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News From Around the Fish Farms, January 2004

A little cadmium and arsenic with your smoked salmon, Madam?

When the vessel ‘Jambo’ ran onto rocks and sank near the Summer Isles in the Scottish West Highlands last summer, only half of the content of the hold was recovered. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Scottish Natural Heritage were confident that leaving the remainder on the sea bed would not be an environmental hazard.

It now transpires that the ship was carrying ‘relatively high quantities of arsenic and cadmium’, a high-risk carcinogen, and that this part of the cargo is on the sea bed. The German-owned vessel came to grief in broad daylight in an area awash with fish farms. Angus Nicolson of Western Isles Council and Bill Fulton of Highland Council claim that a full cargo list was not disclosed to them, an allegation denied by the MCA.

Whilst calls are being made for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident, nobody is saying much about recovering the cadmium and arsenic from the ocean floor ‘ or about what steps are being taken to monitor farm salmon for traces of cadmium or arsenic. The sad truth is that there is now 3,300 tonnes of toxic chemicals washing about in the sea to the north of Ullapool, and that nobody seems to care.

More on technetium-99

After traces of technetium-99, a man-made element discharged from Sellafield nuclear power station in Cumbria, were found in farm salmon on sale in supermarkets, further tests are to be carried out by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) on seaweed in the Western and Northern Isles. If high levels are found, then there is a chance that it could enter the human food chain where seaweed is used as a fertiliser.

Islanders have used seaweed as a fertilser for centuries. Councilor Angus Nicolson (see cadmium and arsenic above) said, ‘We are particularly worried about the accumulative affect of contaminated seaweed being used on the same lazy beds or other vegetable plots over many years? We do not know the scale of the risk ‘ and if indeed there is one ‘ and that is what we need to find out as soon as possible.’

However, Sepa seems to take a more sanguine view of the situation, saying that the tests are being carried out simply ‘to provide further public reassurance regarding the environmental impact of discharges from Sellafield,’ which does rather seem to suggest that they have already pre-judged the issue.

John Large, the nuclear scientist involved in raising the sunken Russian submarine ‘Kursk’ from the Barents Sea and who is regarded as an expert on nuclear matters, is less confident than Sepa when it comes to risk assessment. He commented, ‘No one really knows what the risks are or what are ‘safe levels’. The problem with seaweed in particular is that it re-concentrates the radioactive material ‘ that is why they are so concerned about seaweed.’

If technetium-99 contaminates seaweed then it must also have an impact on captive salmon in farm cages; as Greenpeace discovered when they carried out their study in 2003 and found low traces of technetium-99 in smoked and fresh salmon on sale in UK supermarkets. The flow of water from the Irish Sea, containing the substance, which has a half-life of 213,000 years, is through the Minch and round Orkney and Shetland, all of which contain salmon farm sites. Traces of technetium-99 have been found as far afield as the Norwegian east coast and in the Baltic Sea.

If regular testing for the presence of technetium-99 in farm fish is being carried out, and I have no knowledge that it is, then those engaged in the exercise are keeping the results a closely guarded secret. Or, perhaps, like Sepa, they already know that it is not a danger to human health and well-being?

Still more on technetium-99

In pursuit of clarifying risks to human and fish health from technetium-99, staff from British Nuclear Fuels Limited gave a presentation to Western Isles Council last November. Dr Rex Strong, Head of environmental management at BNFL reminded those present that all industrial process involve pollution of some kind, but added that less than 0.1% of radioactivity is discharged, and that the radioactive content of discharges is now less than 1% of what it was 25 years ago.

His audience was less than reassured. Angus Nicolson remained ‘extremely skeptical about the real environmental impact of Sellafield over the past 40 years.’ Donald Manford asked, ‘If there is no public health risk, how is it so difficult to convince the public of that?’ George Lonie commented, ‘Emissions have been reduced but I would give the credit for that to Greenpeace and organisations such as Friends of the Earth, and the pressure they put on.’ Morag Munro said, ‘When someone says ‘no immediate threat’ to human health, that causes me concern.’ Yes indeed, Mrs Munro, yes indeed.

Bell tolls for Shetland salmon farms

World-wide over production of farm salmon is having a devastating impact on fish farm viability. In December, Norwegian-owned Hennover Salmon chucked in the towel and called in receivers PricewatherhouseCoopers. Eight jobs are at risk. The company produced 4,000 tonnes of farm fish annually and currently its cages are stocked with approximately 500,000 fish at their Sweening Voe sites.

