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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
"That which you have wasted will not be there for future generations"

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News From Around the Fish Farms, March 2004

First-ever UK land-based fish farm planned

A land-based fish farm is proposed on 2.3 hectare site at Henfaes Farm, Abergwyngregyn, Gwynedd. The site is at the end of a field on the immediate west bank of the River Aber and immediately adjacent to the coast at OS Grid SH650733.

The outlet pipe from the farm to the sea will be going through Traeth Lafan sands which has several designations on account of its intertidal interest and the waders and wildfowl it supports; also beds of nationally rare Zostera noltii dwarf eelgrass. Traeth Lafan is a designated SSSI, as SPA and is also within the Y Fenai a Bae conwy/Menai Strait and Conwys SCA. It is additionally a Local Nature Reserve.

The company making the planning application is the Sustainable Fish Farming Company, Mr Jeremy Lee, Bryn Rhedyn North. Sychnant Pass Road, Conwy LL32 8QL.

The company’s Environment Statement says:

“The fish farm will be unique in also producing the polychaete worm Arenicola marina, the lugworm, which has been shown to thrive in the kind of nutrient rich material present in the farm’s effluent…. The lugworm reared on fish effluent will be harvested and sold as sea angling bait. In the future the project also intends to utilise lugworms in a second role as a means of producing a replacement for fish meal which at present is derived from unsustainable natural marine resources.”

The company does not identify the species of fish that it intends to farm, but proposes a biomass production of 300 tonnes. For further details, contact Mr John Wyn Jones, The Planning Officer, Gwynedd County Council, Swyddfa’r Cyngor, Caernarfon LL55 1SH. Tel: 01286 67255; email: cynllunio/PlanningArfon@gwynedd.gov.uk

Scottish Yachtsmen claim fish farm moorings are a hazard to navigation

John Christlieb, owner of Melfort Pier and Harbour Club in Argyll is questioning the legality of Crown Estate grants and licensees to fish farmers for the laying of mooring lines. Mr Christlieb has 45 years sailing experience including seven Atlantic crossings and he says, “Over the entire period I have never seen the likes of what is happening to the pristine, beautiful, coastal waters of Scotland.”

Argyll & Bute Council, one of Scotland’s five fish farming councils, all of whom meet regularly to discuss support for the continuing development of aquaculture, has responded by noting that the council is “merely” a consultee on fish farm applications. However, because of the proposed transfer of planning powers from the Crown Estate to local authorities, Argyll Council could, if they wished, support Mr Christlieb’s action: the Crown Estate will implement local authority recommendations when determining new planning applications.

Many previous applications granted for the laying of moorings were illegal; a fact discovered by SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison a few years ago during a conversation The applications to lay them should have been advertised in the press but, instead, according to SE official, Sam Mourini, they were just ‘nodded’ through. Since this was disclosed the fish farmers, the Crown Estate and the Scottish Executive have been rushing through retrospective approvals based upon spurious press adverts for permission to lay moorings that have been place for up to twenty years.

Crown Estate announces funding for aquaculture and sea lice research

Happy days for the fish farmers and university researchers: the Crown Estate is giving a £600,000 boost to the industry, including £52,000 to be specifically applied to devising a means of controlling sea lice. The research is to be carried out by Professor Jennifer Mordue Lunta and Robert Bailey of Aberdeen University who are already studying a method of trapping sea lice to prevent them reaching and killing caged farm salmon.

Prof Mordue said, “We have been doing a significant amount of research to identify the components of the host (salmon) odour that attract sea louse in its infectious copepodid stage in order to identify a similarly attractive, or even more attractive, odour cue to use in traps for the copepodid. The funding provided by The Crown Estate has been essential to progress this research and we are delighted by the results so far.”

Exactly why the industry itself is not funding this research remains unclear. The costs involved in treating sea lice infestations with chemotherapeutants, or, as the industry quaintly calls them “medicines”, is enormous and these chemicals damage the surrounding marine environment. And given that the Scottish Executive (Paul Shave, fish health expert) and to the fish farmers (Marine Harvest) there are no sea lice on Scottish fish farms. If so, then why spend £52,000 on pointless research?

Whatever the truth is, and as in everything else concerned with this secretive, dubious business, it will be almost impossible to find out. Meanwhile the Salmon Farm Protest Group offers free of charge, a simple and effective means for resolving the sea lice problem as Ian Pritchard of the Crown Estate says, “for the benefit of both Scottish salmon farmers and the wider marine environment,” - get the cages out of the water.

Convicted criminals to be trained in fish filleting

The UK Government, acting on behalf of Scottish factory salmon farmers, has complained to the European Union over cheap salmon imports from Norway and Chile flooding their domestic market. The industry says that this is further depressing already rock-bottom prices and endangering thousands of Scottish jobs; the salmon farmers are still in a state of shock after the USA journal ‘Science’ published a report that said that Scottish farm salmon was amongst the most contaminated in the world and should be eaten only three times a year. Therefore, industry leaders and their political chums want to see immediate action to protect Scottish fish farmers from their competitors.

