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News From Around the Fish Farms, October 2004

News from Round the Fish Farms, every month, from Bruce Sandison

Will you please stop ringing our door bell?

It was a difficult delivery. SFPG Chairman Bruce Sandison, accompanied by Ann Sandison, Don Staniford and SFPG supporters all dressed as Father Christmas were determined to hand in a side of wild Alaskan smoked salmon as a Christmas present for First Minister Jack McConnell - see Breaking News item on front page – at his official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Prior to doing so, I had contacted the First Minister’s office and asked for permission. This was granted and I was told that Bute House security staff would expect us at the appointed hour to receive the gift. It was a cold day (December 14th) and our group had spent the previous hour handing out free tins of wild Alaskan salmon to shoppers outside Marks & Sparks in Princes Street.

After doing so, we marched along Rose Street to Charlotte Square, escorted by two policemen. I explained to the police escort what we were going to do, and that we had received permission from the First Minister’s office to deliver the gift. They were quite comfortable with that, presumably having checked it out on their mobiles.

Rather than clutter up the First Minister’s doorstep, only myself and the TV crew went to the door of Bute House. The rest of our group (including Edinburgh’s finest) stayed on the other side of the road by Charlotte Square Gardens. I rang the First Ministers door bell.

After a moment, a gruff voice responded: “We’re no accepting deliveries the day.” Then silence. I rang the bell gain. “I just told you, we’re no accepting deliveries the day.” I interrupted and began to explain that we had permission, and that they had been told that we were coming. “That’s nothing to dae wi’ me. We’re no accepting deliveries.” Silence.

My colleagues across the street were getting restless, and the police were busy with their walki-talkies. I glimpsed a face at an upstairs window. I rang the bell again. No answer. So I simply put my elbow on the door bell and kept it there. Eventually, an angry voice responded: “Will you please stop ringing our door bell!” “No,” I said, “not until somebody comes down and accepts this gift for the First Minister.” Silence.

In retrospect, it was clear that the Bute House staff and the police were in an almost impossible position. We were obviously non-threatening and well-behaved, as you would expect from a group that included OAP’s, a retired dental surgeon, a marine scientist, computer experts, journalists and the like. Were they going to arrest us? Arrest about a dozen Santas, on camera, just because they were trying to give the First Minister a Christmas present?

The intercom crackled to life again. “OK, we are sending somebody down.” A moment later the door opened and an attractive young woman accepted the gift, and said “Thank you”. Mission accomplished we thanked the police for their courtesy, packed up our Father Christmas costumes and headed for the warmth and comfort of Ma Scott’s pub in Rose Street. It had been difficult, but our baby had been delivered, safe and well.

Misplaced trust?

The news that 80,000 sea-trout eggs from the West Highlands were recently sold to the River Deveron Trust in the east coast (see Rod McGill) is worrying. More so since the Wester Ross Fisheries Trust is aware of the situation but, and in spite of the lack of wild sea-trout in the West Highlands, seem to find it acceptable that this should be allowed to happen.

The man behind the sale is Bob Kindness, principal of the Highland School of Aquaculture at Lochcarron and long-term friend of fish farmers Marine Harvest who supplied the school with sea-trout eggs up until about three years ago. These eggs no doubt came from various rivers in the Fort William area and were probably reared in the Marine Harvest hatchery facility at Loch Morar.

Mr Kindness is dismissive of scientific evidence that stocking non-native fish into a river system will ultimately damage the long-term survival prospects of the indigenous population. That this is so was stunningly identified by Irish scientists who recently completed 10 year study of the adverse impact of escapee farm fish, and the stocking of a system with hatchery-reared fish, the Burrishole catchment.

So far, it is claimed, Kindness has reared some 10 million salmon and sea-trout eggs which he sells, it appears to me, to whosoever wants to buy them; including two east coast streams, the Deveron and the Ythan. He is also immensely proud of the re-stocking work that he has done and claims has brought the little river Carron back to life: salmon catches up from 5 fish a few years ago to about 40 now.

It is this writer’s view, and the view of many independent fisheries scientists, that wild salmonid stocks crashed following the massive expansion of fish farming in the West Highlands and Islands after 1989. Bob Kindness does not agree. In an interview with the Guardian Newspaper (Sept 2004), he claimed that climate change and its effects on the marine environment were to blame, that reducing the size of the [salmonids] feeding ground was probable the biggest factor.

