The Salmon Farm Monitor
News From Around the Fish Farms, September 2003
In mid August Loch Duart Ltd, 'The Sustainable Salmon Company' who operate in North West Sutherland, announced the escape of approximately 18,000 farm fish from their site at Calbha Bay near Scourie.
Managing director Nick Joy was distraught: "We very much regret this incident. It is exactly the opposite of how we set out to run our business and is a body blow." He added, "The fish will not survive for very long and the loch does not lead to a river, neither of which are any consolation or excuse for what has happened."
This is the third such "body-blow" that the company has experienced in recent years and demonstrates, if further demonstration were needed, that the fish farmers are quite incapable of preventing their salmon from doing a 'runner'. The last time Loch Duart 'lost' fish, smolts from a freshwater loch, they blamed the incident on otters who they claimed had chewed a hole in the cages to get at the captive smolts.
What happened this time? Yup, another unexpected hole in the cages. The company says that it is now reviewing its net handling and rechecking operation procedures. In the meantime, its business as usual for the 'Sustainable Salmon Company' and bad news for wild fish in North West Sutherland.
If anyone in Scotland still believes that the Scottish Executive (SE) is genuinely concerned about saving West Highland and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout, SE fisheries boss Allan Wilson has an explicit message for them.
Asked by Green Party MSP Robin Harper (see our August guest column) if the SE planned legislation to "control the spread of sea lice from salmon farms to the wild fish population" the minister replied: "We have no current plans to do so."
Mr Wilson then proceeded to trot out the same old 'spin' about these matters being properly addressed in the SE's spurious 'Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture' proposals, the SE and fish farmer-dominated 'Tripartite Working Group', and by industry/riparian owner-lead 'Area Management Agreements'.
As usual, the SE is continuing to do what it does best: protecting the fish farmers from public scrutiny and allowing them free range to drive Scotland' s wild salmon and sea-trout to extinction.
A fish farm industry online news service, Fish Update.com, recently polled readers asking them: “Do you agree farmed salmon is winning the public perception battle?”
The results of the poll shows that not even the industry itself, let alone the public, believe its own ‘spin’ about the tasty, nutritious and delicious products they produce. Apparently, only 30% of respondents agreed with the statement, whilst 54% answered ‘No’. The remaining 16% said they agreed, ‘Partly’. Food for thought?
An earlier poll also produced food for thought, at least for fishery scientists who seem to be rather less than well respected by ‘Fish Update’ readers. Asked to comment on the question, “Can fishery science be trusted as a basis for fishery management?” 45% responded ‘No’, 29% said ‘Yes’ and 21% replied “Only if it considers environmental factors”. 6% didn’t know.
Fish Update note that their polls are not scientific and “…reflects the opinions of only those internet users who have chosen to participate. The results cannot be assumed to represent the opinions of internet users in general, nor the public as a whole.”
A flurry of fish farm industry denials greeted recent claims that foreign workers, some of them illegal immigrants, were the backbone of Scotland’s fish processing business. But the allegation appears to be founded on fact. In July, when immigration officials raided Amazon Seafoods at Kyle of Lochalsh in the West Highlands, they arrested seven of twenty-five Polish and Czechoslovakian workers at the plant. The remainder were given two weeks to leave the country. Having lost its immigrant work force, and there being an apparent lack of local people clamouring to take their place, it seems that the Amazon Seafoods plant might have to close.
At the same time in Stornoway on the Island of Lewis 39 jobs are to go at WISCO Processing, including the cadre of students and foreign backpackers that the firm “relied on to maintain production.” Three workers at the WISCO plant, from Estonia and Lithuania were deported in August after immigration officials found them to be working there illegally. It is alleged that the company regularly employed “young backpackers from countries including South Africa, Australia and from Eastern Europe” and advertised part-time vacancies in backpacker magazines.
A further 50 jobs went in Stornoway when the Dutch-owned company Marine Harvest closed its fish processing plant there, leading to 6 workers at Polybox, a company making packaging for farm salmon products, also being made redundant. In Shetland, ‘The Skerries Salmon Company’ is closing down because the firm is “simply loosing too much money”, although they hope that farming other species, such as cod and trout might enable them to continue on a “reduced scale”.
Also in Shetland, local people have expressed concern that migrant workers could be exploited. One such case, reported in ‘The Shetland Times’ notes that an immigrant worker and his family, from Albania, invited to the island by the company Nufish, has been sacked after falling out with his manager. Mr Hekuran Qerozi alleges that he was being paid £4.60 per hour for a 48 hour, six-day week, and the same rate for working Sundays and bank holidays. The company vigorously refuted charges of any wrong-doing. Mr Qerozi and his family had to leave the country within 28 days.
However, none of this trauma, or jobs lost through fish farm and processing plant closures, or for that matter through the impact of the ISA (infectious salmon anaemia) outbreak in 1998, the introduction of labour-saving feeding platforms, over-production and catastrophic financial losses, seems to have reduced the number of jobs the industry claims to support in Scotland. Miraculously, in spite of everything employment has increased from 6,500 to 8,000 – thus keeping politicians happy and loads more tax-payer cash flowing into the fish farmer’s coffers.
