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News From Around the Fish Farms, September 2004

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

Bad manners

On 28th May, SFPG md, Don Staniford, wrote to Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell, expressing our concern about the use of public money to try to persuade consumers to eat more fatty and flabby farmed salmon.

Nearly four months later, we are still waiting for an answer. Scottish Executive policy is to reply to correspondence with in 28 days of receipt. We have today written again, enclosing a copy of our original letter, seeking either a reply, or at the very least an explanation for the delay.

Sexing up farm salmon

Lord Jamie Lindsay’s ‘Scottish Quality Salmon’ group - who represent upwards of 65% of fake salmon production in Scotland - has been working itself into a lather dishing out a stream of tasty press releases saying how wonderful they are and how wonderful their product is.

According to Brian Simpson, SQS chief executive officer in a report dated 7th September, exports of Scottish farm salmon to France have increased by 15% during the first half of 2004. “This further demonstrates the confidence that the French consumers have in the quality of Label Rouge Scottish salmon. The first half of 2004 mirrors the growth of previous years. Earlier this year I enthused about our new promotional material and this has undoubtedly helped to reassure those consumers that had their confidence dented at the beginning of the year,” he said.

Funny that, because an IntraFish (the industry online magazine) report dated 24th August gave a somewhat different picture: “No leap in French salmon sales: French salmon sales have yet to fully rebound from the battering they took after the controversial report published in the Science journal [claiming that Scottish farm salmon was the most contaminated in the world] in January.

Half year figures released by Ofimer, the French Aquaculture and Seafood Board, reveled that whilst cumulative sales were down 20% for the first half of 2004 compared to the same period last year, sales for June and July were 10% in arrears of the same months last year.” The Intrafish report concluded that “A turnaround in French salmon sales could be some way off, if the latest work by the same set of researchers as the Science study is anything to go by.”

More Scottish Quality Salmon propaganda

SQS has also issued press releases hailing the award of EU Protected Geographical Indicator status for Scottish salmon (including fake salmon). Again, Brian Simpson waked lyrical about the quality of Scottish farmed salmon: “Products will now only be able to be called ‘Scottish Farmed Salmon’ if they are produced in accordance with a set of stringent procedures and standards. Our good name is therefore protected and fish from other countries will be prevented from being labelled and passed off at consumer level as Scottish Farmed Salmon,” he said.

It would be useful if Mr Simpson were to give us details, chapter and verse, of exactly which producers had been found ‘guilty’ of passing off their farmed salmon as being ‘Scottish’? I know of no such incident. Indeed, it would be strange, at least it would be to me, if Norwegian/Chilean/Canadian, whatever, fish farmers would want their salmon to be identified with Scottish farm fish, given the information in the Science journal report, and the recent additional report about levels of flame retardants in farm salmon?

Commenting on the reports of PCB and toxin levels in Scottish farmed salmon, and the most recent study in connection with flame retardants Mr Simpson said, “The publication of a paper by Americans Ronald Hites and David Carpenter regarding PBDE’s [flame retardants] in salmon in Environment Science & Technology is yet another example of the tactics being used by wealthy American anti-Scottish salmon farming campaigners to scare the public.”

It now appears that Messrs Hites and Carpenter are not the only ‘wealthy American anti-Scottish salmon farming campaigners bent of scaring the public. The paper on PBDE’s was published in the peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific journal. The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organisation chartered by the U.S. Congress with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. Can Brian Simpson explain why all those people suddenly appear to ‘have-it-in’ for Scottish farm salmon?

How Scottish Quality Salmon members protect the ‘good name’ of their industry

As for protecting their good name, perhaps SQS should look closer to home? Last month (August 26th) one of their member companies, Wester Ross Salmon, was fined £12,000 for massively breaching their Scottish Environment Protection Agency discharge and putting at risk a fresh water loch in the West Highlands that the company used to rear salmon smolts. The company had consent for a maximum weight of fish of 4.5 tonnes on the site, instead, they had 24 tonnes. So far, in spite of requests from The Salmon Farm Protest Group, SQS has refused to comment on this disgraceful affair, or to say how it intends, if at all, to discipline Wester Ross Salmon.

In another press release, in ‘Notes to Editors’, SQS say: “Scottish Quality Salmon is the premier scheme for Scottish farmed salmon and is exclusive to those companies that are independently inspected and certified to demanding standards covering best practice, product quality, fish husbandry and, notably, IS0 14001 environmental systems.

