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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
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News From Around the Fish Farms, August 2003


Many might agree with the view that ‘science’ is currently completely enveloped in government spin and business and commercial interests. Indeed, those who practice science could well promote themselves along the same lines as farmers selling strawberries: Select your own! Get the science that suits you!

A report from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) on the ecological effects of sea lice treatments used to control sea lice in farm salmon cages in Scotland states that it had not observed any “catastrophic perturbation” of the sea lochs studied. The report notes that these findings are ‘preliminary’ but suggests, “..if these medicines have ecosystem effects they are either difficult to separate from the natural variability present in such systems or are below the limits of detection of the methods currently available.”

The VMD seems to be telling us that toxic chemicals such as dichclorvos, ivermectin and cypermethrin have no ecological impact on any of the creatures that come into contact with them. However, does the VMD agree that there would have been no need for this study if the fish farms hadn’t been there in the first place, or if farms had been land-based?

The research was carried out on behalf of the VMD by a consortium of scientists that included the government-sponsored Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, and government laboratories in Aberdeen and Plymouth.


Less than happy times for some Stornoway residents on the Island of Lewis in the Western Isles. Shortly after Marine Harvest announced the closure of their fish processing plant in the town with the loss of 60 jobs, Stornoway Pier and Harbour Commission has given permission for a tanker to be based in the harbour to collect “liquidized fish by-products”; the polite way of describing the innards, guts and everything and anything that remains after farm fish have been processed.

Road tankers will collect this unsavory mixture from various sites throughout the islands and delivery it to the boat in the harbour that is capable of storing up to 500 tones of the stuff. When full, another vessel will arrive, pump the brew on board and head off to wherever this stuff goes – after further treatment some is used to provide an oil base for beauty care products. Still it’s an ill wind, apart from paying standard berthing dues, an additional 22p per tonne will be charged for the loading of “ensiled fish by-products”.

But will £110 per month compensate for the potential smell this permanently moored sewage dump might exude, or add to the pleasure of the visiting craft that moor nearby? One resident commented last week that whilst there were jobs to be had at the former Marine Harvest fish processing plant the local community had been prepared to put up with the “stink”, but not any more.

The Marine Harvest factory was scheduled to close on 31st August, to allow time for workers to make other arrangements. Now, however, it appears that the plant could close at a much earlier date. Marine Harvest say that their staff asked for this, but it has been suggested that the real reason might be that the company simply wish to avoid any further costs involved in running the pant, and to move some of the machinery to their fish processing factory in Fort William.


Still in Stornoway, Western Isles Council (see above) and their local enterprise company colleagues have lavished praise and hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax-payer cash on the foreign-owned fish farms who pollute their once-pristine costal waters.

In a further airing of its ‘green credentials’, the council has now decided not to oppose Scottish Natural Heritage plans to include the dramatic islands of St Kilda, 40 miles to the west of North Uist, in a Special Area of Conservation extension order, but only as long as it would:

“not effect the Ministry of Defence rocket firing range, static gear fishing by Western Isles boats, future oil exploration, marine traffic movements and the development of alternative energy sources around the shore of or on the Western Isles” So that’s all right then, isn’t it?


Further north, in Orkney, residents of the tiny island of Papa Westray have been having their own fish farm troubles, courtesy of Westray Salmon. The company applied for permission to site three new fish farm operations, two in Westray and one at Vest Ness on the south west of Papa Westray, amongst some of the island’s most scenic bays.

Jennifer Foley, clerk to the Papa Westray Community Council, claimed that these developments would have a devastating impact on tourist business, and that 90% of the island population was opposed to the developments: “The cages would be larger than normal cages and would be clearly visible from both boat and plane. They would be an eyesore,” she said.

At the council meeting to determine the issue council vice-convener Jim Sinclair told the islanders, because of his own experience of fish farms on Shapinsay where he lives, that he sympathised with them:

"We’ve had enormous problems with stuff coming ashore. There have been feed bags, pallets and all manner of things. What worries me is that no one seems to have any power to do anything about it. Like Papa Westray, our island doesn’t make one penny out of fish farming – we have all the hassle, but none of the benefits.” How did Orkney Island Council respond? Yup, you guessed – the development was approved.


