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News From Around the Fish Farms, August 2004

Scottish Executive (SE) silence

It is now two months since SFPG md Don Staniford wrote to First Minister Jack McConnell expressing concern about the amount of public cash being awarded to Scottish Quality Salmon to help them promote the so-called ‘benefits’ of eating factory farm salmon. The reluctance of the First Minister to respond is unsurprising because there is no credible response to the points made in the letter; other than the SE trundling out their usual basket of nonsense about the importance of fish farming to alleged jobs in “remote, fragile, rural communities” in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Having dug themselves into an ever-deepening pit of deceit and misinformation about the reality of salmon farming, the SE is now engaged in doing what it does best; burying its head in a place from which the sun never shines in the hope that everyone will forget and that the problem will go away.

Neither is it entirely unreasonable to assume that First Minister McConnell might have taken expert advice on fish farming as currently ‘spoke’ in Scotland; perhaps from his brother, who happens to be a fish farm manager with Dutch-owned Marine Harvest at Loch Eil near Fort William.

However, when in doubt, do nothing, seems to be the best the SE can think of to justify the expenditure of upwards of £40 million pounds of public money to support the interests of their chums in the dirty business of salmon farming. Who cares about Scotland’s wild fish when private business needs a helping hand in order to make more money for their shareholders? Certainly not the Scottish Executive, or so it seems to me.

More codswallop from Shetland

As in the biblical ‘flight from Egypt’, so fish farmers are deserting the sinking ark of Scottish salmon farming for the Holy Grail of cod. The major players in global aquaculture are quietly repositioning themselves in South America to stem to flow of shareholder cash from their massive losses in fake salmon farming in Scotland.

Of course, the first thing that the Scottish Executive has done is to insist upon a full, independently adjudged appraisal of the impact farming Atlantic cod would have on the environment and on wild stocks. Stands to reason, doesn’t it, to try to learn from previous experience and to avoid making similar mistakes in cod farming as were made in farming salmon?

You could be less than right. Cod, haddock, halibut, whatever, you name it and SE fishery scientists will produce compelling evidence that the world as we know it will end instantly unless millions of pounds of tax-payer cash is stuffed into the pockets of foreign businessmen to promote new-species fish farming.

Polemic? I don’t think so: see Shetland cod farm impresses Ben Bradshaw in the Aberdeen Press & Journal, 30/07/04. Ben Bradshaw, UK Fisheries Minister on a PR visit to Johnson Seafarms in Shetland said, “I think this is a really exciting project because it is more commercially developed than I expected it to be. It is operated at the highest environmental standards, it is about to get its organic certification, and it is being conducted in co-operation with animal welfare organisations. The product is of extremely high quality. I am told that it is of higher quality than wild cod. The potential for this in the marketplace is massive.”

Pass the sick bag, please? How was Ben Bradshaw persuaded to brown-nose Johnson Seafarms in such a fashion? Has he any scientific facts upon which to base his comments: “It is operated to the highest environmental standards,” and “I am told that it is of higher quality than wild cod.” Who told you so, Mr Bradshaw, God Almighty?

The Minister ended by saying: “I want to go away from this visit to discuss with ministerial colleagues and others the potential for this and see if there is any more of a role government can play in encouraging more cod farming.” He [Ben Bradshaw] said that he would speak to Food and Rural Affairs Minister Margaret Beckett to convince her to put farmed cod on the menu when the UK has the EU presidency next year.”

It takes five tonnes of wild fish to produce one tonne of fake cod. During the production process, one tonne of cod excretes five tonnes of waste.

Toxic loch on the island of Lewis

These naughty old naturally occurring toxic algal blooms have been busy again, this time in Lewis in the Western Isles, where a loch has been declared a public health hazard because it is poisoned. Loch Ereray (OS Map 8, Stornoway & North Lewis, Scale 1:50,000 Grid reference 327506) is shallow, average depth 6ft, drains Loch Urrahag to the east of the A858 Carloway/Port of Ness road and exits into the sea by Sliegeag (Gd ref: 327509).

According to a report in The West Highland Free Press (30/07/04) Lewis anglers are ignoring warning signs posted round the loch advising people not to swim in the loch, drink the water, eat fish caught in the loch, or to let their dogs splash about there because of “serious concern” about “very high levels” of algal bloom.

Lucy MacLeod, Western Isles Board public health specialist said: “In humans, the symptoms of algal poisoning can be very unpleasant and include skin rashes, breathing problems, eye irritations, vomiting and diarrhoea, fever and pains in muscles and joints.” Ms MacLeod said, “Samples taken and evidence to date indicates that the levels of algae in this particular case are very high and that there is a strong possibility of toxicity.”

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Seap) has a duty to care for water quality and when approached, they said that they didn’t really know why Loch Ereray had gone toxic. A Sepa official insisted, however, that the bloom was ‘naturally occurring’ and that a number of factors could be involved; including global warming, hot weather, crofters re-seeding fields and using nitrogen to encourage new grass growth.

What Sepa didn’t mention was the fact that there has been a salmon smolt rearing hatchery on the banks of the River Ereray for 20 years. When asked about this, Sepa immediately went on the offensive: “No, the hatchery is not involved. It has improved the quality of waste discharge into the river in recent years. They now treat their effluent. They have always conformed to the dictates of the discharge consent we approved.”

So, Sepa is asking us to believe that 20 years of discharges from the hatchery has had no affect whatsoever on water quality in the loch. Was Sepa examining any possibility that the hatchery might have been maybe partly responsible for the state of the loch? “We examine all possibilities, but I think that you can discount the hatchery.”

