claimed that there were more than 5,000 scientific papers on the positive health effects of omega 3 consumption: “What every reputable nutritional body and food advisor recommends is that we should eat at least one portion of oil-rich fish, such as Scottish farmed salmon, a week for optimum health,” he said.

Whilst this observer has yet to read all of the “more than” 5,000 scientific papers Mr Patten refers to – having so far got to paper number 15, - he wonders if these 5,000 scientific papers could be, by any chance, the same 5,000 scientific papers that the industry quoted when they tried to rebut the USA research produced in 2004 that alleged that Scottish farmed salmon was the most pollutant contaminated in the world?