Wester Ross Salmon claims to be: ‘Scotland’s oldest independent fully integrated salmon farmer’, but its registered address is given as Fairoaks Airport, Chobham, Woking, Surrey. They say that their principal objective “is to have the highest standards of salmon welfare in Scotland and care for Scotland’s environment,” and that, “Salmon farmers are guardians of the natural environment, since our livelihoods depend entirely on caring for the pristine waters where our salmon grow. Scotland has many significant environmental benefits; jeopardizing this position would be very short-sighted.” Finally, “Remember - quality salmon requires a quality environment; it is clearly in our interests and that of the local community to respect and preserve our environment.” Yes, indeed, yes indeed.

The quickness of the pen deceives the eye

Here are two reports about the same event. One is from a fishing industry trade journal, ‘Eating salmon is good for heart disease sufferers’, the other, ‘Study Raises Concern on Benefits of Fish’ is from the Associated Press group.

The fact that the study involved Nutreco, the world’s largest salmon farmer and salmon feed manufacturer is irrelevant. To suggest otherwise would be impertinence to the independence of the Norwegian researchers involved.

Eating salmon is good for heart disease sufferers

(European Fish Trader, published on September 01- 2004)

Eating farmed salmon brings measurable benefits to people that have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, according to a new study.

The higher the content of marine omega-3 in the feed on which the salmon were raised, the better it is for the cardiac patients, the study says.

These are conclusions of a Norwegian research project involving Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo, Norwegian National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) in Bergen and Nutreco Aquaculture Research Centre (ARC) in Stavanger. The Norwegian Research Council also supported the project.

The results were presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s 2004 Congress in Munich, Germany on Monday, the 30th of August.

The study began in 2003 with the recruitment of 60 CHD patients of the Ulleval University Hospital, Norway’s leading medical research centre. Before the six-week eating trial began the blood of all patients was analysed for a series of medical indicators (the serum fatty acid profile, lipoproteins and key markers of arteriosclerosis).

These indicators were re-checked following the trial, to assess the extent of any changes.

Patients were randomly divided into three groups of 20. Each group was given salmon raised on diets with high, standard or basic levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Throughout the six-week trial each patient ate five salmon meals a week, totalling 700g of salmon a week.

Analysis of the blood samples taken at the end of the trial showed lower cholesterol levels in all three groups of patients, but less improvement in the high marine omega-3 group. On the other hand, eating salmon fed on the high marine omega-3 diet resulted in the best improvements for the other markers.

The highest omega-3 level was obtained in salmon given a feed with 100% fish oil. Diet number two was based on 50% fish oil and 5Q% rapeseed oil and the basic diet used only vegetable oil. Even this basic ornega-3 diet gave the cardiac patients some 15 times the amount of omega-3 than would be derived from eating most meats.

The results of this trial add to those of many other published research projects to show that omega-3 fatty acids, derived from eating oily fish such as salmon, do have health benefits. The CHD patient trial also indicates a potential medical role for fish with very high-levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids.

The work was publicised by Nutreco, the parent company of Marine Harvest.

Study Raises Concern on Benefits of Fish

EMMA ROSS (Associated Press, 3rd September 2004)

MUNICH, Germany - The heart health benefits from fish like salmon and mackerel seem to be weakened when the fish are fed vegetable oil instead of fish oil, new research indicates. So the answer might be to feed them more fish oil.

But that raises a different concern. Other studies have indicated fish oil increases the levels of pollutants in farm-raised salmon. That has encouraged some fish farmers to move to vegetable oil - which apparently decreases the heart benefits. It’s yet another fish conundrum for consumers, like the debate about whether the mercury in some fish offsets their health benefits.

Still, many experts argue that for most adults, the benefits are probably greater than the concerns about pollutants linked to cancer. They note that many more people are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease than cancer.

Wild fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids; the healthy fat that scientists believe raises the good HDL cholesterol, lowers unhealthy tryglicendes and slows the growth of plaque, protecting the heart from disease.

However, in modem fish farming, the fish are usually fed pellets that contain a mixture of natural fish oil and vegetable oil. And after a U.S. study earlier this year showed far higher levels of dioxins and other potentially cancer-causing pollutants in farm-raised salmon, some in the industry vowed to move more toward pellets with vegetable oil.