At the end of December, Shetland Salmon Group (SSG) Seafoods Limited follow suit, this time calling in accountants Ernst & Young. Assistant director Andrew Davidson said that they were working with all the stakholders to explore all the option available. SSG Seafoods is one of the largest of Shetland salmon farmers, next in size only to another Norwegian-owned company, Hjaltland Sea Farms.

David Sandison, general manager of the Shetland Salmon Farmers Association predicts even harder times ahead for the industry: ‘It’s yet another symptom of the deepening crisis. Everything is coming home to roost now and this will probably not be the last receivership. Things are as bad as they possibly can be.’ As reported in the Shetland Times, nine months ago the Shetland Development Trust agreed a £3.5 million pound guarantee to allow SSG Seafoods to continue buying fish food.

Meanwhile, Shetland Island Council, the richest local authority in the UK, still awaits a Shetland Development Trust report on a strategic plan for aquaculture in the islands. The principal aim of the ‘strategy’ seemed to be to provide a ‘framework for possible investment in a long-term plan to help fish farming.’ In other words, any scheme that would allow further millions of pounds of tax-payer cash to be dished out to a dying industry. The ‘plan’ now seems to have been abandoned.

Doing business in great waters

Or, in this case, doing business in great waters in the wrong place. Orkney Fish Farms is moving its cages in Veantrow Bay off the Island of Shapinsay because it has discovered that they are in the wrong place. It transpires, unbeknown to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) who gave discharge approval for the site, that this farm been operating illegally for eight years.

What to do? Prosecute? Chop off a few Sepa heads for the ‘blunder’. Not a chance, given the close relationship that exists between Sepa and Orcadian authorities and their fish farming chums. Reported in the local paper ‘The Orcadian’, a Sepa spokeswoman rushed to defend themselves, and Orkney Fish Farms, claiming that there is unlikely to be any lasting environmental impact on the seabed. The fact that Sepa had no prior knowledge of the move didn’t seem to bother the agency.

They reassured Shapinsay Community Council about what was happening, after the event had be reported to them by concerned islanders: ‘The company was contacted and stated that they were in the process of putting out new moorings largely to address the fact that the site had been established a small distance away from where it should have been according to the area specified in the licence documents for the site.’

Sepa then came to the ‘bitter bit’ and, in my honest opinion, the real motive for Orkney Fish Farms deciding to move from the present site: ‘The reason for the move is not in any sense related to environmental impact ‘ monitoring surveys of the seabed at the site show that the conditions meet the standards laid down by Sepa and the site has been classified as satisfactory.’ And who carries out the monitoring process? Yup, you’ve guessed, Orkney Fish Farms or its appointed agents.

Those who take an interest in these matters might remember that the Veantrow Bay fish farm was the site of one of the greatest escapes in fish farm history. In January 2000, as a result of an unexpected storm, an estimated 300,000 fish did a runner and several tonnes of feed stacked on a platform ended up on the ocean floor where, according to local divers, they were left to rot. The only fish farm that was damaged in this ‘unexpected storm’ was the Orkney Fish farm site at Veantrow Bay.

Some of you might also remember the legal case involving the company and an insurance claim for recompense after the Braer oil tanker disaster in Shetland in January 1993. In dismissing the claim, Scottish High Court judge Lord Gill said, commenting on the evidence given by Willlie Baxter, owner of Orkney Fish Farms: ‘Mr Baxter was not a satisfactory witness. I did not regard him credible on any of the crucial issues of fact.’

In response to concerns over moving the cages in Veantrow Bay, Mr Baxter said: ‘It is being moved a short distance because it had been located in the wrong position, so it has been in the wrong place from day one. The equipment we have available now means we can pinpoint exactly the right position, but when the farm was started that was not available.’ As we say in Scotland, ‘Aye, right.’

Delia Smith’s website praises Salar Limited ‘Flaky Smoked Salmon’

SFPG secretary Ann Sandison spotted this report by Isabelle Rutherford in Delia Smith’s excellent website (www.deliaonline.com) singing the praises of smoked salmon from South Uist in the Outer Hebrides:

‘High on a hill on a clear day on Skye, I once saw the island of South Uist out towards the sunset. Here, Jane Twelves has been making flaky smoked salmon for years, but it was only after her husband Eric developed a big enough smoker that it could be produced commercially. This is not the smoked salmon we all know and love but something very different, and, of course, absolutely delicious.’

