The Salmon Farm Monitor
News From Around the Fish Farms, October 2005
The publication of the Scottish Executive’s Statistical Bulletin – Scottish Salmon and Sea Trout Catches, 2004 – was greeted with unbridled joy by the great and good of the rod and line angling world.
Writing in The Herald newspaper, Frank Urquhart breathlessly declaimed that the total number of salmon and grilse (120,078) was the “highest figure since the record catch of the last half century (96,488) was set in 1988”.
Of course, this is complete nonsense. In 1952, Scottish Regions, East, North East, Moray Firth and Solway caught 224,728 fish. In 1957, the rivers South Esk, North Esk, Dee, Don, Ythan and Uige alone produced 101,725 fish. In 1960, Tweed, Forth and Tay recorded 120,408 and in 1970 the same rivers took 142,308 fish.
But facts don’t really matter. All that matters to the Scottish Executive is to divert attention away from the catastrophe that has engulfed wild salmon and sea-trout in the West Highlands and Islands; where fish farm disease and pollution continues to drive distinct salmonid populations to the edge of extinction in an unbridled riot of sheer greed and materialism.
SQS has never claimed that they represented all of Scotland’s fish farmers, only that they represented the farmers who produce 68% of Scotland’s fake fish; approximately half a dozen or so producers, the largest of which is Marine Harvest (Scotland). It is not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that Marine Harvest forks out the lion’s share of cash for SQS activities.
To address this issue, a new organisation, The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation is being formed to encompass the whole industry. A spokeswoman for SQS explained, “Salmon farming is now a global industry and what we are finding is that the Scottish industry needs to work harder to remain competitive.”
Sounds familiar? Yup, code for more job losses. Already this month Marine Harvest has announced the closure of its Invergarry hatchery in the Great Glen. Across the Minch in the Hebrides, the job filleting knifes have also been at work. Six jobs are to go at East Loch Tarbert, West Loch Tarbert and on South Uist.
Scottish managing director, Harvard Grontvedt said: “We’re sorry we have had to take this action, but we must become more efficient if we are to survive…. By reducing our costs now and becoming more competitive, we can secure the remaining jobs.” Until the next time.
Still, it’s not only the toilers at the cold face who are getting the chop. SQS chairman, Lord Jamie Lindsay, former Tory Government Scottish fisheries minister, will soon be spending more time with his family. This could save the fish farmers a bob or two: Lord Lindsay was rumoured to be doing a three day week with SQS for a salary not unadjacent to £70,000pa.
Concerned by the consumer rush to organically framed salmon, rather than bog-standard fish, Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), whose principal support comes from multi-national company Marine Harvest, has delivered itself of a statement that, very politely, ‘rubbishes’ organic salmon farmers.
“Non-organically produced Scottish Farmed Salmon, under the SQS Product Certification Schemes, is significantly higher in the health enhancing long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, EPAA and DHA, than that of organically produced salmon. It is also comparable in terms of food safety.
The Food Standards Agency’s current view about the safety and nutrition of organically produced foods when compared with non-organically farmed foods is as follows: ‘In our view the current scientific evidence does not show that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than non-organically produce food’.”
So that means that The Sunday Times ‘Style’ feature on fish (25/09/05) was talking nonsense? “The best way to ensure that you limit your intake of PCBs from oily fish is to choose wild varieties over farmed versions. The reason for this is that wild fish feed in the oceans, and so their flesh tends to be lower in PCBs than farmed fish, such as salmon.”
But are organically farmed fish safer to eat? “Surprisingly, splashing out extra cash on organic farmed fish is no guarantee that you will consume lower levels of these pollutants. What the organic label on farmed salmon does guarantee, however, is that the traditional pink colour of the flesh is achieved is achieved naturally rather than by artificial colourings.”
So why don’t SQS members go organic and produce what customers increasingly seem to want? SQS note: “It costs an estimated 30%-40% more to produce organic salmon, although this may be compensated by the price consumers are prepared to pay.” Do any SQS member companies produce organic salmon? “Members can participate in a Product Certification Scheme for Organically Produced Scottish Farmed Salmon. There are no current participants in the SQS organic Scheme.”
So there you have it – don’t spend your money on organically produced farmed salmon, just keep on buying the cheaper, delicious and nutritious non-organic stuff produced by the SQS team – or, of course, you could do yourself a favour and stick to the real thing, wild fish?
Loch Ewe in the West Highlands has been used as dump for untreated waste from fish farms for at least a couple of decades. This sea loch drains what was once one of Europe’s most famous freshwater wild sea-trout fisheries, Loch Maree.
Prior to the advent of fish farming, Maree used to produce upwards of 1,500 sea-trout each year to rod and line sport anglers. In those days, the Loch Maree Hotel, (a favourite haunt of Queen Victoria) employed eleven gillies. Today, the loch finds it difficult to produce 100 sea-trout let alone 1,500, and most of the guests and gillies have gone.
But local sea fishermen manage to catch surprising specimens in Loch Ewe. Mark Wiesman, trawling in Ewe earlier this year landed a rare albino sea urchin: “ I’ve been fishing these waters for 16 years,” he said, “and I’ve never seen a white one.. Usually they are reddish purple and bigger. Maybe it is still a youngster?”
Mark’s father, who has fished the loch for more than 30 years, commented, “I’ve never seen one like this before. I have talked to some of the old fishermen round here and they have never seen one either.” In 2004, Mark also made news when he caught an albino lobster in the loch. Could the impact of untreated waste from salmon farms have anything to do with it?
Norwegian-owned Pan Fish Scotland recently swallowed up Scottish salmon smolt produces Corrie Mhor, and completed a deal with Landcatch Ltd to buy their salmon eggs. Pan Fish Scottish managing director, OddGeir Oddsen, is delighted because this means that his company will no longer have to buy in salmon eggs from other sources.
What other sources? According to press reports, Pan Fish as been bringing in salmon eggs from Norway, Iceland, Tasmania and Ireland, and other sources.
Which means, of course, that any salmon that have escaped from Pan Fish sites (Mull, Gigha, Skye, Wester Ross and Sutherland) over the years will have been ‘visiting’ wild fish with their foreign-origin; degrading the genetic integrity of native stocks that have survived in Scottish waters since the end of the last Ice Age.