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News From Around the Fish Farms, March 2005

The dirt below the waves

(By kind permission of Dr Keith Hiscock)

The truth about death and dirt below Marine Harvest’s fish farm in Loch Hourn - the farm featured in recent Sainsburys/Jamie Oliver ads and supposed to be a model of environmental excellence.

As the pictures on the front page of this month’s Monitor clearly show, fish farms are creating havoc in the once-pristine waters of the West Highlands and Islands. The images accompanying the pictures support this contention; Dr Keith Hiscock’s map, 'Recorded and expected CMU.Beg distribution for Britain and Ireland' and the map of the before/after incidence of toxic algal blooms both indicate to me that Beggiatoa mat and toxic algal blooms are most prevalent in areas where there are fish farms.

The presence of Beggiatoa may be a result of natural conditions of poor water exchange in some sea lochs or artificially under farm cages from nutrient enrichment, both of which conditions apply to Loch Hourn (see also this months guest column) which has a poor water exchange with the open sea, and has fish farm cages. Scavenging species are typically present where the habitat is not too anoxic but in extreme conditions of anoxia little survives other than the Beggioata.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) would have us believe that where Beggiatoa is present, then its presence is confined to the area which they describe as being within the Allowable Zone of Effects, which they themselves define. But this is not what was found by our Loch Huron divers. The truth of the matter is that Sepa really haven’t a clue about exactly how widespread Beggiatoa has become in the west of Scotland; much of the information used by Sepa to ‘predict’ and model’ is based upon data provided by the fish farmers themselves. So that’s all right, isn’t it?

Further information available from

Firm fined £10,000 after diesel oil spill in Scottish sea loch

Fish firm giants Pan Fish Ltd were fined a whopping £10,000 in Dingwall Sheriff Court yesterday (Thursday) for discharging diesel oil into Loch Torridon.

Procurator fiscal Sharren Smith explained that fish farm workers at Aird, Ardheslaig, Sheildaig in Wester Ross, had left an engine compressor going overnight unattended. During the night a hose became disconnected and discharged diesel oil into the surrounding water. Although there was a drip tray for the compressor, there was nothing to catch leakage from the hose.

When staff arrived the next morning they discovered the leak but, she said, “It was four hours before they actually reported the matter or did anything about the oil which had dispersed.”

Representing Pan Fish Scotland Ltd, Miss McSween explained that the compressor had been on hire from a third party and under the agreement all maintenance and repairs had to be carried out by them. When workers arrived at the site they summoned the company who owned the machine and, when the offices of environmental clean-up firm KN Services were opened at 9am they were also called to apply dispersal chemical.

Unfortunately the firm, based in Perthshire, was unable to get to the site in time to apply the chemical that day and when it was applied the following morning, much of the oil had drifted away.

The environmental protection agency SEPA was also contacted by Pan Fish, said Miss MacSween, and their officers arrived at the same time as a repair engineer. She added that 100 litres of oil was considered the maximum that could have escaped and it was thought the figure was more likely 50-70 litres.

Pan Fish pled guilty, at the earliest opportunity, to the offence of allowing poisonous or noxious material, namely diesel oil to leak into Loch Torridon. Miss MacSween pointed out that they should be given some credit for reporting the matter as others may have tried to cover up such an incident. Ross-Shire Journal, 18th February 2005

Marine Harvest in court - again - this time over alleged pollution of River Lochy

Scotland’s biggest fish processor is to stand trial at Fort William charged with polluting a Lochaber river. Marine Harvest has denied causing or permitting fish remains, blood, congealed fat deposits, scum and grease to enter the River Lochy via a surface drain on March 9 last year. Sheriff Kenneth Stewart adjourned the case until a preliminary hearing on April 7 with a trial scheduled to take place on April 22. Aberdeen Press & Journal, February 2005

How Sainsbury’s responds to customer concern – letters from America

Sent: 23.02.2005 05:50:03 PM
Subject: Seafood Safe

You may not know about this initiative:">

It is American, not from the UK, I know, but there are those amongst us who would prefer to choose fish known to be free of (or even less contaminated by) toxic substance like mercury and PCB's. It seems to be a lot to do with where you source your fish from. Anything which has 'Scottish' on the label is, I reckon, likely to be well contaminated, whereas North Pacific Wild Pink Salmon may not be so bad, as it's a quicker-growing species. Any plans to introduce such a 'brand'?

Tony Macer

Sent: Saturday, February 26, 2005 9:49 AM
Subject: RE: Seafood Safe

Thank you for your e-mail.

I can appreciate your concern about toxins in farmed salmon, and I’d like to assure you that all Sainsbury’s fresh salmon is produced by approved suppliers in clean waters in Northern Scotland and Norway, and is farmed to industry guidelines and company assurance schemes. Suppliers are regularly audited by trained technologists to ensure compliance.

In addition, Sainsbury’s offer the following wild salmon:

Fresh canned salmon (produced from wild fish from Canada and Alaska)
Sainsbury’s frozen wild salmon (from Alaska)
Fresh Wild Pacific Salmon with Lime and Coriander

While reports in the media have led to understandable consumer concern, we are confident that the salmon we sell is safe. We therefore continue to work to Government guidelines and endorse their recommendation that people should eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily for health benefits.

I hope this information is helpful.

Kind regards,

Marie Dearden
Sainsbury's Customer Services

Sent: 26.02.2005 10:01:48 AM
Subject: Re: Seafood Safe

In return, many thanks for your response. The issue here, of course, is whether you accept the assurance that the sea is clean or not, and I would prefer to believe the assurances given by independent assessors to those employed by the fish farmers or their organisations. It is noticeable how the industry's guidelines continue to be improved, too.