Still in the northern isles, fish farmer Willie Baxter is back in the news. Mr Baxter, owner of Shetland Sea Farms from 1990 to 1995, has been pursuing a legal action involving compensation claims following the wreck of the Braer oil tanker on Garths Ness in 1993. The case was based upon a claim by Mr. Baxter that smolts bought from another of his companies could not be delivered because of the exclusion zone imposed after the Braer foundered and began leaking 85,000 tonnes of oil into the environment.

The case was first heard in 2002 by Scottish high court judge Lord Gill who dismissed the claim, commenting at the time that in his opinion Mr Baxter was not a satisfactory witness. Lord Gill said: “I did not regard him as credible on any of the crucial issues of fact.” In May 2003, Lord Hardie threw out Mr Baxter’s appeal against Lord Gill’s judgment and noted that he would be advising the Lord Advocate, Lord Boyd QC, to consider whether or not Mr Baxter, and two of his associates, should face criminal charges for making what Lord Hardie considered to be a fraudulent claim.

Lord Hardie said: “I have reached the conclusion that the letters [concerning the smolts] were part of a fraudulent scheme to enable Mr. Baxter to recover the loss suffered by Terregles [smolt producers] as a result of its inability to sell smolt to Shetland Sea Farms due to the grounding of the Braer. Commenting on Mr. Baxter as a witness, Lord Hardie said: “He was evasive. He gave me the impression of someone who was prepared to go to any lengths to further his own ends. The fraudulent scheme was simply a manifestation of that.”

Mr Baxter is also the owner of Orkney Sea Farms. Hundreds of thousands of farm salmon have escaped from his fish farms in recent years. In January 2000, approximately 300,000 fish either died or escaped for a farm in Veantrow Bay, allegedly due to unexpected gales. In April 2002, another 20,000 fish escaped or died from company cages at Puldrite, this time allegedly caused by unusually high/low spring tides.


Dutch multinational Nutreco’s flagship fish farm company, Marine Harvest, is facing challenging times. During 2002 the company is alleged to have lost £6.5 million in its Norwegian operations. Job losses have been announced in Scotland (see STINK IN SOTRNOWAY above), and Scottish managing director Dr. Graeme Dear has announced that “We are reshaping our business across Eruope so that we can deliver a faster and more efficient service to our customers.”

This “reshaping” seems to include the company vacating their prestige Edinburgh office in Craigcrook Castle near Corstorphine Woods. Dr. Dear commented, “We need to keep overheads to a minimum if we are to remain competitive.” Marine Harvest has, however, substantially increased production in Chile, up 45% last year. Chile is now the largest producer of farm salmon in the world.

Marine Harvest’s Scottish employees, and industry watchers, might well be forgiven for wondering whether or not the company might be considering the future of its Scottish operation, given lower operating costs and more salmon-farming-friendly opportunities for further expansion in Chile?

Neither is Marine Harvest alone in the present uncertainty about the future of salmon farming, Stolt Sea Farms report losses of some £5 million for the second quarter of 2003 whilst a number of banks are calling in loans and companies are going bankrupt.

David Sandison, general manager of the Shetland Salmon Farmer’s Association is also worried for the future of the industry in his islands: “It’s a helluva tough time. Things are as bad as they have ever been. There is going to be a lot of pain for the rest of this year for a number of companies and significant losses have been made by everybody, for the second year. There is [sic] some casualties in among it all. There is going to be clawing back, a tightening of belts.”

The problems facing the industry are entirely self-made and caused, in a word, by over-production. It is ironic, or it at least seems to be ironic to this observer, that Marine Harvest’s continuing expansion in Chile is probably the cause of be Marine Harvest’s growing discomfiture in Scotland.

The tragedy is that whilst these commercial fights rage, Scottish communities that have come to depend for employment from foreign-owned multi-nationals are being destabilized and face an uncertain future. It is a tragedy that this ‘balance-sheet-battle’ is being fought against a background of the decline and fall of Scotland’s wild salmonid stocks. It is a tragedy that the Scottish Executive has so buried itself in support for the industry that they have neither the will nor the courage to address these matters.