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News From Around the Fish Farms, September 2006

  • Advertising Standards Authority reject Scottish Executive complaint
  • Toxic algal blooms wreck havoc in the West Highlands and Islands
  • Ethical Marketing M&S style
  • Scottish Executive dishes out more tax-payer cash to help fish farmers
  • New chairman for Wester Ross Fishery Trust
  • Scotland going down the pan?

Advertising Standards Authority reject Scottish Executive complaint

When Birds Eye, the frozen food producer, launched a television ad campaign promoting the quality of their wild fish products, Rhona Brankin, the Scottish Executive deputy environment minister, dashed to defend her fish farming chums.

Ms Brankin complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying that: “It would be unfortunate therefore, if, on the basis of this campaign consumers were wrongly turned away from eating healthy farmed salmon.” Not a single one of Ms. Brankin’s complaints, or complaints from the fish farmers themselves, was upheld. Download the full text of the ASA's rejection of the complaints.

‘Naturally occurring’ toxic blooms wreck havoc in the West Highlands and Islands

Prior to the late 1980’s and the expansion of fish farming in the West Highlands and Islands, there had been only one recorded instance of a toxic algal bloom in the area - and this was in Argyllshire, close to where a fish farm dumped untreated into the sea.

Since then, toxic algal blooms have become a year-round occurrence and there is little doubt that fish farm sewage is a major contributory factor in their creation (see map on home page of The Salmon Farm Monitor), in spite of the fact that the Scottish Executive (SE) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) refer to them as being ‘naturally occurring’.

This summer, when air temperatures reached record highs, large numbers of dead fish and crustaceans were found in the Western Isles. A SEPA report noted that: “A significant quantity of young dead salmon has been found… but it is too early to tell whether toxins from these [blooms] are the cause of any of these mortalities.” There are further reports of dead lobsters and crabs, and reports of large numbers of dead lugworms. Similar reports are being received from the Northern Isles where farmed salmon have also died.

In Shetland, shellfish harvesting has been banned on two sites because DSP (diarrhetic shellfish poisoning). A further 60 Shetland shellfish sites are being monitored on a weekly basis. Eight Shetland freshwater lochs have been poisoned by toxic blue green algae. Significantly, the majority of these outbreaks have taken place in areas associated with fish farms. But in spite of the growing body of scientific evidence that implicates untreated fish farm sewage with the incidence of these blooms, the SE continues to allow the industry to pollute our lochs and coastal waters.

LATEST NEWS As we go to press, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) (Friday, 8th September) has issued a health warning against eating certain mussels with high toxic levels. The affected products, supplied by the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG), are fresh mussels sold in1 kilo nets by Asda, Morrisons and Tesco’s supermarkets between Monday 4th and Wednesday 6th September.

“The mussels have tested positive for levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) above the level permitted by law.” The FSA say that eating the mussels “can cause a tingling sensation of the mouth and tongue and respiratory problems,” and that, “In very rare cases PSP can be fatal.”

The FSA make a point of noting that PSP is caused by ‘naturally occurring’ algal blooms (see previous story on toxic algal blooms). The SSMG have also issued a press release that says virtually the same, without, however, identifying the supermarkets to who they sold the contaminated mussels. They are also careful to note that PSP is ‘naturally occurring’.

This is the third such incident in the past eight years. In July 1998 a total of 49 people who ate at two London restaurants suffered acute nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and feverishness lasting eight hours. Doctors diagnosed Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) and it is alleged that the contaminated mussels had been colleted from fish farm cages in Loch Seaforth in the Western Isles.

A report in the medical journal, the Lancet, noted that the particular phycotoxin involved in this incident, okadaic acid, had not been seen in food a poisoning outbreak before.

In November 2001, another incident involving suspected contamination in SSMG mussels occurred when the Food Standards Agency reported that DSP was suspected in 5kg net bags of mussels.

The SSMG issued the following statement at the time: “A sample of mussels taken from a Sutherland mussel farm on Monday 26th November was reported on Thursday 6th December to contain DSP toxin. Mussels were harvested at the farm between 26th November and 6th December and placed upon the market. As a precautionary measure all mussels remaining in circulation from those harvests have been recalled and destroyed.”

Sadly, however, not before diners at restaurants in Central Scotland, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, had suffered the consequences. It is estimated that the volume of raw sewage the fish farmers dump into West Highland and Island coastal waters is equivalent to the sewage output from a human population of 10 million people, twice the population of Scotland.

Ethical Marketing M&S style

Marks & Spencer, one of UK’s leading supermarket groups, runs an ethical marketing campaign that urges shoppers to “look behind the label” to persuade them that M&S is the most ethical place to shop. M&S is reportedly ranked top of sustainable seafood retailers.

However, this did not stop M&S from inventing a fake Scottish loch to help it sell customers artificial salmon produced by a Norwegian-owned company. Andrew Mallinson, an M&S fish expert said that the new brand name, ‘Lochmuir’, was chosen by a panel of consumers because “It had the most Scottish resonance. It emphasises that the fish is Scottish.”

In a letter published in The Scotsman, SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison commented, “So it is all right to use a fake Scottish loch to produce fake Scottish salmon produced by a Norwegian-owned company. What other fake names does M&S use to promote its products?