The latest study challenges that approach. This week at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, Norwegian scientists showed that people who ate salmon fed on pure vegetable oil or on 50 percent fish oil and 50 percent vegetable oil did not get any meaningful improvement in the relevant blood tests.

The study was small, involving 58 people with heart disease in Oslo, Norway, who were all taking heavy medication for their illness. The fish were farmed in northwest Norway, color-coded according to the pellets they were fed and shipped to a central kitchen in Oslo where they were served to the heart patients.

One-third of the people were fed salmon that had been given pellets of fish oil, another third got fish fed on a 50/50 mix of fish oil and vegetable oil from rapeseed and the last group got salmon raised on pure rapeseed oil pellets. Each volunteer ate 700 grams of the fish per week, or one fish meal per day, for six weeks.

The scientists, led by Dr. Harold Arnesen of Ulleval University Hospital in Norway, tested blood from the volunteers for concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids and changes in blood chemicals linked to heart disease.

‘The composition of the food pellets was mirrored in the flesh of the salmon fillets and again mirrored in the serum fatty acids of the patients,” Arnesen told doctors.

Omega-3 levels increased substantially in the patients who ate salmon fed on fish oil, but not in the patients who ate salmon fed on mixed pellets or vegetable oil pellets.

The results were the same for improvements in chemical markers of inflammation, which is involved in building plaque in the arteries.

The most impressive difference was in triglycerides, which fell by 30 percent in the fish-oil group and not at all in the other patients. Everybody’s cholesterol dropped, but that was probably because they were eating fish instead of meat, which is high in saturated fat, the scientists concluded. Nobody lost weight during the study, which means the results could not have been due to differences in weight loss, Arnesen said.

“Only 2 percent of the market today is wild salmon. The farmed salmon market today is very close to 50/50 feed. It’s what we have in Norway and it’s more or less the same all over the world,” Arnesen said. ‘The findings underline the importance of tailoring the salmon with heart protective properties.”

Although experts believe that omega-3 rich fatty fish is good for the heart, the ideal amount to eat is not clear. The study indicates that if the group who ate the 50/50 salmon ate twice as much, they would likely gain the same benefit as those who ate the salmon fed with pure fish oil.

“If we are what we eat, then salmon are also what they eat,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a nutrition science professor at Tufts University in Boston who was not involved in the study. “This shows there are ways of breeding salmon that can increase the fatty acids.”

Lichtenstein has contended in the past that cardiovascular disease is a far bigger risk than the potential of getting cancer from eating fish tainted by pollutants.

The American Heart Association recommends adults eat fish, particularly fatty fish, at least twice a week. There is no equivalent European recommendation.

Confused?

Pay-back time for Scotland’s East Coast salmon river owners?

The Salmon Farm Protest Group has, on a number of occasions, highlighted the secret deal made in the 1980’s between Scotland’s salmon farmers, The Crown Estate, Scottish civil servants and (perhaps) the predecessor body of the Association of Salmon Fisheries Boards (ASFB): that the fake fish farmers would keep out of the East Coast, to protect Scotland’s major wild salmon rivers from fish farm disease and pollution, in return for being given freedom to do as they pleased on the West Coast.

The existence of this deal has never been disputed by any of the parties involved. Indeed, Brian Simpson CEO of Scottish Quality Salmon confirmed it in August 2002 during an interview on the BBC Radio Scotland Lesley Riddoch show (full report in Rod McGill archive for October 2002). Mr Simpson said: “We actually have agreed many years ago that the whole East coast of Scotland should not be allowed to develop fish farming, that it should be in fact confined to the West.”

Further confirmation came in May 2003 when proposals for a fish farm hatchery on the banks of a Tweed tributary were announced. Lord Forsyth (Secretary of Sate for Scotland 1995-1997) was horrified: “There was an understanding, I thought, that no fish farms would be allowed in the East Coast.” Michael Forsyth fishes for salmon on Tweed. Read a full report in the May 2003 Guest Column.

This callous agreement, taken privately and outside of any form of public consultation, signed the death warrant for Scotland’s West Highlands and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout. Now, compliant East Coast riparian owners are reaping the reward. A press release from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) dated 26th August gave the details:

“Scotland’s major salmon rivers are set to get a new burst of life, thanks to a major European-funded project which as been given the go-ahead this week. The project, whish is the most significant for Atlantic salmon conservation ever undertaken in Scotland’s rivers, aims to substantially improve conditions for salmon in eight key salmon rivers. Works costing more than £3 million over four years will be launched by Allan Wilson, Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, in Deeside today.

