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News From Around the Fish Farms, June 2003

Fish Farming's Spurious Jobs

Salmon Farm Protest Group concern about the spurious nature of the jobs fish farming allegedly supports was vindicated in May by the department of work and pensions and by the police. In a well-planned raid (Operation Shark) on fish processing plants the department and police discovered that more than half of those employed were foreign, and that a third of those were in the country illegally.

'Scottish Quality Salmon', the industries representative body, insist that their members support 'vital jobs in rural communities'. The jobs are so 'vital' that few local people want anything to do with them, so the fish farmers have to resort to agencies specialising in immigrant workers. Still, its an ill wind - the police also found that some immigrants were working "twelve hour or double eight hour shifts, seven days a week" and were being paid less than the minimum wage for the privilege of doing so.

According to Scottish Executive figures, direct employment in sea-cage fish farming amounts to 1,500 jobs. Therefore, given that the fish farmers say they support 6,500 jobs, this suggests that down-stream employment totals 5,000 jobs, 2,500 of which it now appears are held by immigrants. In recent years immigrant workers have been detained at plants operated by Farne Salmon Ltd in Duns, Berwickshire, Pinney's at Annan in Dumfriesshire, Strathaird Salmon in Inverness, The Edinburgh Smoked Salmon Company in Dingwall, and at Marine Harvest's processing plant in Fort William.

A call to Scottish Quality Salmon, asking if any of their members employed immigrant workers and, if so, what rates of pay these workers were offered remained unanswered.

Labelling Row

Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS) were rather less reticent in responding to the introduction of new labelling laws that require supermarkets to clearly state on the salmon products they sell whether or not they are wild or farmed, and the exact country of origin. SQS chief executive Brian Simpson, reported in a northern paper, said, "Scottish farmed salmon is the best in the world, and our members follow the industry's most stringent codes of practice for fish welfare and environmental care.

"It would be a kick in the teeth for Scottish Quality Salmon farmers who have invested hugely in quality over many years if other countries were to gain extra sales because of confused labelling regarding country of origin. Consumers purchasing Scottish Quality Salmon rightly expect exceptional quality and it is essential that farmers and retailers work together to ensure that clear labelling identifies Scottish farmed salmon."

It seems unlikely that such a problem will arise, given that Norwegian, Chilean, Canadian and Faeroese salmon farmers all claim the same, that Norwegian/Chilean/Canadian/Faeroese farm salmon is the best in the world and should not be confused with the stuff that comes from Scotland.

More Labelling Rows

Mr Simpson's vigilance (see above) apparently knows no bounds. In the same week that he was berating the new labelling laws, a USA law suit was launched to make fish farmers tell consumers about the artificial colouring they use to make the flesh of their fish red, rather than its natural colour, muddy grey. The SQS CEO complained,

"We suspect that this lawsuit has been brought in a further attempt to discredit the industry. It is no secret that anthaxanthin and canthaxanthin are included in salmon feed. It is regulated and there is no requirement in this country to label the salmon. It would be like requiring beef to be labelled with everything the animal has eaten. The argument is about whether this is an additive to the food or an additive to the fish itself. These colourings are anti-oxidants and are part of what keeps farmed fish healthy."

If the use of these toxic colourants is not declared on the label of farm salmon products, then how can Brian Simpson claim, at least as far as the consumer is concerned that it is "no secret" that they are used? And if the use of these substances is "part of what keeps farmed fish healthy", why not share this good news with the consumer? Perhaps we should be told?

Maree's Demise

Loch Maree was once the most famous sea trout fishery in Europe, up until the advent of fish farming. Since the late 1980's catch numbers in the loch have fallen from approximately 2,000 fish each season to less than 50. Consequently, anglers have deserted the loch in search of better fishing elsewhere. The Loch Maree Hotel used to employ nine full-time gillies. Now, it can barely support one part-timer. Many other jobs have been lost in fishing tourism throughout the West Highlands and Islands because of the decline in sea trout numbers, killed by fish farm disease and pollution.

However, the hotel has found a new use for the fleet of clinker-built boats which anglers so enjoyed using. Mark Vincent, the hotel owner, has converted two 16ft boats for use as pleasure craft for trips round the islands in the loch, particularly to view wildlife. Scottish Natural Heritage, the government body that failed so spectacularly to protect the loch's wild sea trout, has given the scheme its blessing, as has local laird, John MacKenzie.

Both Mr MacKenzie and SNH had reservations about unrestricted access to the loch, because of the importance of Loch Maree as a black-throated diver nesting site. These concerns seem to have been overcome in the interests of attracting visitors. Which is, of course, exactly what Loch Maree sea trout were famous for doing before being ruined by fish farming.

Meanwhile, readers who are ornithologists might be surprised to hear that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) does not appear to have raised any objection to boat-loads of tourists targeting the nesting sites of rare black-throated divers. This is strange, because any time I have mentioned the species in my writings, let alone given the location of the loch they inhabit, I have had my fingers rapped by the RSPB for doing so.

In their publication 'Black-throated diver news for 2002', the RSPB comment on threats to these birds: "The most frequent cause of nest failure is flooding, predation and disturbance." However, they say that "The effect of.. fish farms [on black-throated divers] remain unclear." What I would like the RSPB to make clear is whether or not this policy statement reflects the view of the RSPB's Scottish chairman, Lord Jamie Lindsay, who also happens to be chairman of Scottish Quality Salmon?