When Shetland Island Council (SIC) recently decided to consider ways of persuading government that more public money was needed to support fish farming, they called a meeting at the Atlantic Fisheries Collage in Scalloway to pursue this aim. The great and good of aquaculture in the islands attended, including John Telford of Shetland Seafood Quality Control, Brian Isbister, CEO of Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation and David Sandison of the Shetland Salmon Farmers Association.
The press was also there, in the shape of reporters from The Shetland Times and other island news-hounds, pencils poised, and their presence seemed to mightily agitate the fish farmers. Mr Telford felt that they would limit the ‘openness’ of the discussions. Brian Isbister agreed, commenting that a press presence would “constrain debate”. David Sandison chipped in his two-penny-worth of agreement, the result being that chairman Drew Ratter of SIC ejected the press so that the plotting could continue behind closed doors.
SIC’s unstinting support for its fish farming chums was to the fore again in August when the council’s marine development sub-committee met to consider an application from Scottish Seafarms Limited. The firm wanted to be allowed to increase its mooring area so that it could include a feed barge. The fact that the increase would take the total site area to 20,119 square metres, well above the council’s own policy limits for fish farm sites, was, apparently, ignored.
Also ignored was the fact that a feed barge had been in place on the site for the past two years, illegally, and what the sub-committee was really being asked to do was to give retrospective approval to this illegal act. Councillor Frank Robertson stepped smartly into the breach: “As far as I am aware it [the illegal feed barge] was an oversight and they [Scottish Seafarms] assumed having a licence they could use any feeding system that’s appropriate.” The application was approved.
Another Scottish Seafarms application to do as similar ‘clean-up’ job and legalise another illegal feed barge at their site at Flotta by increasing the allowable mooring area was also “rubber-stamped” by the marine development sub-committee. The motion for approval was moved by, yes, you guessed, Councillor Frank Robertson.
The spectre of Technetium 99, radioactive waste from the Sellafield nuclear power plant in Cumbria, has come back to haunt the salmon farmers. In July, the Food Standards Agency confirmed the presence T99 in farm salmon on sale in Simsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Safeway, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer stores in London.
Also in the news, reports about “Farmed Fish Poison Fear”. A United States environmental group (EWG) published alarming findings after testing farm salmon for the presence of cancer-causing PCB’s. The group alleged that one of the samples, a farm salmon from Shetland fish farmers Mainstream (Scotland) had far more PCB’s (67.8 parts per billion) than farm fish from Iceland, Canada and the USA. Mainstream supply fake salmon to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and to Marks & Spencer.
The problem seems to stem from the diet farm fish are fed, much of which is sourced from PCB-contaminated sandeels and other small fish netted from the North Sea. Dennis Overton of Mainstream said: “We believe this research is flawed. A number of studies show that PCB levels in salmon have actually come down in recent years.” Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, who exercise strict quality control measures over their products, are investigating the report.
These reports, coupled with reports from scientists at Dublin University that plutonium levels around the south west coast of Scotland were “100 times greater than expected”, dealt a further blow public confidence in the quality of Scottish farm salmon. It also contradicted research carried out by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) that showed lower levels of plutonium in the area. Not to worry, though, a SEPA spokesman rushed to the rescue: “No member of the Scottish public is exposed to unacceptable levels of man-made radiation through food or the environment.” So that’s all right then, isn’t it?
These naughty old ‘naturally occurring’ toxic algal blooms are back in the news. An EU funded project aims to try to find ways of removing them from shellfish, particularly PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning), considered to be most dangerous. According to industry reports, controlled experiments will be carried out to see if “feeding shellfish with specific algae will speed un the detoxification process.”
Given that there is not a single recorded instance of toxic algal blooms anywhere in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland prior to the expansion of fish farming in the late 1980’s, perhaps the simplest way of removing these toxins would be to remove that which almost certainly causes them, fish farm disease and pollution?
East Loch Roag in the Outer Hebrides is one of the most intensively farmed Scottish sea lochs. The River Grimersta, once the most exclusive and productive salmon stream in Europe, drains into the loch and salmon stocks in the system have crashed since fish farming commenced in East Loch Roag.
The Grimersta is also an EU candidate special area of conservation. The designation means that the UK government must prevent developments that might damage the status of the system. How has the Scottish Executive responded to this challenge? They have given approval for a massive 30% increase in salmon farming activity in the loch; in spite of advice from their own advisors, Scottish Natural Heritage, that to do so would be to promote: “…sea lice, escapes from fish farms and diseases associated with farmed salmon [that] could all negatively affect wild salmon stocks.”
The reclusive owners of the Grimersta fishings may have only themselves to blame for the situation they find themselves in: they welcomed the fish farmers, and collaborated with them, leasing them land based operation sites and rights to rear salmon smolts in the freshwater lochs that feed the system. Sadly, this is true up and down the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland where lairds were happy enough to pocket fish farmer’s cash in return for site rentals, little realising that by doing so they were signing a death warrant for their wild fish.