Local people think otherwise. They remember when their little river bustled with wild sea-trout and salmon. Before the advent of fish farming, about 150/200 salmon and 200 sea-trout were caught most seasons. Now, no sea-trout and very few salmon are caught.

The situation on Loch Ererary mirrors a similar instance in Loch nam Brac near Scourie in North West Sutherland. Loch man Brac was the principal trout loch for the Scourie & District Angling Club, but in the mid 1990’s, it too was declared a public heath hazard; notices posted round the shore warning people not to drink the water, let pets swim, or eat any fish caught from the loch.

When Sepa was asked for an explanation, they said that it was difficult to ascertain the cause, but that it could be due to global warming, or because a crofter was feeding his half-dozen cows on the shores of the loch and that their ‘ablutions’ might have raised nutrient levels

When asked about the salmon smolt rearing cages in the loch, - moored in the same position for 12 years - Sepa said that it was highly unlikely that they had had anything to do with the loch turning toxic: “Algal blooms are naturally occurring, you know,” a spokesman said.

The truth is that Sepa hasn’t single shred of peer-reviewed scientific evidence to substantiate their claim that toxic algal blooms are not associated with untreated waste discharged from fish farms. I believe that Sepa has to take this ridiculous stance for two reasons: firstly, the SE has told them to do so, and, secondly, if they admitted a link, then they could be prosecuted for improperly issuing discharge consents.

‘Naturally the best’ spin from Scottish Quality Salmon

In the ‘Through the Looking Glass’ world of the Scottish Executive (SE) nothing is as it seems: “One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:- it was the black kitten’s fault entirely.” Responding to the USA report in the journal ‘Science’ that identified Scottish farm salmon as the most contaminated in the world, Scottish Quality Salmon (the white kitten) claimed that they had had nothing to do with it and it was all the fault of nasty (black kitten) fishery scientists in the pay of eco-terrorists.

After a lot of huffing and puffing about legal action, putting the record straight, and other such balderdash, Scotland’s foreign-owned fish farmers took the easy option and had a chat with their chums in the Scottish Executive. For all I know, the conversation might have gone something like this:

SQS: “You have to help us, Minister. ” MINISTER: “I am aware of the importance of the industry to the survival of remote rural communities and that…..” SQS: Minister, listen, this is really serious. These USA and Canadian scientists have got us by the whats it’s. Do something.” MINISTER: “My deputy assures me that more than 50,000 people depend upon fish farming for their livelihood and that everything possible should be done to keep them in employment…..” SQS: “Poseidon give me strength – let me make it simple, exactly how much will it take?”

MINISTER: “Would £3 million do the trick?” “SQS: “Is that the best that you can come up with, after all we have done for you?” MINISTER: “What about another £100,000 then, for an Aquaculture Research Forum?”

FACT: A two–year £3 million pound ‘advertising, marketing and education campaign’ is being launched onto the UK and French retail markets this week. Brian Simpson, CEO of Scottish Quality Salmon noted that the French campaign in particular will be important, since the French market was one of the more heavily impacted by the January Science PCB Scare. (IntratFish, July 2004).

FACT: The Scottish Executive today announced funding for the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum. Deputy Environment and Rural Development Minister Allan Wilson backed the establishment of the independent charity with a grant of £100,000 towards operating and research costs for 2004/2005 (SE News, 30/07/04)

Salmon farmers killing Shetland seabirds

Members of British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) have photographed anti-predator nets around farm salmon cages. These are monofilament nets and virtually invisible to diving birds, otters and other creatures. According to reports in the Aberdeen Press & Journal (12/07/04), divers found the decomposing remains of three eider ducks, trapped and drowned when they tried to feed on mussels growing on the cages.

BDMLR chairman, Alan Knight said the nets must have been set to catch seals and otters and the eiders were a sad by-catch: “I find this totally unacceptable,” Mr Knight said, “Rare and endangered wildlife is being killed. It’s an absolutely despicable way of protecting commercial gain. Any diving bird would be caught in this net as well as seals and otters because monofilament net is invisible under water. The guys at the salmon farm obviously don’t give a toss about what they do to wildlife.”

Shetland-based Aberdeen University ornithologist Martin Heubeck said the setting of such nets was “unacceptable”. The fact that eider ducks were being killed by salmon farmers was of especial concern, because the eider population in Shetland has declined by almost 705 over the last 30 years. “To set a monofilament net will kill seabirds, seals and possibly even otters, and whoever has done this should be brought to book,” Mr Heubeck said.

Local Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspector, Ron Patterson said that he had heard rumours that seals were being illegally trapped around Shetland salmon farms for some time but he had not heard of a monofilament net being used. “Obviously, that is there to prevent seals from getting into the cages with the knowledge that it [the net] will trap them. It is absolutely horrendous and should be stopped as soon as possible.”

The following day (13/07/04) the Press & Journal noted that a police inquiry had been launched into the incident. Scottish Natural Heritage area manager, John Uttley, said: “I think it is totally unacceptable to be indiscriminately killing wildlife in this way. There is a code of practice agreed by the industry that rules out this kind of behaviour. It is illegal for fishermen to use this kind of net in inshore waters and, under the Wildlife and countryside Act, it is illegal to kill wild birds.”

David Sandison, ceo of Shetland Salmon Farmers’ Association said “If there has been a breach of any of the laws that govern our activities, then I would hope they would be followed up vigorously.”