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News From Around the Fish Farms, May 2006

  • Birds Eye view
  • Boom or Bust?
  • Putting the boot in
  • Court round-up
  • Closing the stable door?

Birds Eye view

Scotland’s foreign owned factory fish farmers were outraged by a Birds Eye advert now showing on British television that highlights the fact that the company use only wild Pacific salmon in their products, rather than the farmed variety.

In particular, the industry called ‘foul’ because the ad noted that wild salmon got their healthy-looking pink colour from the wild food that they eat, whereas farm salmon, naturally a muddy grey colour, have to be fed an artificially produced product to make the colour of their flesh more appetising to consumers.

Caroline Drummond, Birds Eye brand development manager said: “We don’t need to add artificial preservatives or other unnecessary additives to our food. We hope this campaign will get people thinking more about the food they eat.”

However, Sid Patten of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organization condemned the ad. He said, “The Scottish salmon farming industry is very disappointed that Birds Eye has chosen to take this rather melodramatic and cynical approach to its advertising.”

The SFPG fully supports Birds Eye decision not to use farmed salmon. Chairman Bruce Sandison said, “If you want to eat salmon, then our advice to consumers has always been to go for wild fish, such as Pacific salmon, rather than opt for what is in our view ‘pretend’ salmon from a fish farm.”

Sandison added, “For an industry that seems to me to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid telling customers that their product is farmed, I find it hard to take their complaints seriously. Perhaps someone should ask Sid Patten, if he is so proud of the farm fish that his members produce, why his group isn’t called the ‘Scottish Farm Salmon Producers Organization’?”

Boom or Bust?

Backed by studies from market research specialists TNS Worldpanel, the fish farmers report that more people are eating their product. They claim that they have attracted 1.4 million additional customers over the last two years. Sid Patten (Scottish Salmon Producers Organization) said: “Males in the age group 17-24 have increased their salmon consumption by 91% and females of the same age by 54%.”

But when USA researchers in 2004 fingered Scottish farm salmon as being amongst the most contaminated in the world, consumption of salmon in UK fell by between 20% and 30%. According Scottish Executive figures, production in the industry has slumped since then; from a peak of 169,736 tonnes in 2003 to approximately 158,000 tonnes in 2004 with similar production levels predicted for 2005 and 2006.

Earlier this month one of the major players in the industry, Norwegian-owned Mainstream Scotland, reported losses of just under £600,000 for the first quarter of this year, losses that may lead to the closure of their operations in Orkney and Shetland. Concern is also being expressed about more job losses in the industry should the merger of Marine Harvest and Pan Fish proceed (see International News).

In April, in The Scotsman, Sid Patten said: “Demand is increasing at a very good rate. The industry is really quite buoyant and has been for the last nine months or so.” But a few days later, 11th May, when Mr Patten was asked by IntraFish about any imminent increase in production in Scotland he replied, “I’d like to say sooner rather than later of course.”

However, the industry is expanding, but not in Scotland. Most investment is being targeted at growth in Chile (and in the near future Peru) where less regulation and lower production costs provide better profits for the fish farm ‘giants’.

It seems possible, therefore, that whilst there might well have been an increase in farm salmon consumption, these new customers may be eating farm salmon from Chile or Norway, rather than eating fish produced by the members of Mr Patten’s Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation.

Putting the boot in

Hardly a week passes without a new announcement from the fish farmers about the wonderful, beneficial, properties of omega 3s; found, of course, in oily fish like farmed salmon (see Omega 3 myths? in April’s News from around the fish farms). In recent weeks we have been told that consumption of Omega 3s reduces the risk of prostate cancer, makes children cleverer and reduces the risk of heart attacks.

Latest on this ever-expanding list is that Omega 3s lower the risk of developing motor neurone disease, is effective in the treatment of degenerative disc conditions, and that eating salmon could even lower the murder rate by curbing impulsive acts of violence.