Mr Kindness was quick to leap to the defence of his fish farming chums, pointing out that sea-trout began to decline in the 1950’s and that salmon farming is easy to blame because it is a commercial target. The logic behind that statement, like the 500,000 farm salmon that escape from their cages each year, is entirely lost on me.

He is “convinced”, according to the Guardian report, that “the growing numbers of predators such as otters and seals, and birds such as goosanders, mergansers, cormorants and herons, have depleted wild salmon and sea-trout numbers.” Not fish farm disease and pollution.

One of the first fish farm lead re-stocking programmes, similar to Mr Kindness’s work and carried out by Marine Harvest, was in Loch Eilt on the ‘Road to the Isles’ in the early 1980’s. The loch drains via the River Ailort into the sea loch of the same name. This was the site of Scotland’s first fish farm, set up in the late 1960’s.

Loch Eilt was then one of the most famous and productive sea-trout fisheries in Europe with an annual catch of approximately 1,200 fish each season. When sea-trout and salmon stocks began to collapse in the system, Marine Harvest, in collaboration with the then river manager, Terry Rowantree, began to rear sea-trout and stock them into Loch Eilt.

Initially, the programme seemed to be successful, with greater numbers of fish being taken each year. But when financial and other constrains closed the re-stocking programme, fish numbers quickly collapsed again. They have never recovered. The system, as a wild sea-trout fishery is, to intents and purposes, dead.

This is very much in line with the findings of the Burrishole report, and, in my opinion, is exactly the fate that awaits other systems when well-intentioned but miss-guided people try to play God with our with one of natures miracle creatures.

In defence of the Deveron

This note was received by SFPG Chairman Bruce Sandison from Professor David Mackay, former Chairman of the River Deveron Trust and North Region Director of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, current President of the Scottish Anglers’ National Association

The Deveron was a great river but like many others has gone through hard times. A small group of individuals (not including me) decided to do something about it and put a great deal of their own time and money into biological surveys, removing obstacles, planting riparian strips etc over the last few years.

They then, as many other enthusiasts have done on other rivers embarked upon building a hatchery which was stocked with eggs from Deveron fish. I was asked to assist around this time, which I willingly did, but unfortunately not at the planning stage. The hatchery for a number of complex reasons failed to deliver in the first year and the sponsors' urgent desire to achieve results led to the purchase of replacements from elsewhere.

The science is questionable but the motivation, commitment and financial sacrifices made personally by the two or three principal funders is wholly admirable. There are hundreds of anglers and dozens of proprietors who take much and give nothing, but will be pleased to say 'I told you so' if you condemn the Trust.

While I am no longer in a position to help them I wish them every success and feel certain that the Deveron will benefit from their activities.

David Mackay

Also for interest, is this item from the Aberdeen Press & Journal that seems to indicate that in future, only native stock will be used for re-stocking the Deveron:

Sea trout and salmon restock move - Joe Watson, Press &Journal, Saturday 2nd October 2004

THREE north-east rivers are being restocked with sea trout and salmon.

The Deveron, Bogie and Isla Rivers Trust has just completed its first year of operating its own hatchery at Drummuir Estate. Despite some initial setbacks, the trust has managed to release 40,000 sea trout and 1,200 salmon fry throughout the catchment area.

Water bailiffs Jimmy Minty and Jamie Mathieson have carried out the work. The fry have been release in the King Edward Burn, near Turriff, the Craig Burn in Glen Bogie and the Towie Burn, near Druminuir. The trust removed a redundant dam on the Towie Burn during the summer.

Project officer Robin Vasey said: “The dam, which used to feed the Towiemore Distillery, was an obstacle for salmon and sea trout to reaching spawning ground. The release of these fish will, we hope, kick-start the process of them returning to the burn to spawn in four to five years’ time, which is the life cycle of salmon.

“The hatchery now has the capacity to rear up to 250,000 eggs, which will be stripped from adult brood stock this winter.” Some of the eggs and mini-hatcheries will be donated to primary schools within the Deveron catchment area under the trust’s Salmon goes to School project.

It sets out to educate the youngsters about the river and its importance to the biodiversity and range of native species. The children rear the fish and release them in a nearby burn in the spring”.

