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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, May 2005

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Hundreds of fish farm jobs have been lost during the past four years but the Scottish Executive (SE) still insists that this dirty business provides 2000 direct jobs and supports a further “4000 to 5000 jobs” with 75% of these jobs being in the Highlands and Islands (see SE website 20/05/05). The SE has been wedded to this fiction since 1998. These spurious figures are regularly trotted out by Scottish Ministers and politicians of all parties.

SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison has written, again, to First Minister Jack McConnell calling for an independent inquiry into the number of jobs the industry supports, and an accurate assessment of the number of jobs lost in sport fishing and tourism in the Highlands and Islands because of the impact of fish farm disease on wild salmon and sea-trout stocks.

Bruce Sandison said: “Scottish Executive (SE) support for the fish farming industry, and the millions of pounds of public money it receives, can only be justified on the basis that fish farming provides employment in the West Highlands and Islands. Do you agree with me, therefore, that it is essential that the SE know how many jobs the industry really supports? It is disingenuous of you and your Minsters to continue using figures that are quite clearly inaccurate and out of date.”

The truth is that fish farms, as the SFPG has always claimed, destabilise once-stable communities. Marine Harvest has closed fish processing plants in Stornoway and Scalpay in the Western Isles, as well as fish farm sites throughout the West Highlands. The introduction of automated feed systems to their farms has further reduced the direct work force on each site by up to 50%. This has had a devastating impact on rural areas where people were told that fish farming would “save” their communities and “secure” their financial future.

Donald John Macleod and three members of his family lost their jobs when the Scalpay plant closed. He said: “They get all the grants [£900,000] and loans, but could only keep the place going for four years. They took the money and are now running.” The £900,000 grant given to the Scalpay processing plant operator has passed the ‘clawback’ date and can’t be recovered.

Another worker who lost his job at Scalpay, Callum Macleod, said, “This is sad; grown men and women crying as they came out [after hearing from management what their redundancy payment would be].” Rachel Macleod, who has not missed a single day at work for five years, despite rising at 5.00am every working day, was awarded £430.

However, Cameron Davidson, Marine Harvest md was able to offer this consolation to the hundreds of people the fish farmers have sacked in the West Highlands: “The Western Isles will still be our home. The area provides a wonderful environment in which to farm our fish and nobody should doubt that we intend to stay,” he said.

Sites are also being closed because they are now considered to be too small to be “economical”. This has allowed Marine Harvest, with a little help from their friends in the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), to increase production (and the potential for increased disease and pollution) at other sites to compensate them for the loss of sites which were losing money.

Authority for these mega-sites has been hurried through with indecent haste. Sepa announced a consultation process on 31st January 2005 requiring responses to the proposals by 7th February. Environmental impact assessments, if they have been carried out, do not seem to be open to public scrutiny. When three proposals to expand Marine Harvest sites in Loch Linnhe and Loch Leven were advertised in the local press, inviting comment, they were quickly withdrawn when the SFPG asked to have sight of them.

Highland Council planners promised SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison that he would be sent the documents. When they hadn’t arrived after four weeks he asked when they would arrive. Never, was the short answer, because apparently there had been an error; the proposals should not have been advertised, but only sent for comment to authorised consultees; such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the Highland councils that slavishly support the industry.

When the industry collapses, as the SFPG believes that it will, it will leave behind not only a degraded marine habitat devoid of wild salmonids, but also devastated Highland communities that believed the promises they received from well-meaning but sadly misinformed national and local politicians. As for the foreign-owned multi-national corporations responsible for this disaster, they will be performing the same service for unsuspecting rural communities in South America and wherever else they can find a welcome.

How the Environmental Information Act works - for fish farmers

Under the terms of the Environment Information Act, SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison asked the Fisheries Research Services (FRS) for information about a disease outbreak at a Marine Harvest farm in South Uist. The ACT requires a reply to be given within 20 days. The SFPG made the request on 12th January 2005. The final response from the FRS arrived on the 18th May, 126 days later (Some of the letters have been edited for reasons of space).

