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News From Around the Fish Farms, December 2006

  • Landmark decision
  • Jam tomorrow
  • Landcatch Ltd
  • West Minch Salmon Ltd
  • Animal rights activists release halibut
  • Fish farmers deny Blue/green algae link

Landmark decision

In October, the SFPG won a landmark decision in connection with naming an Orcadian fish farmer from whose cages more than 30,000 farmed salmon had escaped. Following the refusal of the Fisheries Research Services (FRS) to release this information in response to a Freedom of Information request, the SFPG asked the Scottish Information Commissioner to determine the case.

The Commissioner’s decision, published on 9th October said, “I find that the FRS failed to comply with the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs) in applying the exemption contained in section (26(a) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to name the fish farm from which the salmon escaped.”

The Commissioner’s judgement concluded, “In accordance with the EIRs, I require the FRS to provide the site name for the fish farm in question to Mr Sandison. This information must be provided to Mr Sandison within 45 days of receipt of this decision notice.”

44 days later, on 21st November, the SFPG received the following letter from the FRS: “…I refer to the Scottish Information Commissioner's decision 182/2006, in which Fisheries Research Services was instructed to release the name of an Orkney Fish farm from which fish had escaped in late May 2006. The name of the farm is Kirk Noust. The name of the company which owns the farm is Mainland Salmon Ltd.”

SFPG chairman commented, “Whilst each case must be judged on its own merits, the Commissioner’s decision seems to suggest that in future, when escapes happen, the FRS will now be required to name the farmer responsible. With upwards of 500,000 factory-farmed salmon escaping from their cages each year, the public might at last be able to find out exactly who these serial-offenders are.”

Jam tomorrow

In October, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) launched a report on the current state of Scotland’s Environment, ‘change tomorrow today’, at a seminar held in Edinburgh’s International Conference Centre. The main thrust of the ensuing debate centred upon the consequences of global warming.

The Salmon Farm Protest Group (SFPG) attend the conference and concluded, whilst welcoming the attention being paid to what might happen tomorrow, that tomorrow would be much less of a problem if Sepa more vigorously addressed pollution today.

The Sepa report made little reference to pollution caused by Scotland’s largely foreign-owned fish farmers, other than to point out how well Sepa regulated and controlled the industry: “Marine fish farming has expanded in extent and economic value, but has been managed and controlled to minimise its impact.” (Page 58).

The SFPG believes that the extent of Sepa’s efforts to control and manage the industry have been less than effective. This may be because of a lack of resources or legal restraints on how much Sepa is permitted to intervene, but recent incidents, reported below - see Landcatch Ltd, and West Minch Salmon – appear to raise serious doubts.

Landcatch Ltd

In June 2005 an audit report at this company’s Inverkerry fish farm in the West Highlands carried out on behalf of Marks & Spencer’s by the Inverness-based Fish Vet Group disclosed a breach of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) discharge consent for the use of the chemical formalin at the site.

Formalin is a solution of 37 percent formaldehyde gas dissolved in water. It is used to control external parasitic infections on farmed salmon and is a known carcinogen. The Fish Vet Group audit noted that the treatment record entry for the use of formalin on 4th April 2005 showed that 70 litres of the substance had been used, equating to more than three times the amount permitted by the Sepa discharge consent.

In August 2005, an internal guidance note between senior Landcatch Ltd managers discussed how to disguise any future breaches of the Sepa discharge consent by falsifying records, adding, “It would be prudent to regard this guidance note as a confidential, internal document and not for scrutiny by regulators or external auditors.”

When these matters were brought to the attention of Sepa by the SFPG, Sepa investigated the site on 13th November and reported that: “From inspection of the records kept at Inverkerry Sepa officers concluded it was not possible for them to obtain reliable information on the total mass of formaldehyde discharged from the site in any consecutive 24 hour period.”

Sepa issued a formal warning to Landcatch Ltd, giving the company 14 days in which to clean up its act. Was Landcatch Ltd suitably contrite? Neil Manchester, Landcatch operations manager, quoted on 30th November in The West Highland Free Press, “questioned why Sepa said that their formalin records were inauditable, “What we gave to Sepa contained everything they needed to make a judgment,”” he said.

Copies of all the relevant documents relating to this affair are available from SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison on bruce@hysbackie.freeserve.co.uk.

West Minch Salmon Limited sites in Glendale, South Uist

When the SFPG published photographs of an abandoned smolt rearing site in Loch Moreef in Glendale, it incorrectly identified the person responsible for the site as being Mr Angus MacMillian, the owner of West Minch Salmon Limited (see apology of front page). The responsible person is in fact Mr Iain Steele of 11 Leonard Place, Daliburgh, South Uist.

However, on 11th November, SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison visited Loch Kearsinish, two miles north from Loch Moreef, and Loch Marulaig, one mile north from Loch Moreef, both of which contain derelict smolt rearing units and both of which are the responsibility of Mr Angus MacMillan and West Minch Salmon.