Chile, with its 3,000 mile coastline, has expanded production hugely in recent years, particularly in the Tenth Region, some 800 miles south from the capital Santiago; Chile is now set to overtake Norway as the world’s largest producer of factory salmon. Production costs in Chile are much less than in Scotland. The average wage of a Scottish fish farm worker, according to the industry’s own figures, is in the order of £300 per week. In Chile the average wage of workers (mainly female) is approximately £190 per month.

But Scotland and Chile share at least one common problem: difficulty in attracting and keeping staff, particularly in the fish processing sector. In Scotland, it is alleged that the industry would collapse were in not for access to cheap immigrant labour from Europe, the Middle East and Iberia. But following the tragic drowning of 20 immigrant workers at Morecambe Bay, their pay and conditions is being examined. West Renfrewshire MP Jim Sheridan has introduced a bill to license the gangmasters who exploit immigrants. He alleges that he has found immigrants in Scottish fish processing plants forced to work daily shifts of 12 hours, seven days a week, for less than £1 per day.

Chilean fish farmers have, in recent years, persuade their government to allow them to use/persuade convicted criminals to work in the industry. Now, it seems, a similar course is to be followed in UK. Aberdeen is a busy fish processing centre and, like fish processors elsewhere, they find it hard to get the staff they need to keep in business. Consequently, at the end of February it was announced that “carefully selected” inmates at city’s Craiginches Prison are being offered a fish filleting course that could, officials say, earn them up to £400 per week on their release.

According to the local paper, the Aberdeen Press & Journal, the chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, Mike Park is delighted, because of the shortage of people going into the trade. He said: I have not really heard of anything like this before but without a shadow of doubt it’s a good thing.” Perhaps he should have a chat with his Chilean counterparts?

Cheap imports and massive over-production destroying Scottish fish farming

As UK Government officials try to persuade the EU to ban imports from Chile and Norway (see above) what is the industry in Scotland doing to put its own house in order? The short answer is not very much. Indeed, several companies in Orkney and Shetland have applied to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for discharge consents to allow them to increase production.

With fish farming in melt-down mode in the Northern Isles and companies going bankrupt and shedding jobs like snow off a summer dyke, it is difficult to follow the reasoning behind such action. Perhaps they know something the rest of the world’s fish farmers don’t?

In Shetland, Hoove Salmon Limited has asked for permission for a new fish farm at Oxna, whilst Norwegian-owned Mainstream (Scotland) Limited seek consent to discharge trade effluent from existing installations to facilitate increased production of salmon at their Orkney site at Chalmers Hope in Scapa Flow, and at their Bay of Vady site in Rousay. Orkney production has increased year on year since 1994 (2,108 tonnes) to an estimated tonnage of 10,335 for 2003.

In the mad world of fish farming, Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has been seeking help in the Netherlands to oppose the request from the UK government for an import ban on salmon from non-EU countries. Speaking to his Dutch counterpart, Jan Peter Balkenedde, he described the proposal as being “in contradiction to the whole idea of the common market.”

Meanwhile, a delegation of senior executives from Norwegian fish farming companies with interests in Shetland has visited Lerwick to express concern. They think that because they are foreigners that they might be “discriminated” against in any rescue package the Shetland Island Council might put together to help the industry out of its present little difficulties.

With about 75% of all fish farming business in the islands being controlled by Dutch or Norwegian interests, and the rest mostly contracting services to them, it is hard to image how the council, the richest local authority in UK, could possibly ignore them?

But it is ironic that the Norway and Dutch companies who own just about the whole of the Scottish salmon farm industry should be attacking themselves; whilst Scottish MEP’s like Straun Stevenson and MSP’s George Lyon, Jamie McGrigor et al continue labour under the misapprehension that there is any such thing as ‘Scottish’ fish farming.

One thing, however, is certain, Adam Smith (1723-1790), the Kirkcaldy born founding-father of modern economic thought and disciple of the discipline of Free Trade, must be birrling in his grave.

Laird blames Wester Ross salmon farms for the destruction of wild fish

John MacKenzie, owner of the 60,000 Gairloch and Conon Estate in Wester Ross blames the impact of salmon farms for the dramatic decline in wild salmon and sea-trout in the area. Welcoming the formation of a new district fishery board that will cover 10 rivers from Ullapool to Strathconnon, Mr MacKenzie said:

“Catches are desperately down and [as a riparian owner] we have a difficult job to present our case, particularly in the face of fish farming which we believe has had a detrimental effect. There are two main problems – sea lice, which have done a great deal of damage, and the apparent inability of fish farmers to build cages that keep their fish in.”