None of our fish are missing

As we reported last month, there has been an alleged escape of salmon smolts from a Marine Harvest site in Loch Eil managed by Iain McConnell, the brother of Scotland’s First Minister, Jack McConnell. This allegation is denied by Marine Harvest who insisted that none of their fish were missing.

In line with what has now become ‘standard practice’ for the industry when disaster or controversy strikes, Marine Harvest were quick to point our where the real problem lay. According to Dr Graeme Dear, the company's external affairs and communications director, the reports “… were part of an ongoing campaign by fish farm opponents to malign the industry…It is disappointing that our critics continue to make these false allegations, even though Marine Harvest has consistently demonstrated its openness and commitment to working in partnership with wild fishery interests."

This presumably means the SFPG, but now also includes Kinlocheil farmer John McFadzean who reported the alleged escape to the executive almost two weeks ago but up until yesterday had still received no response, who said in a recent report in The Times, "Fish were jumping out of the water in huge numbers within a few hundred yards of the Garvan [Iain McConnell’s farm] cages," and Fraser Mackay, head bailiff of the River Lochy association, who visited the site the following day and in the same report said: "Fish were jumping everywhere. There's no doubt in my mind they were escapees. Someone has lost a lot of fish."

If the fish didn’t come from the Marine Harvest site, then why did the company report an escape? And how do they know that there hadn’t been an escape – just because there were no holes in the nets enclosing the fish? What about the regular practice of “swim through”, when fish are transferred between cages by channelling them though a tunnel of nets to their new cage? Could the fish have escaped during that process?

Still, the truth will eventually come out because the Scottish Executive is launching its own inquiry into the First Minister’s brother’s handling of the situation. But, according to Marine Harvest, the only certain way of checking is by counting the fish – and they will not be doing that until the smolts are ready to be transferred to salmon-growing cages, months ahead; when everybody will have forgotten the incident. Game, set and match, yet again, to the fish farmers.

Wester Ross Salmon Ltd call ‘foul’

In September, the SFPG issued a press release in connection with the £12,000 fine imposed upon Wester Ross Salmon. This press release elicited letter of complaint from an Aberdeen firm of solicitors (read the corrspondence here) pointing out that it was not Wester Ross Salmon Limited that had been suspended from Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), but their ‘sister’ company, Wester Ross Salmon Hatcheries Limited.

We were happy to give the solicitors the assurance they requested about altering our press release, whilst pointing out to them that our information had been supplied by SQS itself, and suggesting that they clarify the facts with SQS. SQS subsequently issued a corrected press release in connection with this matter.

What is puzzling, however, is how Wester Ross Salmon can continue using the SQS Tartan Quality mark on its products when a basic source of these products, Wester Ross Salmon Hatcheries Limited, is under suspension and investigation? If the investigating body, Food Certification Scotland (FCS), determine that the company has seriously breached their rules and regulations and decide to eject Wester Ross Salmon Hatcheries from SQS, does that mean that Wester Ross Salmon Limited will have to buy salmon smolts from someone else?

According to the FCS website (11/10/04), “FCS is an independent third party certification body committed to encouraging the production of high quality fishery, food and agricultural products through specifically targeted Product Certification Schemes, ensuring that they meet the demands of the market place and that retailers and consumers are fully confident in the integrity and reliability of the Schemes.”

The governing board of FCS is “the sole authority for granting or withdrawing certification under the Certification Schemes operated by the company.” The board consists of nine members, six of them appointed by outside organisations, the other three being appointed by FCS themselves. These appointees, according to the website, are:

Angus Morgan, chairman of Ardvar Salmon and a director of Scottish Quality Salmon [must be some mistake because Ardvar has been bought by Loch Duart BS]; John Laing, formerly a salmon farmer in his own right on the Isle of Skye who retains a keen interest in the fish farming industry; and Allan Miller, Sales Director of Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd.

To the best of my knowledge, FCS was set up and financed by The Scottish Salmon Growers’ Association (now SQS) and that they employ three inspectors to visit (at least twice a year) accredited companies throughout Scotland. It will be interesting to see how FCS deal with the Wester Ross Salmon Hatcheries case, and the allegation (see International News – Marine Harvest and Morrisons caught in malachite scandal) that one of their certified companies may have breached their rules and regulations by using the banned cancer-linked substance, malachite green?