According to the industry magazine, IntraFish, M&S will launch the fish across UK in five different chilled-fish packed formats, “giving the retailer space to tell customers about the new programme.” The fish will be sourced from Scottish Sea Farms, a company that is owned by Salmar AS and The Leroy Seafood Group of Norway.

Scottish Executive dishes out more tax-payer cash to help fish farmers

Deputy environment minister Rhona Brankin’s quickly bounced back after her complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about the Birds Eye ad was rejected (see Home Page). At a recent ceremony in the Western Isles to welcome a new salmon farming agreement between wild fish interests and the fish farmers, Ms Brankin announced that £640,000 of public cash would be made available support the agreement.

The agreement involves moving fish farms in Loch Roag, on the west side of the Island of Lewis, away from the mouth of the Grimersta River; once one of the UK’s finest and exclusive wild salmon streams, now but a shadow of its former self because of the impact of salmon farm sea-lice on wild fish populations.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), and the two Norwegian-owned fish farmers involved, Marine Harvest (Scotland) and Fjord Seafood Scotland Limited, are delighted with the agreement. SSPO Chief Executive Sid Patten said, “This is another example of the salmon faming industry working with other parties to solve difficult issues so that everyone benefits.”

SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison said: “For years, the fish farmers have denied that sea lice from their farms was responsible for the collapse of wild salmonid stocks. Now, however, when it is convenient for them, and when they are being supported by public cash, they have agreed to move their cages out of the migratory routes of wild fish. Why is it convenient now? The only reason that I can think of is that their present sites are probably grossly polluted, and that they want to remove to fresh sites where they can establish much larger units with lower operating costs and less staff, and get a pocket-full of public money to help them do so.”

Sandison continued, “As to the plight of the wild fish in the Grimersta, I have little sympathy with the river’s owners. I honestly believe that had it not been for them leasing freshwater sites and land base facilities to the fish farmers in the first place, then their river wouldn’t have been damaged. Like so many other lairds throughout the West Highland and Island they shot themselves in the foot when they accepted the fish farmer’s cash and invited them in.”

As a footnote to all the mutual back-slapping going it might be useful to record one of the conclusions of the Executive’s Environmental Report for the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Location/Relocation of Fish Farms Draft Programme Proposals: final Draft/Consultation Report (May 2006, conclusion 8):

“The final scale of the environmental benefit derived from the preferred relocation programme will ultimately be dependent upon the quality of the criteria based assessment of each relocation application. The procedure for applying and weighing a set of agreed assessment criteria (arising directly from the programme principles) must be further developed and clarified.”

Or, to put it another way, ‘we really don’t have clue about what might happen but if something really bad does happen then we have our back-sides adequately covered.’ Treble farmed salmon stakes all round!

Meanwhile….

In Wester Ross, where another ‘management agreement’ similar to the one noted above is in place, the local fisheries trust has announced changes in its management structure. Mrs Elizabeth Macdonald-Buchanan, has resigned as chairman and Mr John Parry has taken over.

The principal wild fish waters in the trust area are the River Ewe and Loch Maree, one of the first Scottish systems to be hit by disease and pollution from fish farms in Loch Ewe, into which Loch Maree drains. Loch Maree was once the finest sea-trout loch in Europe where sport anglers caught upwards of 1,500 sea-trout each season. The Loch Maree Hotel employed 11 full-time gilles and a seat in a boat on Loch Maree was a prize beyond compare.

Today, anglers have deserted the loch because there are so few fish left for them to try to catch. The hotel can barely support the employment of one part-time gille and the glory days have gone. Marine Harvest has consistently rejected all claims that sea lice from their farms was implicated in the collapse of wild stocks. They are now relocating cages away from the mouth of the River Ewe (see above).

Mrs Macdonald-Buchanan, the proprietor of fishing rights on the river, has allegedly been receiving substantial payments from the fish farmers for leasing them land based sites and other facilities and there may have been a conflict of interests here - given that an objective of the Wester Ross Fishery Trust is to preserve and protect wild salmonid stocks.

Whatever, the new chairman, John Parry, has taken over. But could this John Parry by any chance be the same John Parry who used to own Ardessie Fish Farms in Little Loch Broom? Could this be the same John Parry who was ejected from Scottish Quality Salmon for undisclosed misdemeanours? Is this the same John Parry who ordered one of his workers to illegally treat fish with the banned substance, an ingredient of which was the banned toxic chemical cypermethrin? And is this the same John Parry who now rents his site to Marine Harvest? Perhaps we should be told?

Scotland going down the pan?

Alte Eide, the chief executive officer of Norwegian-owned multi-national fish farm giant Pan Fish is arguably the most powerful man in the world-wide business of artificial salmon production. In a Reuters interview (23/6/06) he displayed the depth, or rather lack of depth, of his understanding about concerns over salmon farming in Scotland: “Most hostile against salmon farming aren’t the people living [near the farms], it’s NGO’s in New York and people with summer houses in Scotland,” he said.

SFPG Chairman Bruce MacGregor Sandison asked Mr Eide – on 23rd June, 7th July, 25th July and 8th September- if he had any evidence to support that statement. There has been no response. Sandison commented, “Alte Eide has been caught out making a fatuous statement. He has no evidence whatsoever to back up his ridiculous claim and, having made it, he is not man enough to admit that he is wrong. If this is an example of how Mr Eide runs his business then I fear for the future of Pan Fish employees in Scotland.”