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News From Around the Fish Farms, January 2006

All clear for £650,000 loan to Shetland fish farmer

Audit Scotland has responded to concerns raised by the SFPG about the award of a loan by Shetland Enterprise to North Atlantic Sea Farms Ltd; a company managed by Dr Alistair Goodlad, a former member of Shetland Enterprise and brother of Shetland Island Council chief executive officer Morgan Goodlad. Dr Goodlad has been closely involved with three Shetland salmon farm organisations that have failed during the past three years.

Performance Audit Manager, Nick Hex, said: “The loan to North Atlantic Sea Farms Ltd was made at the EC reference interest rate for 2005 of 9.81% for unsecured loans and that summary projections for the business for three years were included in the project appraisal. The auditor has concluded that HIE took appropriate steps in arriving at its decision to provide assistance to North Atlantic Sea Farms Ltd”.

Shetland Island councillors cleared of cover up

Good news for council convener Sandy Cluness and his colleague councillor Leslie Angus. Messrs Cluness and Angus had been accused by a former Shetland Island Council employee, Michael Peterson, of misleading councillors and the public by covering up the involvement of council chief executive Morgan Goodlad in arranging financial support for SSG Seafoods; a fish farm business that failed in 2003 with the loss of £8 million pounds to Shetland funds just nine months after it received a council-backed £3.5 million guarantee to buy salmon feed in spite of its ‘perilous trading position’.

As reported in The Shetland News, “Concerns particularly surrounded the involvement of SIC chief executive Morgan Goodlad in decisions by the Shetland Development Trust (STD) to invest in SSG Seafoods, whose chairman was his brother and former councillor Dr Alistair Goodlad. In May 2004 both Mr Cluness and Mr Angus made public denials that Mr Goodlad had played a role in the SDT/SSG investments.

Mr Peterson based his allegations primarily on email correspondence between Morgan Goodlad and a development trust official which was copied to both councillors. In the emails he discussed a £1 million pound investment in SSG Sea Foods to allow it to purchase local firm Dury Salmon. At the time, Mr Goodlad was chief executive of both the development trust and the council.”

Stuart Allan, chief investigating officer for Ethical Standards in Public Life said, “I have completed my investigation and decided that the respondents have not contravened the Code in terms of this complaint and I have found accordingly. In view of this, no further action will be taken on the complaint. I have informed the Standards Commission for Scotland, the respondents and the Council accordingly”.

Because the proposals for the purchase of Dury Salmon took place 14 months before the Code of Conduct was in place, Mr Allan decided that this was outwith his jurisdiction. However, he commented in his report that Councillor Cluness denial of Morgan Goodlad’s involvement in SSG “does not sit easily in the face of the reality of Mr Morgan Goodlad’s advisory role.”

Balancing the books in Shetland

External auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers have castigated Shetland Islands Council for regularly drawing money (£20 million at the last count) from their oil reserve fund, much of which has been used to prop up ailing salmon farm companies, to balance their budget.

During 2004/05 £4.1 million was taken from the fund and a further £7.8 million is projected to be needed during 2006. However, Council convener Sandy Cluness defended the council’s actions and added that the people of Shetland were receiving the best service in the whole of Scotland due to the fact that the council was able to use these extra funds.

Bottom of the class for Shetland Island Council

The Accounts Commission for Scotland have been assessing the way in which local authorities fund bodies that provide a range of services in the community. All 32 of Scotland’s councils have been examined in this exercise and Shetland has come second from the bottom, getting ‘low performance’ marks for monitoring and accountability principles in the ‘follow the public pound’ code.

Commenting on the result to The Shetland News, council chief executive Morgan Goodlad said that he was not surprised by the findings of the spending watchdog. Mr Goodlad explained that the authority was in the middle of re-structuring its relationship with external bodies, such as the charitable trust, and that Shetland’s performance in ‘following the public pound’ would improve over time.

Conflict of interests in Wester Ross?

Wester Ross Fisheries Trust (WRFT) hosted a seminar in December on the status of wild salmon and sea-trout stocks in their part of the Scottish West Highlands. Apparently, experts attending the meeting confirmed that wild salmonid numbers in the area were increasing, thanks to co-operation between wild fisheries interest and fish farmers.