The SFPG emailed the following question to the site:

‘In Delia's 'Good Food Stores: Salar Ltd' - no mention is made of the fact that the salmon being so highly praised is in fact fake salmon from a factory fish farm - reared in cages containing 50,000+ fish, fed on a diet of artifical colourants to give the flesh its pink colour - and a wide range of 'medications' to keep the sad beasts alive long enough to be slaughtered. Don't you think that Delia should have mentioned the fact that the fish is farmed, rather than leaving the reader to assume through reading the purple-prose text that it is wild? In my view, this is deceitful.’

Noreen Collins of the Delia Online Team replied, enclosing a response from Salar

‘We would like to comment on the following:

'Fake salmon': the fish we use are of the species Salmo salar, a genuine and recognised species of fish.

Yes, the fish are farmed. The numbers of wild salmon are so low these days (for a variety of reasons their numbers declined throughout the twentieth century) that they are endangered and so we do not use them. In line with current legislation the packs of our product are labelled as being made from farmed salmon. Almost all salmon sold these days is farmed and wild salmon is very rarely used.

We now buy the fish we use from a small independent salmon farm on the neighbouring island of Benbecula. The fish are reared according to the stringent requirements of the Scottish Quality Salmon Quality Scheme which is independently inspected. The maximum stocking density is 2% of the pen volume to ensure that the fish have plenty of space. Salmon are very sensitive to water quality - they will not survive, much less grow, in conditions which are anything less than pristine. This fact is well recognised by the environmental agencies throughout the country as salmon are used as an indicator of clean water. (Remember when salmon returned to the River Thames?)

For more information about the Scottish Quality Salmon Quality Scheme please contact Scottish Quality Salmon on 01738 587000 or see their web site www.scottishsalmon.co.uk.

Soon after we came to live in South Uist I did a base line survey (in 1978) of all the otter holts and other signs of otters in the north east of South Uist, just as the first salmon farm in the Outer Hebrides was being established in one of the sea lochs in the area. Since then I have monitored the use of these holts - they continued to be used despite the fact that there are fish pens and fish farm activity within a few metres of some of the pens. 3 years ago (27 years after the fish farm was set up) I repeated the full survey and found just as many signs of otters as there had been when the first survey was carried out. Otters, like salmon, are regarded as indicators of clean water. (Remember when otters returned to the River Thames?)

Scallop divers in Uist found more scallops in the vicinity of fish farms than elsewhere (probably because the scallops spat out on the nets and then fall to the seabed when they reach a certain size.)

The diet fed to farmed salmon consists of high quality fish meal (the fish will not grow unless the food is of the highest quality) with astaxanthin. This diet mimics the diet of wild fish. Wild salmon get their pink colour from the natural carotenoid pigment astaxanthin. The pigment is manufactured by phytoplankton, the phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton, principally copepods, which concentrate the red colour into a red oil droplet.

Sometimes dense swarms of these pink and grey copepods can be seen in coastal waters in the spring. The copepods are eaten by small fish which are then eaten by salmon and the red colour is passed up the food chain. The same astaxanthin pigment is added to the diet of farmed salmon. It is manufactured by a natural fermentation process.

Farmed salmon are vaccinated against a range of different fish diseases, consequently the fish are healthy and the use of medications is nowadays restricted to the occasional removal of sea lice. (A check with Scottish Quality Salmon will reveal that very little other medication is used in the industry now and nearly all fish today are reared without any medication at all, apart from sea lice treatment(s).)

Management agreements between adjacent fish farms keeps lice numbers to a minimum. (You can't keep salmon alive on medications as their physiology is very different to that of humans. Also, medication treatments are so expensive that it would be simply uneconomic to rear fish on medications.) All harvested salmon are accompanied by a health certificate which lists any treatments that the fish have received.

We are satisfied that the fish we use are of the highest quality.’