However, Dr Joseph Maroon, who produced the study in connection with degenerative disc conditions, cautioned, “… People should be careful to choose a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil supplement that is free of potentially harmful heavy metals, such as the mercury, PCPs and dioxins that can be found in fish.”

Sound advice, given that in April, according to the Food Standards Agency, high-street chemist Boots withdrew two batches of its own-brand fish oil capsules because the fish oil used to produce the supplements contained potentially cancer-causing dioxins that were above allowable limits. In March, Seven Seas Ltd also recalled some its own-brand fish oil supplements for the same reason.

Ever even-handed, a FSA spokesman said, “There isn’t a health risk associated with the consumption of these products. However, the level found in the fish used to produce these capsules exceeded statutory limits. We are not telling people to stop eating them.” The SFPG has now written to the FSA asking for information about the source of the fish used to produce the supplements, and whether it was farmed or wild.

Court round-up

Lakeland Marine Farm Limited in Argyll has been up before ‘the beak’ for polluting the environment in the Sound of Jura in the Inner Hebrides. The company was fined £1,000 at Campbeltown Sheriff Court recently after Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) officers found that cages in Loch Shuna had too many fish in them.

Jim Frame SEPA said, “Having too many fish in one cage group means uneaten fish food and faeces are not dispersed adequately and can lead to pollution on the sea bed.” According to a report in the Oban Times, permission was given by SEAP to hold 750 tonnes of fish in each of two cage groups, totalling 1,500 tonnes split between north and south locations at the site. In fact, all of the fish were being held at one site.

SEAP report in their journal SEPA View, that Kames Fish Farming Limited pled guilty to discharging trade effluent to Loch Lochy near Mucomir Farm, Gairlochy between January 2001 and December 2004. They were fined a total of £8,000 by Fort William Sheriff Court on 12th January 2006.

Closing the stable door?

The myth promoted by the Scottish Executive (SE) that fish farming is vital to the economy of Scotland and that it supports more than 8,000 jobs is being relentlessly exposed. The proposed merger between the world’s largest fish farmers, Pan Fish, Marine Harvest and Fjord Salmon, and the job losses that will follow, is ringing alarm bells throughout the West Highlands and Islands were these companies operate.

Members of the Scottish Parliament have become urgently aware of the fact that an industry that once promised so much for fragile, rural communities has become nothing other than a branch-operation of a few Norwegian multi-nationals; that one of Scotland’s most precious resources, its coastal and freshwater lochs, has been taken over for the profit of private individuals.

Scottish Nationalist MSP Rob Gibson has called on the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the merger. He said, “We need a public inquiry to establish whether one company has an almost completely monopolistic control of Scotland’s farmed salmon production is the best way forward.” Green MSP Eleanor Scott asks why the SE have invited the company to discuss their future plans with them – and what might be the consequences for Scotland’s few remaining independent producers.

Dr Michael Foxley, deputy convener of Highland Council has consistently warned of continuing job losses in his constituency in Lochaber. Angus MacMillan of West Minch Salmon complained, “We have already seen the effect of the previous merger between Marine Harvest and Stolt in the Western Isles… over 100 jobs have been lost…. It is strange that Rhona Brankin (SE fisheries Minister) is now saying that she wants to help the merger of these companies.”

Even stranger is the fact that Rhona Brankin insists that the new company would only control about 50% of fish farming in Scotland. Given that foreign companies are already responsible for upwards of 65% of salmon production, it seems clear that that figure will climb even higher should the merger go ahead.

SFPG Chairman, Bruce Sandison is to ask First Minister Jack McConnel to set up and independent inquiry into the real level of employment in the industry. He said, “The SFPG has shown that disease and pollution from salmon farms has decimated wild fish stocks; that it has exacerbated the proliferation of the toxic algal blooms that so damage the shell fish industry; that it has been responsible for hundreds of job losses in angling tourism. The only remaining justification the SE has for continuing to support this business is that it provides jobs. Let us now test the truth of that assertion. In my view, Scotland needs Pan Fish like it needs a hole in the head.”