Day 1 - Under the terms of the Environmental Information Regulations (ERI), would you please be so kind as to let me have copies of the results of the investigations carried out by FRS at a salmon farm in Loch Sheilavaig in South Uist where an outbreak of ISA was suspected recently.

I would like to know how many farm salmon died and what did these fish die of, and how many farm salmon were slaughtered and how were they disposed of? What hatchery supplied the fish that died/were slaughtered at the Loch Sheilavaig site? - SFPG

Day 6 - Thank you for your enquiry. We are looking into this for you and will contact you again very soon. - FRS

Day 20 - Investigations by FRS into a suspect outbreak of ISA at Loch Sheilavaig. With regard to your second question, I can confirm that we do hold the information requested in hard copy format. We do endeavour to provide information whenever possible, however, in this instance an exemption under Part II, Section 26 (a) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and an exception under Section 10, paragraph 5 (e) of The Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 applies to the information requested. The information is collected under The Registration of Fish Farming and Shellfish Farming Businesses Order 1985 (as amended).

I have asked for the written consent of the company concerned in order that I can provide the information requested. I will inform you of their decision as soon as possible. – FRS

Day 21 - Many thanks for your email in response to the questions I asked about the suspected outbreak of ISA in South Uist. In connection with the name of the hatchery that supplied the fish that died/were slaughtered, I look forward to hearing further from you in due course.

However, I would still like to know, please, how many fish died at the site and what these fish died of, and how many farm salmon were slaughtered? As the cull was carried out under the supervision of FRS Fish Health Inspectors I presume these figures will be on record. - SFPG

Day 27 - Information regarding the number of fish and the observed mortalities on a farm is supplied to Fisheries Research Services under The Registration of Fish Farming and Shellfish Farming Businesses Order 1985.

Thus, section 9 of The Diseases of Fish Act 1983 applies and I cannot release the information without permission from the company concerned, as described in my earlier email. That said, some information with regard to mortalities on the suspect-ISA farm is available on the OIE website, to which I previously included a link. The mortality rate was 0.16% per day.

I have sought permission to provide the data you requested with regard to mortalities on the farm and the source of the fish but I have not yet received a response from the company. I will let you know the outcome of my request as soon as possible. - FRS

Day 126 - I have received word today that the company has refused permission to release the information you requested. Therefore, I regret I am unable to be of further assistance in this case. – FRS

The day after the last letter was received, 18th May 2005, the Scottish Executive announced that ISA had not been found at the South Uist fish farm. So Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Lewis Macdonald praised everyone for acting so promptly to prevent the spread of a disease that, it now appears, was never there in the first place.

Where there’s muck there’s money – particularly for the fish farmers

The fish farm industry has always argued that if it were forced to treat all the waste it produces it would go bankrupt quicker than you can say s**t. Well, until now, that is. Following the new EU Animal By-Product legislation, Marine Harvest in Donegal, Ireland, is currently processing up to1,000 tonnes of fish waste each year using a Vertical Compositing Unit (VCU); dead salmon, fish heads, fins and guts and so on.

According to Matthew Pumfrey, whose company make VCU’s, “this is the only way of processing aquacultural by-products which meet the regulatory requirements of the EU regulations to avoid odour, vermin and pathogen problems.” To achieve the right balance of nutrients, an existing source of wood waste is mixed with the fish waste.” Waste not want not, I suppose?

Meanwhile, the industry news-provider, IntraFish, reports that in Australia the University of Adelaide is studying why fish raised in livestock effluent in Asia are so healthy. Chemical engineer David Lewis said, “In Australia our fish are grown in nice clean water so there was an aversion to anybody suggesting we grow fish in effluent when we have access to all this water. But we are trying to promote the use of effluent because that could be an asset and people can actually produce products from this effluent, ie. healthy fish,” he said.

More nuclear fishin’ courtesy of Sellafield?