If everything Salar say is true, and if their product is so outstanding, why don’t they share the good news about the wonders of farm salmon with their customers? Instead, if you look at their site on www.craftfoods.co.uk, you will see that they are strangely reluctant to do so:

‘In the clear OCEAN WATERS of The Outer Hebrides at Scotland’s Western edge, ATLANTIC SALMON (Salmon salar) are reared with care in Loch Carnan on the island of South Uist. FRESH SALMON are harvested regularly then prepared and smoked by a special process using a variety of woods ...’ and much more of the same, but no mention of the fact that the customer is buying a salmon-look-alike product.

Much of the alleged ‘scientific’ content of the reply is simply not true, or is a gross oversimplification of the facts. However, two sections of Jane Twelves response are, in my view, quite disgraceful and clearly demonstrate the lengths fish farmers will stoop to to try and persuade the public that they do not destroy wild fish and pollute the marine environment: Ms Twelves comments in connection with otters, and with shellfish.

Nobody has ever said that fish farming might be damaging to otters. In fact, as with seals, otter numbers are more likely to increase where there are fish farms: a readily available source of food for them given the hundreds of thousands of farm salmon that escape from their cages each year. To suggest otherwise is unforgivable.

However, fish farms do kill off wild sea-trout, as they have done in the few sea-trout loch in the north east of South Uist. I remember with particular fondness fishing Loch Spotal, by Hecla (606m), 20 years ago, and finding sport with sea-trout. Not any more you don’t.

Ms Twelves also claims that fish farms are good for shell fish. Yes indeed, so good in fact that 43 diners at a London fish restaurant were violently ill (reported in The Lancet) after eating contaminated mussels collected from fish farm cages in Loch Seaforth in the Western Isles. Ms Twelves doth protest too much ‘ and I still think that it is deceitful not to make clear to customers that the fish are farmed, and not wild salmon.

Scottish fish farmers ‘a protected species'

SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison responds to Salmon & Trout Association press release about cormorants.

Salmon & Trout Association, Fishmongers Hall, London
Press Release
SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS AND CONTROVERSY
Minister calls for review in new feather v fin debate
December 18, 2003

Cormorants are an outstanding success story. At a point of such critical decline in the 70s that they were placed on the protected species list, there is now a winter population of over 23,000 in the UK alone ‘ and that’s the problem.

Their food is fish ‘ including endangered species such as salmon, bullheads, lampreys and eels. Cormorant flocks congregate at river bottlenecks during salmon and smolt migrations and can annihilate whole runs of fish.

Such is the concern about the quantities this bird consumes that Ben Bradshaw MP, Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries, has called for a review of the measures that gave the Cormorant protected status. He proposes that cormorants should now be managed at certain times of the year to protect the fisheries, and urges a review of the system granting licences to shoot cormorants, currently issued by Defra.

He was speaking at the Third National Angling Summit (December 11), organised by Martin Salter MP, and attended by the Salmon & Trout Association and representatives of other fisheries associations.

Comments Paul Knight, Director of the Salmon & Trout Association, ‘There will always be those defending cormorants’ right to take fish unhindered. Our position is that there must be a managed balance between prey and predator. We have vigorously lobbied for increased flexibility for fisheries to be able to protect vulnerable stocks of fish from cormorants. We are delighted with the Minister’s proactive stance.’

The Moran Committee Joint Bird Group, of which the Salmon & Trout Association is a leading member, has produced an information leaflet and booklet, ‘Protecting your Fishery from Cormorants’. This is viewable on www.cormorants.info or obtainable from the Salmon & Trout Association at 0202 7283 5838.

Alternative Press release from The Salmon Farm Protest Group
SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS ‘ AND CONTROVERSY

Fish farms are alleged to be an outstanding success story. At a point in the 70s they were placed on the protected species list and now there is a population of over 300 such farms in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Their food is primarily tax-payer cash, and any other money they can pick up along the way from local authorities. Fish farmers often congregate at the Scottish parliament to lobby MSP’s and may also be seen chatting up Scottish Executive civil servants.

Such is the concern over the damage fish farms cause to wild salmon and sea-trout that thousands of people have called upon the Scottish Executive to move these farms out of the routes of migratory fish. Whole runs of wild fish are destroyed by fish farm sea lice.

Comments Bruce Sandison, Chairman of the Salmon Farm Protest Group, ‘There will always be those defending the indefensible - the fish farmers ‘God-given’ right to use our coastal waters as a public toilet and to kill wild fish. I urge the Executive to review the system granting licenses so that a few of them can be ‘shot’ to ‘encourage’ the rest.’