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News From Around the Fish Farms, December 2004

Scottish Executive whitewash job saves First Minister’s brother

The Scottish Executive (SE) has investigated allegations that fish escaped (2/9/04) from a salmon farm managed by Scotland’s First Minister’s brother, Iain McConnell. The investigation was carried out by staff from the SE Fisheries Research Service (FRS) and by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Lewis Macdonald, deputy environment and rural affairs minister, responding to a request for information about the incident from MSP Maureen Macmillan, said: “A company [Marine Harvest] operating in the Loch Eil area informed SEERAD of a possible escape incident through the correct procedure. They conducted a thorough investigation to check their site and equipment and found no evidence that an escape had occurred. This was followed up with a visit by inspectors of FRS who found no evidence of an escape.”

John McFadzean, the farmer who lives on the shores of Loch Eil near the site at Garvan from which the fish are reputed to have escaped and who ‘blew the whistle’ on the incident, also received an explanatory letter; from Paul Haddon, a government civil servant with SEERAD. Mr Haddon echoed the minister’s line word for word: “They [Marine Harvest] conducted a thorough investigation of their site….” and so on, concluding, “FRS inspectors followed this up and also found no evidence of an escape.”

Mr McFadzean was less than impressed: “There were most certainly a large number of farm fish, hundreds, in my estimation, of about 1lb.8oz to 2lb in weight. They were seen by many others, including Mr Lamour of the Lochaber Fisheries Board, N Rafael of Lochaber Fisheries Trust, and John Gibb and Fraser Mackay of the River Lochy Association, all of whom are experienced in river and fishery management.

“Neither myself nor any of the people noted above were interviewed by Marine Harvest or by FRS officials when they conducted their so-called “thorough investigation”. This is a disgrace and does not reflect well on the fish farm industry, SEERAD or FRS who quite clearly failed to carry out a thorough investigation. It is disingenuous of Mr Macdonald to suggest otherwise,” he said.

However, Dr Graeme Dear, a senior executive with Marine Harvest, had no doubt who is to blame for the false report that some of his fish were missing. He said that it was part of an ongoing campaign by fish farm opponents to malign the industry. That’s all right then, isn’t it?

Scottish Environment Protection Agency ‘confused’

A further example of just how ‘thorough’ (see above) some of the official bodies regulating fake fish farming are was exposed in November. Figures announced by SEPA in their annual report in connection with noxious gas emissions were wrong. Sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide levels used in the report differed from figures on their own website, by as much as 3,000 tonnes per annum.

A SEPA spokeswoman said: “We apologise for any confusion the information in the annual report may have caused.” However, figures noted by the Scottish Executive (SE) for emissions, and based upon information given to them by SEPA, were also different. Even more bizarre is the fact that all these figures are different from the ones shown in the European Pollution Emission Register website.

Just as thorough, it seems, is SEPA’s annual Radioactivity in Food and the Environment report that claims modest levels of Technetium 99 and Carbon 14 are present. But it now appears that these conclusions are based upon samples taken from just one mackerel and one prawn. These facts must make people less than confident about other pronouncements by SEPA; such as their claim that fish farm waste discharges are not linked to the ever-increasing presence of algal blooms that poison shell fish and close vast areas of sea to fishermen.

Still, there is also good news in the SEPA report. The agency offers unequivocal advice to members of the public to help them spot flooding.

Salmon killer disease returns to haunt fake fish farmers

Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) is suspected in a Marine Harvest fish farm site at Loch Sheilavaig on the east side of the Island of South Uist. The disease first arrived in Scotland via infected fish from Norway in May 1998. Four million salmon were slaughtered then and almost half the industry quarantined. ISA has the potential to devastate an industry already struggling to survive because of over-production and low prices for their mass-produced fat and flabby product.

It is beyond all reasonable doubt that the fish farmers have only themselves to blame for this new disaster. After the 1998 outbreak the Scottish Executive (SE) produced a ‘Code of Practice to Avoid and Minimise the Impact of Infectious Salmon Anaemia’. Monitoring compliance with the code showed, according to the SE, that:

52% of all farms did not comply with recommendations on stocking from single sources
43% of all marine farms did not have site-specific diving equipment
39% of all marine salmon farms did not ensile their fish waste – the best way o reducing the risk of the spread of ISA from potentially contaminated fish carcasses
31% of all marine salmon farms did not disinfect equipment that is moved between farms
24% of all farms surveyed did not comply with fish movement restrictions/p

Whilst all this might be just what the fish farmers deserve, it is a tragedy for wild fish stocks in South Uist. Sea-trout numbers in the island have held up well, in comparison with the rest of the West Highlands and Islands, principally because they run rivers on the west coast of South Uist where there are no fish farms.

Should ISA spread to and infect wild salmonids then they could wipe out the islands salmon and sea-trout stocks; a valuable source of income to local people from visiting rod and line anglers. Salmon farmers boast that they are one of the most heavily regulated industries in UK and governed by some 48 separate pieces of legislation. This legislation is clearly not worth the paper it is written on because it can’t be enforced, as the details outlined above show.

