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News From Around the Fish Farms, September 2005

Sainsbury’s the supermarket that steals other people’s property

As reported in the last issue of the Monitor, SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison wrote to Sainsbury’s chairman Philip Hampton in August asking for the return of two DVD’s, sent in confidence to Sainsbury’s Technical Director, Dr Geoff Spriegel on 5th April.

The DVD’s, one of which showed the degraded state of the seabed below and in the vicinity of Marine Harvest cages in Loch Hourn in the Scottish West Highlands, the other featuring a pristine, pre-fish farm, seabed, and the same seabed after salmon farming began, where immediately shown to Marine Harvest executives.

The Loch Hourn site was featured in the Sainsbury’s Christmas TV adverts fronted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver which invited viewers to believe that the farm caused little or no environmental damage. The Loch Hourn DVD showed the exact opposite.

Philip Hampton has ignored the SFPG request for the return of the DVD’s which presumably are still in Sainsbury’s possession. The last communication received by the SFPG from Sainsbury’s was dated 29th April when customer services manager Lindsay Jeffries said “we will be contacting you directly.”

Sainsbury’s have cheated the SFPG and, in effect, stolen the DVD’s. What confidence should shoppers have in a company that behaves in such an arrogant and dishonest fashion?

Sainsbury’s the supermarket that buys farm salmon from one of Scotland’s worst polluters

Sainsbury’s is a major customer of one of Scotland’s worst polluters. As we revealed last month, Marine Harvest Limited, the world’s biggest farm salmon farmer, featured on a list of top polluters published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Marine Harvest’s latest appearance in court on a pollution offence was Wednesday 27th July when they were fined £4,000 for polluting the River Lochy with waste from their fish processing plant at Blar Mhor in Fort William. The company admitted permitting fish remains, blood and congealed fat to enter the river.

Speaking on behalf of the polluter, Marine Harvest environmental manager Ben Hadfield said that the incident was due to “an administrative oversight” and that his company was “committed to the highest environmental standards.” Could this by any chance be the same Ben Hadfield who, along with colleagues, rushed down to Sainsbury’s HQ in London to explain away the SFPG DVD’s (see above) which showed the degraded state of the seabed below and in the vicinity of their Loch Hourn site?

Is farmed salmon good for your health?

A new report published by Sustain, an alliance for better food and farming polices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, throws yet more doubt upon the safety of eating farm salmon.

The report claimed that salmon farmers were using ever more powerful chemicals in an attempt to protect their fish from sea lice attack, and that the new breed of chemicals were ten times more toxic than those in use at present.

The report’s editor, Jeanette Longfield, advised people to eat wild salmon rather than farm salmon. She said: “The evidence about the dangers of farmed fish is overwhelming. Our message would be if you are going to eat salmon, make sure it is the good stuff even if it is more expensive.”

The report, highlighted in the Scottish Daily Mail by Stuart Nicolson on 14th Sept, also noted other perceived health risks; neurological problems, immune system difficulties and a threat to pregnant woman and their unborn children. Sustain works to improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and represents over 100 national public interest organisations working at international, national, regional and local level.

More ‘jam tomorrow’ from the Scottish Executive

In the long history of government’s mismanagement of fish farming, those of us who have followed the matter, and fought to end the nightmare, have become accustomed to an endless stream of meaningless initiatives, reports, task force groups and empty promises.

They have all been designed, in my view and experience, to achieve but a single purpose: to divert attention from the disaster that has engulfed Scotland West Highland and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout, and to protect the fish farmers from public scrutiny.

The latest such initiative, the task force recently set up to devise a strategy to prevent G.salaris from arriving in Scotland, and to ‘manage’ G.salaris should it arrive, falls into this category. Government has been aware of the risk for more than a decade, why this sudden rush to address the issue now?

Could it by any chance have anything to do with the fact that Marine Harvest is considering bringing in millions of eggs from Norway, where G.salaris is endemic, and that the Scottish Executive (SE) is anxious to show that they had taken all reasonable steps to avoid the disease arriving here - rather than just telling Marine Harvest that they would not allow them to do so?

The most certain and effective way of protecting our rivers and lochs and their wild salmonids from G.salaris and other fish farm related diseases, would be to get these fish farms out of our coastal waters. Why won’t the SE do that? They have the power to do so, why don’t act, now, before it is too late to be anything other than sorry? Why are they so afraid of upsetting the fish farmers?

