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News From Around the Fish Farms, February 2003

CODSWALLOP   Dutch megalith company, Nutreco, the world’s largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon, has announced that it hopes to achieve a similar status in the production of farmed cod. They estimate that production could reach 700,000 tonnes pa within the next 12 years. The company is also investigating farming other species, such as haddock. Nutreco director Reid Hole says that the experience his company has gained in farming salmon will ‘inform’ their progress. So that’s all right then.

BUBBLE & SQUEAK   Jellyfish killed 4 million farm salmon last year in the Western Isles and Shetland. It was claimed that these clever little creatures had journeyed all the way from the Pacific Ocean just to attack Scottish fish farms. They are in fact native species, attracted by ideal breeding/feeding conditions amongst fish farm filth. Plans to fend off the invaders, rather than clean up the sites, are being tested: a protective ‘curtain’ of artificially produced air-bubbles round salmon cages; part funded by £44,000 tax-payer cash dished out courtesy of Western Isles Enterprise Limited.

CLAP-TRAP  Widely reported in northern newspapers in January, Jamie Stone, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, responding to news that the EU is to repeal legislation imposing minimum import prices on Norwegian famed salmon:  “The salmon farming industry is a lynchpin for many remote and rural communities. In some cases its very existence has allowed vital services such as the local school or post office to remain open. Any threat to the salmon industry is a threat to the social and economic well-being of many small communities…” and a lot more of the same unsubstantiated guff.

OH YEAH?   In 1997 the Scottish Executive announced exciting news: planning powers authorising the location of fish farms were to be transferred from the Crown Estate Commissioners to local authorities. When? In January Maureen Macmillan, MSP (reporter on aquaculture to parliament’s transport and environment committee) had a “very positive meeting” with the responsible official, Des McNulty, MSP (deputy social justice minister). So when will the transfer of powers take place? Er, well, not yet.

BUCK-PASSING  What happens to diseased farm salmon when they die? The Scottish executive claim they are dumped in approved landfill sites. Which landfill sites? Amanda Walker of the SE fisheries research services said, “We don’t keep records of this but the local authorities will know.” Colin Clark (Highland council’s head of waste management) says that none of their sites has been used. The Scottish environment protection agency (Sepa) notes that dead farm salmon can pose a serious health hazard if not disposed of properly. So can Sepa say how many dead salmon were buried during the past year and in which approved sites? Yup, you guessed, they haven’t a clue.

CLEAR AS MUD   “Is it safe to allow my grandchildren to eat 2 or 3 portions of farmed salmon a week?” inquires a concerned granddad, worried about reports of pesticide and dioxin residues in farmed salmon.  Frankie Brookes-Tombs at ‘The Food Standards Agency’ (FSA) reassured him: “The legal use of veterinary medicines on farmed salmon will not cause a health risk for any group of consumers, including children.”

But Ms Brookes-Tombs went on: “The Agency cannot however rule out the possibility that illegal use of veterinary products could cause a health risk to consumers, as we do not know whether this will cause the presence of harmful residues in edible tissues. As you know the Agency recommends that consumers follow the advice of the independent expert Committee of Medical Aspects of Food Policy to eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily, as part of a healthy balanced diet.

“But regular consumption of more than one portion of oily fish a week will lead to increased exposure to the particular contaminants in these fish [farmed salmon]. Dietary intakes of these chemicals by most young children are likely to exceed the safety guideline, primarily because they need to eat comparatively more than adults in relation to their body size.”

Don’t panic, it really is all right: “The safety guidelines for these chemicals include safety margins and the risks are associated with accumulation in the body over many years. Exceeding the safety guideline occasionally will have no effect on the total amount of dioxins in the body.” Reassured? “However, there is insufficient evidence at the present time to give definitive advice about the level of consumption at which the risks of oily fish consumption outweigh the benefits for individual customers.”

DAFT STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK    The Scottish Executive has published a consultation document on fish farming, ‘A Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture’ (full text available on The 86-page document is ready for “Ministerial signature once the text of the document is complete - following public consultation”.

There are lots of goodies for the fish farming industry: employment upped from 7,000 to 9,000, £25 million inward investment per annum, £10 million technology transfer per annum, faster access to drugs/chemicals/medicines to treat fish farm disease. Best of all, a proposal to launch a nationwide, tax-payer-funded ‘education’ programme to persuade the public that farmed fish is nutritious, healthy, delicious and tasty.

Neither have Scotland’s ever-declining stocks of wild fish been forgotten: the strategy promises more research into the problems of the impact of fish farm sea lice on wild salmon and sea-trout!  The intention of this research is to try to establish how sea lice transfer between wild stock and farmed fish, and how great the impact of this transfer process is. So, good news all round.