In April, operators at the Sellafiled nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria discovered that they could not account for approximately 20 tonnes of a cocktail of highly radioactive plutonium and uranium. There is concern that it might have leaked into the Irish Sea and could be making its way, carried by Gulf Stream currents, up the West Coast of Scotland and eventually to northern areas of Norway.

There is ample evidence to show that this might happen; given scientific tracking of another substance, Technetium 99, a man-made product that has been associated with cancer risks to humans and which is discharged into the sea by Sellafield. The concern of the SFPG is how this new leak, if it is indeed a leak and is moving with the current, might impact on the 65 million caged farm salmon that lie in its path, and on other parts of the flora and fauna of the marine environment.

No doubt, Scottish Executive Fishery Research Service and Environmental Protection Agency staff will already be hot on trail of the missing plutonium and uranium to establish whether or not it has reached Scottish waters. And, of course, they will tell the public what they have found. Meanwhile, the plant has been shut down and Sellafield md, Barry Snelson, has issued a statement saying, “Let me reassure people that the plant [Sellafield] is in a safe and stable state.”

Do fish farms attract sharks?

A report in the Scottish newspaper Aberdeen Press and Journal on 25th April noted that a man-eating shark, a mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), a relative of the great white shark, had been spotted in the Sound of Sleat off the coast of the Island of Skye. The visitation was witnessed by a party of tourists onboard a glass-bottomed boat. The presence of the shark is thought to be due to the rising temperature of the sea.

Mako sharks predate upon, amongst other creatures, dolphins, porpoises and seals. Coincidentally, experts are investigating reports of a five-fold increase of dead porpoises off the Scottish Border coast, “…some with bites apparently consistent with a mako shark attack.” This prompted coastguards to issue a warning last month.” They advised: “All those using the water, including surfers and divers, should be especially careful and vigilant.”

In Hawaii, US researchers are investigating reports that since the advent and expansion of fish farming in the islands more sharks are being seen around the coast, particularly in the vicinity of the farms. Oahu fisherman, William Ailia, claims he has seen more sharks than ever before since a fish farm was established there six years ago. There are further reports from South Africa (Cape Times) where Michael Scholl of Cape Town University and Nicholas Pade of the University of Aberdeen have branded salmon farming an “ecological disaster”.

Scholl claims that marine animals like sharks and dolphins, whales and seals run the risk of becoming entangled in the nets in which the salmon are penned: “Great White sharks will be attracted to the salmon pens. These sharks may break or damage the nets or be killed by fish farmers”. A recent study in British Columbia found that over four years 432 seals, 38 otters, 29 sea lions and other wildlife species had been killed at salmon farms.

In the early 1990’s, when travelling by sea from Puerto Montt to Chaiten in Chilean Patagonia, I saw several killer sharks close to the shore as we arrived at Chaiten Pier. The locals were used to seeing them and told me that the sharks followed and fed upon shoals of escaped farm salmon.

It seems, therefore, to be beyond reasonable doubt that Scottish fish farms will not only continue to attract and feed Scotland ever-growing seal population (see Rod McGill), but will also, as the temperature of the sea continues to rise, attract ever-increasing numbers of much more dangerous and voracious predators, such as sharks.

But it’s an ill wind. The mako shark, the largest and the most common shark species in West Atlantic waters is also said to be one of the best to eat. How long, I wonder, before the fish farmers try to farm them as well as farming fake salmon? After all, it could help solve their waste disposal problem (see above); just feed diseased, dead and dying fake salmon to the fake sharks.

And, finally, Sex and the Single Angler

“SINGLE BLACK FEMALE seeks male companionship, ethnicity unimportant. I’m a very good looking girl who LOVES to play. I love long walks in the woods, riding in your pickup truck, hunting, camping and fishing trips and cosy winter nights lying by the fire. Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand. I’ll be at the front door when you get home from work wearing only what nature gave me. Call (404) 875-6420) and ask for Susie. I’ll be waiting…..”

Over 15,000 men responded and found themselves talking to the Atlanta Humane Society about an 8-week-old black Labrador retriever (Atlanta Journal, USA).