WRFT Chairman, Richard Munday said: “There are clear signs that all the hard work put into the freshwater environment over the post few years is beginning to show dividends. I am increasingly optimistic that our rivers can be restored to their former glory.”

What is less clear is if trustees or board members receive any remuneration from fish farm companies. If this were to be the case, then the nature of the co-operation between wild fisheries interests and the fish farmers could perhaps be open to a different interpretation.

SFP chairman Bruce Sandison wrote to the WRFT on 12th October seeking clarification of this matter and on December 1st received the following reply:

“Conflicts of interest will always be an issue in fisheries management on the West Coast because of the relatively small number of people involved and the range of their responsibilities.

However, the Trust benefits from having as trustees people who are actively involved as riparian owners, angling club members or fish farmers and are known to one another. Where there is a conflict of interest in relation to a particular proposal, the individual concerned, in accordance with the Trust’s Deed of Trust, is expected to declare that interest and not to take part in the discussion.

For example, at the last Trustees’ meeting Johnie Parry declared an interest in relation to rates of remuneration for contracted out work and did not take part in the discussion or decision making process for that item.”

But do any WRFT trustees or board members receive any remuneration from fish farm companies?

More jobs go in Easter Ross

Riverside Salmon in Alness closed it doors in November with the loss of 30 jobs only three years after moving to bigger premises that were part-paid by £234,000 of public money from Easter Ross and Cromarty Enterprise.

The company was involved in gutting and filleting farm salmon. A spokesman for administrators Tenon Recovery said, “Sometimes the problems experienced by the industry take a long time to work out and independent companies find it harder to survive than other companies which are part of the multinationals.”

Although it is of little comfort to those who have lost their jobs, area unemployment levels will not be much affected – 28 of the redundant employees were immigrant workers from Eastern Europe. Such is the attraction of the industry that few local people want to work in it.

Marine and Coastal National parks – no thank you!

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is currently consulting about the possibility of the designation of an area in the West Highlands and Islands as a marine national park. Scottish Minister want to create a new coastal and marine national park by 2008 and SNH has been charged with drawing up a policy framework for the park.

However, the proposal has been greeted with horror by Western Isles Council and shellfish fishermen and fish farmers who are organising themselves to oppose the move. Douglas Wilson of Inverlussa Shellfish said: “It is really important that aquaculture and commercial fishing interest stand together on this issue, as no one else cares about our industries.”

Bob Lawson, a creel fisherman from Fionnphort on Mull, commented, “It seems to me that if we don’t stand up and make our case the fishermen will just be walked over by these people who have nothing to loose by imposing more bureaucracy on us.”

Barra councillor Donald Manford said that the islands needed a marine park designation like it needed a hole in the head: “I can only see this doing damage. SNH Would make every effort to curtail all industry and activity so the area could not be developed.”

Toxic algal blooms and fish farm filth in Loch Lochy

Kames Fish Farming Ltd has been fined £8,000 for causing pollution in Loch Lochy in the Great Glen near Fort William. The case, reported to the Procurator Fiscal by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), charged that Kames “did cause or knowingly permit a trade effluent namely effluent containing uneaten fish food and fish faeces from said fish farm cages to be discharged into controlled waters.”

Last year Loch Lochy joined the growing number of Scottish freshwater lochs that have suffered from toxic algal blooms. Notices were posted along the shore warning members of the public not to swim in the loch or allow their animals to do so. The SFPG has long argued, to no avail, that these hitherto largely unknown incidents, in both freshwater and sea lochs, are exacerbated by untreated waste from fish farms.

The latest loch to join this list was Loch Lacasdail on the Island of Lewis on the road to Scalpay in the Outer Hebrides. In December notices were posted at the loch warning people that “swallowing the water or aglal scum can cause stomach upsets or more serious health effects and people should keep away from the water and keep animals away.

Quaintly, both SEPA and the Scottish Executive invariably refer to these incidents as being ‘naturally occurring’, claiming that they are unrelated to the approximately 11,000 tonnes of untreated ammonia fish farmers dump into West Highland and Islands waters every year.