More bad news for the fish farmers and their Scottish Executive chums

A report in The Herald, 30th July 2004 shows, yet again, that fish farm sea lice are destroying West Highland and Islands wild salmonids. John Webster, scientific advisor at Scottish Quality Salmon, the industry representative body, produced his best ‘science’ to refute the allegations: “Critics are sniping from the sidelines,” he said. Rob Crilly,‘The Herald’ Environment Correspondent wrote:

SCIENTISTS have published the strongest evidence yet that west coast salmon farms are the source of sea lice infestations which can spread up to three miles.

Anglers, environmentalists and fish biologists have long blamed parasites from fish cages for the decline in wild stocks, but a study last year blamed wild trout and suggested cages were not to blame.

However, research released yesterday showed a link between wild and farmed salmon and suggested the Scottish Executive needed to take urgent action to protect angling and tourism activities worth millions of pounds annually that depend on wild stocks.

Fisheries Research Service scientists monitored densities of infectious sea lice larvae in Loch Torridon, Wester Ross, home to five salmon farms. The study found no larval sea lice in spring 2000 or 2002, when farms were in the early stages of production.

However, levels peaked in alternate years when large fish were present in the fish farms.

Margaret McKibben and David Hay, who conducted the research, concluded: "The lack of larval sea lice in alternate years suggests that the source of these lice is not from wild fish but is of fish farm origin."

They recommend synchronised sea lice treatment on all fish farms within a loch system to prevent re-infecting.

Their paper is published in the latest issue of Aquaculture Research alongside a second study, based on Loch Shieldaig, which confirms salmon farms appear to act as the source.

Sea lice affect farmed and wild fish and infestations are estimated to cost Scottish aquaculture £15m to £30m per year.

Rebecca Boyd, of the Joint Marine Programme representing WWF Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: "These reports reinforce what fish biologists have long suspected."

John Webster, scientific adviser at Scottish Quality Salmon, said critics were sniping from the sidelines.

Jobs for the boys

This column has always claimed that the only jobs Scotland’s SE fisheries scientists were interested in preserving were their own. Given the now overwhelming evidence of fish farm damage to wild salmonid stocks, what is one of our major research institutes doing about it? Yes, you have guessed, more research!

The publicly-funded Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) has just published its PR booklet, HIGHLIGHTS 03-04. Director Professor Graham Shimmield, bursting with pride, outlined some of these highlights in his introduction: “Our science programme goes from strength to strength. We are an ocean-going marine research institute; this has been admirably displayed in the Arabian Sea campaign (four month cruises off Pakistan) and numerous research cruises to the Arctic and North Atlantic, culminating in an under sea (and ice) voyage to the North Pole as a guest of the Royal Navy for one of our staff,” he said.

As for the fate of our wild salmon and sea-trout, SAMS continues, as Icelander Orri Vigfusson famously told them in the late 1990’s, “You are studying your wild salmon to death.”

On page 8 of HIGHLIGHTS 03-04, under the heading ‘Sustainable Aquaculture: Biofiltration & Bioremediartion, we are told, “Assessing and reducing the impact of sea-cage aquaculture is a high priority research topic for the inshore areas of the Scottish west coast and many other regions worldwide. The past year has seen a consolidation and expansion of SAMS’s research interests in the integration of species from different trophic levels to aquaculture sites to improve sustainability. “In the three year, European-funded, BIOFAQS (Biofiltration in Aquaculture) project, units seeded with filter-feeding organisms were deployed below sea-cages for fish culture, to measure the efficiency of the filtering communities in removing both dissolved and organic particles from the water column.”

Better to come: “The theme of research has continued with the REDWEED project (Reducing the environmental impact of sea cage culture through the cultivation of seaweeds), which focuses on the culture of the edible seaweed Palmaria palmata, or Dulse alongside salmon cages. Growth rates of the seaweeds were measured over various depths and distances from the cage-group, matching this information with the immediate hydrography and nutrient distribution.”

Here’s a tip for them, for free. If they really want to ‘reduce the impact of sea-cage aquaculture’ has on the marine environment and on wild salmonids and other species, then why not just take the wretched cages out of the sea and continue fish farming in land-based, closed containment systems? Still, not much opportunity there for world-wide travel, I suppose? I guess that my idea will be a non-starter for the girls and boys at SAMS?