Mr MacKenzie said that huge numbers of [farm] fish had escaped, causing considerable concern over the genetic integrity of wild stocks. He complained that the initial concept of fish farming had been subverted by commercial interests: “Fish farming was supposed to be an almost cottage industry with small groups of crofters and others having a cage here and there. It’s now and industry with an awful lot of feeding done mechanically. There aren’t the numbers of people employed there,” he said.

Not unsurprisingly, fish farmer and fellow riparian owner John Pattinson disagrees, claiming that there is no evidence that fish farms have in any way been responsible for the decline of wild salmonids in Wester Ross. His neighbour, John MacPherson of Strathcarron, who may have or may have had an interest in fish farming, has asked to be excluded from the new fishery board saying: “What we need want is co-operation not confrontation,” and, strangely, “We believe the solution to the restocking of fish is to find solutions, rather than arguing over who is to blame.”

Why is it that when the going gets tough, and there is a chance of finding the truth, those most likely to be implicated in any disaster always trot out the same mantra about moving forward, looking ahead, not looking back, seeking solutions, not conflict, working together, co-operation? But if we don’t establish what went wrong and why, and who was responsible, then surely we will simply repeat the same mistakes in the future.

If you don’t believe me, then when the present unseemly, un-regulated rush into cod farming eventually evolves in to the same nightmare that salmon farming has, remember, you read it here first.

PS. Could the John MacKenzie mentioned above be by any chance related to the John MacKenzie currently involved in promoting a Hydro-electric project in the Fisherfield Forest, one of Scotland’s most outstanding scenic areas, that will see a series of classic wild brown trout lochs terminally damaged?

History about to repeat itself?

The February edition of The Salmon Farm Monitor (SFPG) welcomed The Crown Estate’s historic decision to turn down an application for a new fish farm site in Skye on the basis that it would have an inappropriate impact on the scenic beauty of the proposed location. As was revealed the SFPG, however, it seems that the refusal was prompted by a recommendation to that effect by The Highland Council, rather than by The Crown Estate itself.

Apparently, the council was less than impressed by one particular section of the Environmental Statement submitted by the applicant. I now have a copy of this contentious item which related to the alleged employment and socio-economic benefits the farm would bring:

Employment and socio-economic benefits

Rona Salmon envisage three staff on duty at all times with rota cover and additional staff for net changing, harvesting and grading etc. They estimate eight full time equivalent jobs at an average salary of £20,000. There will also be spin-off benefit to suppliers etc. and the farm will create a demand for processing thus securing or increasing on-shore processing employment. In addition, the presence of the farm benefits the island owner and her employees/guests as farm staff provide reassurance, transport opportunities and emergency assistance.

And who was the author of this, in my honest opinion, complete and utter rubbish? Step forward Dr Kenneth Black, a marine scientist from a government-funded fishery laboratory and former ‘independent advisor’ the Scottish parliament’s recent rolling inquiry into fish farming. And who appointed Dr Black to that post? Yup, you guessed, the Scotttish Executive.

It now transpires that The Highland Council has taken a similar line in connection with an application for a fish farm at Annat Bay near Ullapool in Wester Ross (see last item re John MacKenzie). The application has attracted 350 objections and Highland Council officials have recommended that the council should ask The Crown Estate to oppose the plan. The basis for the recommendation is:

“The proposed development is likely to have a significant visual impact on a part of the Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area that is highly valued by residents of the Ullapool area. I addition, it is felt that the development may have adverse impacts on the wild salmon population in rivers nearby.” I haven’t seen the environmental impact statement submitted by the applicants, nor do I know who wrote it, but watch this space.

Back-slapping all round

Salmon farmers and their supporters are currently indulging in a positive orgy of self-congratulation. A report published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has found little or no evidence of the presence of fish farm chemicals on the sea bed below fish farm cages.

The Sepa study involved analysis of 142 samples from sites near 44 Scottish fish farms during 2001 and a further 30 in 2002. The study showed that “89% of the deposits contained no evidence of sea lice chemicals, while the rest contained chemical deposits deemed to be “below Seap’s safe environmental standards” and which created “no significant risk if environmental harm.”

This was widely and variously reported as being proof that the industry was “cleaning up its act”, giving the industry a “clean bill of health” and a “glowing report.”

Of course, it is nothing of the sort, given the fact that the fat and oil content of the food fed to farm salmon is such that their faeces is almost liquid. As such, and understandably, it is washed away by the current. Consequently, it would be most surprising to find much left on the sea bed.

As far as Seap’s comment that what is there is “below Seap’s safe environmental standards”, could this be the same Sepa who licensed the use of the toxic chemical Dichlorvos during the 1990’s to treat sea lice infestations on farm salmon, claiming that it was perfectly safe and no danger to the environment, only to have to withdraw it when evidence proved it to be exactly the opposite?