At least Dr Graeme Dear from Marine Harvest and their parent company, Dutch-owned multi-national Nutreco, can’t claim this time that the ISA outbreak is “…..part of an ongoing campaign by fish farm opponents to malign the industry “ (see Scottish Executive white-wash job saves First Minister’s brother above). It seems that the industry performs that function perfectly well by itself.

Slice all washed up?

Slice, when first introduced, was hailed as being the miracle treatment for curing fish farm sea lice infestations. Since then the Scottish Executive (SE) and the fish farmers have proudly claimed that fish farm sea lice are not killing wild salmonids because, thanks to Slice, West Highland and Islands fish farms don’t have sea lice. SFPG supporters and members of the public who write to the SE complaining about fish farm sea lice damage to wild salmon and sea-trout receive a standard letter to that effect.

It now seems that it ain’t necessarily so. The SFPG has seen a report prepared by Dr John Watt of Lochaber Fisheries Trust and published in June 2003 that states: “Despite high hopes, the use of Slice has failed to prevent high levels of infection on wild fish.” This report was submitted to the Tripartite Working Group (TWG), a body set up by the Scottish Executive ostensibly to get fish farmers and wild fish interests round the table to sort out their differences.

The truth of the matter is, however, at least it is in the view of this observer, that the TWG is simply another example of the SE’s ‘divide and rule’ policy in its determination to shield its fish farming chums from any meaningful form public scrutiny. The TWG consists of some 22 representatives from the industry and the SE, and a couple of ‘token’ placemen with wild fish interests.

Given that this is not representative, and that this criticism has been levelled at the TWG on a number of occasions, the SE moved to allay suspicion by setting up a Sub-Group, chaired by Major General Seymour Munro, chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Trust and various ‘on-message’ wild fish interests, but still heavily weighted in favour of the dirty business of aquaculture: aka John Webster (Scottish Quality Salmon), Bob Kindness (Seafield Centre), Colin Bean (Scottish Natural Heritage) and David Hay (SE Fishery Research Services).

However, it could be that the Sub Group, under Seymour Munro’s leadership, is beginning to act more positively and more independently. At their meeting on 6th October at the Fishery Research Service offices at Pitlochry, “…concern was expressed that despite requests in the past for a report on the overall status of stocks, as yet one had not been produced and a newly commissioned report would take up to three years to complete.”

In an action plan, it was decided that the “Sub-Group should give a strong message to the TWG plenary that we have accepted that, whilst not the sole problem, marine cage salmon aquaculture can be a key factor impeding the recovery of West Coast salmon and sea-trout stocks. Therefore the successful restoration of any West Coast stocks is critically affected by these aquaculture issues:

  • Functional Area Management Agreements
  • Long term as well as incidental control of sea-lice and other fish diseases
  • Effective containment of farmed stocks and notification of escapes
  • An assessment of the location of fish farm sites as an impact on wild stocks
  • Appropriate legislation and enforceable codes of practice supported by effective supervision to ensure the above

Of even greater significance was the Group’s call for a pilot relocation [of a fish farm] “to test the impact of the removal of salmon farming from a significant sea-loch/wild fishery – eg. Loch Ewe,” all of which is very bad news for the fish farmers and their friends in the Scottish Executive. The last thing the SE can afford to allow is the emergence of proof-positive evidence that fish farm sea lice are killing wild fish: there would be a flood of compensation claims and the industry would become even more unsustainable than it is at present.

More ‘spin’ from Marine Harvest

When news arrived at the SFFG towards the end of November that Marine Harvest were moving cages from their site in Loch Ewe at Naast to a more exposed location near Isle Ewe, we assumed that this followed on from the deliberations of Seymour Munro’s Sub Group (see above) and their request for a “relocation to test the impact of the removal of salmon farming from a significant sea-loch/wild fishery – eg. Loch Ewe.”

However, according to Dr Graeme Dear, Marine Harvest External Affairs director, we are mistaken in that belief. In response to an email seeking clarification, the following reply was received from the company’s public relations consultants:

Graeme Dear, Communication and External Affairs Director at Marine Harvest, said:

“Moving cages to the other side of the loch was always part of our plan and we applied for planning permission a number of years ago.

“We have been involved in a community liaison group at Loch Ewe for a number of years. Some time ago we agreed with the community to relocate from the Naast site whilst safeguarding jobs by moving the farm to the other side of the loch.”

The SFPG then asked if the move had anything to do with wild fish and fish farm sea lice and for a contact number for the community liaison group:

“But why were the cages moved from Naast, please? Has this 'move' anything to do with wild returning sea-trout and fish farm sea ice? Can you give me a contact telephone number for a member of the community liaison group so that I can speak to them direct.”

Graeme Dear said:

“As we said before this move has been planned for a number of years. It both takes into account the community’s desire to maintain employment and the preference of other parties for us to vacate the Naast site if at all possible.

“The cages that were at Naast were not of the specification to withstand the more exposed site and so we have invested in new equipment for a new site.”

At the time of writing, the SFPG is still waiting for a contact number for the community liaison group that Dr Dear says Marine Harvest has been involved with for a number of years. Could this by any chance be the same community liason group that Graeme Dear promised to set up during a public meeting in Gairloch three years ago, and which some locals allege consists of people dependent on fish farming for their employment?