The Salmon Farm Monitor
Guest Column, March 2004
It was a shaken Angus John who collected Jamie at Inverness in the battered old shooting brake. The day before, he and a couple of fellow ghillies had been speaking to Dr Andy Walker of the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory at Pitlochry. Dr Walker’s careful sampling had convinced him that sea trout populations up and down the west coast of Scotland were in mortal danger from the very same cause he had now seen at first hand when visiting his fellow scientists in Ireland.
Jamie caught a few finnock (trout that have returned to the river after a few weeks at sea) during his fortnight and one sea trout of about a couple of pounds. There was no summer job for Angus John the following year and, for the first time since the war Jamie’s dapping rod lay untouched in the gunroom.
As season followed season, and the caged fish grew ever more numerous, the more obvious it became that the new jobs on the salmon farms had been bought at a terrible price. The sea trout had been the first to suffer because they spend the summer feeding close inshore, the very place where sea louse larvae tend to accumulate. Soon there were complaints from rivers entering long sea lochs that the salmon populations were also in trouble as their smolts ran the sea-louse gauntlet.
Unlike the sea trout, salmon smolts are rigidly programmed to stay at sea until they reach adulthood. Theirs was a hidden Calvary, far offshore, as the maturing lice they had picked up in the sea lochs bit through the skin and destroyed the fluid balance of the worst-affected fish.
It was to be years before a reluctant government would grudgingly accept the disastrous consequences which their regional development polices had helped to create. With blooms of algae in mid-winter that forced the seasonal closure of valuable scallop fisheries, with vile blankets or rotting ordure below the salmon cages, the sheltered waters of the west were an undersea Eden no longer.
The Longshoreman, by Richard Shelton is published by Atlantic Books,