Images taken for the Salmon Farm Monitor in November 2006 of the degradation at Lochs Marulaig and Kearsinish

Photographs of the sites were sent to both West Minch Salmon and to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa). Sepa informed the SFPG that they would be investigating the matter, but no response has been received by the SFPG from West Minch Salmon.

Photographs of the sites were also sent to Mr Sid Patten of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, asking if West Minch Salmon was one of the 95% of the industry that had signed-up to his organisation’s Code of Good Practice and, if so, did the state of the sites meet the codes key requirement of “Protecting the environment”?

Mr Patten ignored this question, preferring instead to comment: “We are advised that the company is in the process of de-commissioning these sites… We are further advised that the company, in addition to their intention to remove all excess equipment, have already spoken with SEPA to advise them of the position and they [SEPA] will be visiting the sites in the near future.”

The SFPG has obtained copies of the Planning Approvals for both sites, issued by Western Isles Council. According to the planning approval for Loch Marulaig, it appears that it should have been closed in1998: "This planning permission shall expire on 31st July 1998 whereafter the cages shall be removed from the loch unless a further planning permission for their retention has been granted beforehand".

The approval for Loch Kearsinish has, at Condition No 4, "At no time throughout the life of the development shall materials (including feed, fuel or sections of cages) be stored in the open on any of the land around Loch Kearsinish unless terms for such storage have been agreed in writing with the Council as planning authority."

Condition 5 for Loch Kearsinish notes: "In the event that any of the fish cages or other apparatus and store approved by this planning permission are no longer needed, and fall into disuse, they shall be removed within 6 months of their last use to the satisfaction of the Council as planning authority".

The SFPG is now trying to establish whether or not an application for retention was made for Loch Marulaig, and whether or not West Minch Salmon asked for permission to store equipment in the open at Loch Kearsinish.

The planning conditions applied to Loch Kearsinish also apply to the derelict site at Loch Moreef that was operated by Mr Iain Steele.

Bruce Sandison commented, “As far as I can gather from the information that we have received from Western Isles Council, it appears that both of the West Minch Salmon sites in Glendale, and Mr Steels site at Loch Moreef, are in breach of their Planning Approvals. The SFPG will be following this matter up as a matter of urgency.”

Meanwhile, Sepa has yet to visit these sites. Apparently, they have tried to do so three times but have failed because, “the weather has not been very favourable.”

Animal rights activists attack Scottish halibut farm

When thousands of farmed halibut were released from cages near Oban in September, allegedly by animal rights activists, the incident was widely reported in both the local and national press: thousands of fish die after animal rights activists open their cages – they died because of starvation or from being caught in seaweed. Strathcldye Police immediately announced that were investigating the matter.

The Oban Times alleged that the activists had posted details on a website, boasting of “destroying cages smashing control panels, radar and GPS system and emptying a fire extinguisher inside the cabin.” The Oban Times also said the activists broke into a Portacabin and destroyed all of the clothing and paperwork inside, as well as destroying a computer and a mobile ‘phone with an axe.

When the owner of the farm, Stuart Cannon, attended a conference in Shetland in October, he was wildly applauded. Shetland halibut farmer John Goodlad said that Mr Cannon had been the victim of an appalling attack. He said he was sure everybody in the audience was delighted that despite the sabotage Mr Cannon intended to continue to farm halibut.

The SFPG logged on to the website that was supposed to contain the report of the attack, www.arkangel.org, but could find no trace of the story. Ark Angel is a highly regarded Canadian-based environmental organisation and when the SFPG contacted them they declaimed all knowledge of the incident and unhesitatingly condemned the people who had carried it out.

SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison then lodged a request using Freedom of Information legislation with the Scottish Executive’s Fisheries Research Services (FRS). The SFPG request specifically asked how the fish had died and if FRS staff had carried out an examination of the bodies to determine whether any of the fish that had died had shown any sign of disease.

The FRS responded by saying that the fish farmer had told them that “…the fish died and were found in the shallows. Apparently, the fish swam towards the shore and were stranded when the tide receded.” Unhappy with this reply, the FSPG asked for a review, which has been received and which is now being considering.

The review concluded, essentially, that the fish that escaped had been healthy and that no sick fish had been observed at the location, therefore FRS did not think it necessary to conduct a post-mortem examination on any of the recovered fish. Of the 12,000 fish said to have been released by the animal rights activists, only 500 were found stranded on the shoreline and they have been ensiled.

Fish farmers deny Blue/green algae link

David Sandison writes from Shetland (David Sandison is General Manager of Shetland Aquaculture and company secretary of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation)

Dear Bruce,

News from Around the fish farms.

I would like to request that you withdraw your assertion that the outbreaks of blue/green algae in freshwater lochs in Shetland are connected in any way to fish farming. There is absolutely no connection whatsoever with fish farming.

All the lochs, spread throughout Shetland, have experienced the phenomenon due to a combination of climactic conditions and inputs of phospate from either agricultural inputs and/or septic tank run off.

You are way off the mark and seem to wish to perpetuate this nonsence about links to fish farming to suit your own ends. I would be very happy for you to publish this mail on your site.

David Sandison
Shetland Aquaculture
26th November 2006