I don’t suppose that we will ever find the answers to these questions. In the meantime, the SE has announced that it is to introduce a Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill - next summer - to “improve the regulation of freshwater fisheries, strengthen the conservation of stocks and provide a secure basis for Scotland’s diverse fishing industries.” Who do they think they are kidding?

The SE has also agreed a biodiversity plan, committed to halting the loss of biodiversity - by 2010. And a new programme for the Scottish Marine Environment; an £800,000 initiative with Shetland, the Firth of Clyde and the Berwickshire coast as location for “testing innovative approaches to marine and coastal management over a three years period.” Yes, Minister. In the meantime, it’s business as usual for the fish farmers who, day by day, are destroying our wild fish and the biodiversity of our coastal waters, rivers and lochs with the blessing and support of their chums in the Scottish Executive.

Improving the health of farmed fish

In August, the EU proposed new rules on the health of farmed fish: “These include giving Member States a mandate to request that risk-reducing measures are implemented where aquaculture production poses a threat to wild stocks.

“In cases where aquaculture activities are found to be having an unacceptable negative impact on the environment, Member State authorities will have the right to ban or relocate these activities.”

If you think that these powers would ever be used by the Scottish Executive to protect Scotland’s West Highland and Islands wild fish, forget it. In any case, thanks to the executive and the fish farmers, it is highly unlikely that will be any wild fish left there for them to protect.

Shetland Island Saga

More than 12 Shetland Island fish farm companies and processing operations have gone into receivership since 2003, one of the latest casualties being Hoove Salmon. Shetland Island Council’s (SIC) development trust looks like losing another £1.18 million in the process and a further £105,000 is owed to Shetland Aquaculture Trust.

Losses to SIC oil reserve funds to date through their unstinting support of factory fish farming stand at approx £10m, and rising; enough to pay every man, woman and child in the islands a bonus of nearly £500.

But it’s not all bad news, at least not for those who manage these farms. Those who owned Hoove Salmon, the brothers Grains, Angus, Calum and Gavin, whose mother, Florence, is Vice Convener of SIC, seem to be having a good run for their money, or rather SIC and European Union money: apart from cash from Shetland Council’s oil reserve fund, money has poured in from the EU Financial Instrument on Fisheries Guidance.

Hoove Salmon received an EU grant of £149,100, whilst Papil Salmon, (a company Hoove bought over in 2001 with help from the Shetland Council Development Trust in the shape of a £500,000 loan) landed £186,305. Angus Grains was also managing director of failed SSG Seafoods where his salary was alleged to have been not unadjacent to £100,000 pa.

The Grain’s colleague fish farmers, Alistair Goodland and his cousin John are also adapt at persuading public bodies to keep them afloat. Shetland Enterprise, has just (Sept 2005) awarded the Goodlads a loan of £650,000.

Alistair, whose brother Morgan is CEO of Shetland Island Council (SIC), and John have played a lead role in a number of fish farm companies that have gone into receivership, the most spectacular being SSG Seafoods, and all of whom received financial support from SIC as well as bucket-loads of cash from the EU.

SSG Seafoods, (Chairman, John Goodland) was a co-operative involving a number of Shetland fish farmers, including the Grain’s Hoove Salmon, Bressay Salmon (owned by John and Alistair), and Cro Lax (also owned by the Goodlad family). The collapse of SSG Seafoods cost the public purse upwards of £7 million pounds, but the council refused to hold a public inquiry into the disaster in spite of wide spread concern about possible conflicts of interest in the awarding of grants and loans to salmon farmers.

Two weeks before SSG Seafoods folded, the Goodlads, along with Angus Grains and his brother Calum, formed a new company, Foraness Fish, which then did a deal with receivers Ernst & Young to buy back 300,000 immature salmon, cages and works licence, all at a knock-down price from the failed company.

Thereafter, Bressay Salmon tragically went into receivership at the end of January 2004 whilst Cro Lax and Hoove Salmon followed a few months later. Foraness Fish and North Atlantic Seafarms rose triumphant from the ashes. But between them, these Grains and Goodlad companies cost the people of Shetland and banks nearly £3 million pounds and the EU £620,315.

It is beyond belief that anyone would wish to finance the activities of such high risk borrowers. Shetland Enterprise chief executive, Ann Black, speaking to The Shetland News, said: “The Scottish Executive has asked the Highlands and Islands Enterprise network to assist salmon farming businesses in this way. Hopefully confidence in the salmon farming sector will return in the near future.” So that’s all right then, isn’t it?