What a pity that SEPA cannot produce evidence that everything is 'squeaky-clean', but they are also a politically-controlled organisation, so maybe that their independence could be questioned.

All a bit depressing, I know, and meanwhile I'll continue to leave anything that says 'farmed' on the label on the slab, preferring to believe the words 'wild' as being more likely to give me relatively unpolluted, healthy fish. Maybe they won't be quite exterminated by the zeal of the farming enterprises in my lifetime.

Tony Macer

Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2005 10:31 AM
Subject: RE: Re: Seafood Safe

Dear Mr Macer,

Thank you for your further e-mail. Your comments have been duly noted.

Kind regards,
Christine Lockwood
Sainsbury's Customer Services

Orkney birds drown in fish farm nets

It’s not only in Shetland that eider duck that drown when they become entangled in fish farm nets. Now, a report from Chris Booth, writing in the ‘Orcadian’ says that Orkney eiders and other species, including heron, are being destroyed as well.

“The breeding heron population in Britain has been the subject of regular surveys for many years and the decline in Orkney [of heron] does not seem to be reflected elsewhere. A local problem could be the most likely explanation and it cannot be a coincidence that the decline has occurred since the establishment of salmon farms in Scapa Flow, especially along the west side.

A recent environmental impact assessment of a salmon farm in Scapa Flow states that, between August 2002 and January 2003, a total of 12 herons had been found entangled in netting on the cages.

If this could happen at one salmon farm site it can only be imagined what the real total could be for the whole of Scapa Flow during one year, and must surely be a contributing factor to the decline of the breeding population.

As well as herons, many other seabirds were entangled, including 30 shags, two eiders, ten guillemots, eight common gulls, ten great black-backed gulls, two gannets and two cormorants.”

No doubt, as in Shetland (see January edition), the police in Orkney will simply turn a blind eye and it will be business as usual for the fish farmers.

Alexandra Morton wins 2005 Haig-Brown Conservation Award From Lynn Hunter

Alexandra Morton, best known for her work on sea lice in the Broughton Archipelago, has won the 2005 Haig- Brown Conservation Award. Morton, who lives in Echo Bay in the archipelago, won the award for being the first to publicise a growing sea lice epidemic and its potential impact on juvenile wild salmon in the area.

Herr work point to larger numbers of parasites near salmon farms and has been published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

In bestowing the award the judges also noted Morton’s “bravery in enduring numerous personal and professional attacks prompted by her decision to alert the public to the dangers of open net-cage salmon farming” (Read Alexandra’s SFPG Guest Column in guest column archive – June 2003)

Sham consultation on move to bigger fish farms

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has been ‘busy’ consulting with the usual suspects over how to adjust current rules and regulations to allow for much bigger fish farms. And, of course, in doing so, to ensure that any resulting environmental damage will be kept to the minimum acceptable under the terms of Sepa discharge consents; also being adjusted accordingly in the light of the most up-to-date scientific information and advanced state-of –the art modelling techniques, by, of course, Sepa.

Exactly how they hope to achieve this, given that they only have the vaguest idea of present environmental damage caused by fish farms, is not entirely clear. But I am sure that the valiant boys and girls at Sepa will come up with a convincing answer; at least an answer that will convince them even if it fails to convince anybody else other than the Scottish civil servants who probably set them to work on the task. My view on this matter is as follows: let’s cut out the pretence and simply rename the organisation Sfpa – the Scottish Fish Farmers Protection Agency – for that is exactly what it seems to have become to me.

Of course, this supposed consultation is all largely spurious nonsense. In the first place, the decision has already been taken to allow bigger fish farms; as is evidenced by the construction of the largest fish farm service vessel ever built anywhere in the world, due to begin service in, yes, you guessed, Scottish waters later this year; overall length, 187ft 2.5”, currently being fitted out and completed in Norway. Did the owners just take a wild stab at whether or not they needed a vessel of this size in Scotland, or were they pretty certain that they would?

Also, smaller fish farms are already being closed, like the one in Loch Eil that is managed by First Minister Jack McConnell’s brother and that featured in the famous fish farm escape that never was; if you believe what the owners Marine Harvest and Scottish Executive inspectors said at the time. Several, knowledgeable, eye-witness accounts offer a very different story. They claimed that they saw thousands of escaped fish in the vicinity of the farm.

Then there is the Marine Harvest site on Loch Ewe, recently moved out to Isle Ewe; according to Dr Grame Dear, nothing to do with concerns over the polluted state of the site, but all part of a long-term plan agreed previously with the local community liaison committee to “protect employment” – mostly their own given that the committee was set up by Marine Harvest and many of the members are associated with the fish farms. Repeated SFPG requests to actually speak one of the members of this committee have been denied.

There is little doubt that to try to survive, Scotland’s foreign-owned fish farms will have to radically restructure, the ‘polite’ name for shedding hundreds of jobs. Neither has it anything to do with trying to limit seabed or environmental damage. The fish farmers, breathing a huge sigh of relief, will simply quit one severely polluted small site, to begin to pollute a much larger, at present pristine site. Supermarket shoppers might care to think on this before they buy farmed salmon. The fish-farm-hugging lovers at Scottish Executive certainly will not.

And finally….. this from letters pages of Private Eye: No 1127


There is a lot of guff printed in your organ about fish farming, mutations and other such nonsense. My dear wife and I had a leg of Scottish salmon last week and it was delicious.

James Follett