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News From Around the Fish Farms, December 2005

Shetland fish farm loan probe

Scotland’s Auditor General’s office has confirmed to the SFPG that it will be launching an investigation in circumstances surrounding the award by Shetland Enterprise (SE) of a £650,000 loan to local fish farmer John Goodlad; managing director of a newly formed company North Atlantic Sea Foods. Mr Goodlad has a track record of involvement in fish farm companies that have gone into receivership.

Concern centres round the security of the loan. According to Highlands & Islands Enterprise, SE’s parent body, it was approved “on the unsecured EC rate of 9.81 per cent”; and why neither the applicant nor his business partner were asked to provide personal security for the loan or for personal guarantees or even third party security.

The Standards Commission for Scotland is also investigating the business relationship between the local authority and the Shetland Development Trust (SDT).

According to a report in The Shetland News (22/11/05), “the allegation is that Mr Gussie Angus [former chairman of SDT] lied to the council when he was asked if chief executive Morgan Goodlad [a relative of John Goodlad] had been involved in a decision by the trust to give a bank guarantee towards buying fish feed for salmon…Council convener Sandy Cluness is also under investigation.”

Mr Morgan Goodlads’ brother Alistair was chairman of STD at the time and is also a director of North Atlantic Sea Foods. Both Mr Angus and Councillor Cluness deny the allegations. It is estimated that more than £20 million pounds of public money may have been lost through failed investments in the local economy.

The Herald newspaper also reported (20/11/05) that “Scottish Ombudsman, Professor Alice Brown, who heads up an organisation that handles complaints about public services, is now considering launching separate investigations into aspects of the council and the local enterprise company’s funding to Shetland businesses. This attention comes just months after Audit Scotland issued a report critical of the council’s management and leadership.”

Public relations award for Scottish Quality Salmon

When Canadian and US researchers found higher levels of cancer-causing contaminants in farm salmon than in wild salmon (Science, Jan 2004), Scottish fish farmers hit the panic button (See also this month’s International News – Science, cancer risks from farmed salmon).

The study identified Scottish farm salmon as being the most PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyl) contaminated of 700 samples examined. PCB’s are known to cause cancer and are associated with impacts on the development of children.

Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), whose biggest member is Marine Harvest, the world’s largest fish farmer, manned the barricades and launched a damage-limitation public relations exercise.

The campaign, master-minded by London-based Chrome Consulting, won an award in November in the PR Association’s Golden World Awards for “restoring and increasing sales after the scare.”

Who paid for the spin? Step forward The Crown Estate who lease seabed sites to fish farmers and collect approximately £2m pa for doing so; closely followed by the fish farmer’s best friends, the Scottish Executive, with match-funding for this £3 million pound campaign.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) ‘Surveys of the levels of various contaminants in fish, shellfish and fish oils’ (27/10/05) may have given additional comfort to the fish farmers: “Levels have been found to be low and the Agency continues to advise that as part of a healthy balanced diet the majority of people should eat more fish.”

But were PCB’s levels surveyed? A spokeswoman for the FSA said, “These published surveys did not examine PCB levels, however these have been examined in a series of further surveys which should be published on the FSA website in early 2006.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian and US research on farm salmon contaminant levels has not been disproved. It spite of SQS talk of legal action, all they have come up with is more PR: salmon gives your baby brains; reduce the risk of heart disease death by 25%; save your skin from sunburn - by eating farmed salmon, of course.

No joy for Mr Joy

When 3,000 salmon escaped from their cages in North West Sutherland in October, Mr Nick Joy, managing director of Loch Duart Ltd from where the fish escaped said, “To have survived the hurricanes in January, which damaged just buildings, only to be caught out by strong tides and predator intrusion is most upsetting.”

It seems that an enclosing net had been “worn due to excessive tidal action” and that a seal may have “exacerbated the problem and encouraged the fish to leave the net as they tried to avoid it.” According to Mr Joy, “it is clear that an unlucky combination of circumstance conspired against us.”

This is the second such escape in recent years from Loch Duart sites, the last allegedly being due, again, to predator intrusion, in the shape of an otter. This observer wonders just how people who have been involved in farming fish in North West Sutherland for almost 30 years can be caught out so often and so easily.

Technetium 99

The SFPG has frequently drawn attention to discharge of radio-active waste from Sellafield nuclear power station in the form of Technetium 99 (Tc99). The contaminant is then borne by ocean currents north round the Hebrides and has been detected as far away as the Barents Sea in Norway and Russia.

Tc99 is highly mobile in seawater and is found at its highest concentrations in seaweed and shellfish. Given that the substance travels through the area where the majority of Scottish fish farms are located, the SFPG is concerned that caged salmon might be exposed to Tc99 and that it might have an adverse impact on the health of captive fish.

The Scottish Environment Protection agency tracks the movement of Tc99 in Scottish waters and has agreed to undertake additional sampling; at present it is alleged that samples are taken from only two sites in the area, in Islay and Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre. However, as has been revealed in the West Highland Free Press, this additional sampling will not include sites in the Western Isles sites or in Orkney; The additional samples are to be taken in Shetland, where there fish farms, and at Aberdeen where there are none.

Cloud cuckoo-land

As the SFPG has pointed out in the past, the only reasonable explanation for the Scottish Executive (SE) to continue pouring millions of pounds of UK and EU taxpayers money into fish farming is because the industry is a key employer in remote rural areas.

At least, that is what the SE claim. They allege that the industry supports up to 10,000 Scottish jobs. The SFPG does not accept these figures and has twice asked the SE to order an independent inquiry into the number of jobs that the industry supports, but to no avail.

It is believed that SE figures are based upon a survey carried out in 1989, when the industry reputedly supported 6,500 jobs. Since then, the SFPG believe that updated employment numbers have been calculated, statistically, in line with increased production: more fish must mean more jobs.

However, in the past three years, the industry has been shedding jobs and production has fallen, most recently (November), another 28 jobs at Riverside Salmon in Alness, a fish processing company.

A report in the industry trade magazine IntraFish (27/10/05) suggests that salmon bankruptcies in the past two years (10 Shetland Isles alone) and losses from storm damage and escapes have reduced the numbers of smolts being put to sea in Scotland by 30%; one of the results being an alleged 160% increase in imports of farmed salmon from Norway.

Perhaps the SE might now accept the SFPG that it is necessary to re-examine employment levels to determine whether or not tax-payer funds are being wisely spent, or is it just a case of throwing good money after bad?