“Mr Wilson said: “The award of this significant funding package highlights the importance of Scotland’s rivers and how their quality contributes to our country’s economy, its ecology and our own quality of life.” John Markland, SNH chairman, said: This is fantastic news for salmon rivers in Scotland. Although we have one of the healthiest Atlantic salmon populations in the world, numbers have declined in recent decades.” Andrew Wallace, director of the ASFB, said: “The news is the culmination of two years hard work and is testament to what can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together.”

So where are these rivers? With one exception, the Bladnoch in South West Scotland, they are all on the East coast: Dee, Spey, Tweed, Tay, South Esk, Oykle and Moriston, all of them about as far away from the nearest salmon farm as you can get. As Andrew Wallace comments, it is indeed surprising what can be achieved “when the public and private sectors work together”. The ASFB was perhaps the only organisation that could have acted positively to save our west coast wild salmon and sea-trout from fish farm disease and pollution and it is sad that it failed to do so.

Yet more quality spin from Scottish Quality Salmon

When the Salmon Farm Protest Group began to expose hotels and restaurants that were afraid to apply the ‘F’ word to the salmon they dished up, Brian Simpson of SQS commented that he would love to see restaurants calling out “Scottish farmed salmon” on their menus. “It’s a good idea. Labelling is what we’re all about. We’re proud of Scottish farmed salmon. There’s more education needed in the restaurant trade. I think we all have a bit of work to do in educating them,” he said.

However, is this not just a case of pots calling kettles names? If Brian Simpson is so proud of Scottish farm salmon, why doesn’t his organisation use the word ‘farmed’ in their title? If indeed it is all about labelling, wouldn’t it be more far more accurate for them to call themselves ‘Scottish Quality Farmed Salmon’? As it stands at present, consumers could be excused for thinking that SQS was suggesting a wild origin, rather than Mr. Simpson’s tasty, nutritious and delicious farmed variety? Perhaps we should be told?

The on-off deal to “save” Scottish salmon farmers

For months now, over-excited politicians and fish farm-huggers have trumpeted the success of their campaign to persuade the EU to imposed import restrictions on salmon from Norway and the Faroe Islands. According to the Sunday Post, Prime Minister Tony Blair was instrumental in achieving the anti-dumping tariff deal and was prompted to do so when he heard that Scottish jobs were at risk.

Allan Wilson, Scottish Executive deputy minister for the environment and rural development welcomed the safeguard measures, saying, “We are very grateful for the support we have support we have received from the UK government, the EC and the majority of EU member states. The Scottish Executive has been determined that our important salmon production industry receives the protection it needs.

“With the support of our UK government colleagues and the industry we have worked hard to achieve these safeguards measures. Our industry is being threatened by imports of salmon,” he said. He added, “This is a key step in allowing the salmon industry to stablaise at an economically sustainable level and for profitability to return to the salmon sector.”

Whoops! It ain’t necessarily so. The Danes have objected, throwing the whole proposed ‘protection-scheme’ back into the melting pot. The Danish government is pressing the EU council of ministers to scrap the provisional “safety measures” now in place because these restrictions will adversely impact on their fish processing industry. As reported in the Aberdeen Press & Journal (8/09/04) a UK government spokesman said that London was “disappointed but not surprised by the [Danes] move. He confirmed, however, that the UK government would be lobbying other EU countries to maintain the commission’s new tariff regime.

However, Scots Tory MEP Straun Stevenson warns that the issue is not simple, as much of the Scottish farm salmon industry is Norwegian-owned. He said, “I am hesitant to welcome the Dane’s intervention but far from happy at the gung-ho attitude of certain sections of the industry.” He said that he supported efforts on the Norwegian side to sit round the table with the industry and to try to resolve the problem through a coordinated market approach.

Given that there are very few truly ‘independent’ Scottish salmon farmers, and that the industry is almost entirely dominated by the Norwegian and the Dutch multi-national, Nutreco, the fear is that if their interests are damaged, then they may simply pull out of Scotland altogether and relocate their salmon farm business to a more user-friendly country, such as Chile, thus causing a complete collapse of salmon farming in Scotland and massive job losses all round. Still, I suppose the Scottish Executive knows what it is doing?