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Guest Column, November 2003

David Oakes and his family live and work on the east coast of the Island of Skye. He is a scallop diver and has a great love of the environment he works in and for the creatures that inhabit that environment. He has been an outspoken critic of the damage that fish farming does, not only to salmonids but also to other species.

The Big Business Agenda Driving the Destruction of Scotland's Environment

Skye scallop diver David Oakes on the destruction to Scotland's marine environment that he has witnessed being caused by the salmon farming industry

Every industry has environmental consequences. The question is: who decides which of these consequences is acceptable? This must surely be a duty of government and I honestly believe that this government is incapable of making responsible and impartial choices on our behalf.

In my view, big business manipulates government. This is self-evident; at least it is to me, when you examine the close relationship that exists between those involved in promoting intensive sea cage aquaculture and those charged with regulating it, the Scottish Executive.

For people to formulate an opinion of what is socially and environmentally acceptable, they need to be given the facts. But aquaculture research is industry led - whilst any independent, adverse, science is either denigrated or ignored.

Many government agencies and quangos, as well as University aquaculture research departments, Ďfeedí on fish farming. They have a vested interest in supporting those who pay them. In consequence, therefore, I suggest, they have but small incentive to pursue the truth regarding the environmental damage that this industry causes.

If we set aside the obvious instances of harmful algal blooms, faecal contamination of shellfish, the illegal and legal uses of biocides, and simply examine the decline of one species of marine fish you will understand what I am getting at.

My observations of the lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus)) over 15 years has shown that sea lice from salmon farms not only consume salmonids, but marine fish as well. When I started scallop cultivation, in spring and summer juvenile lumpfish often landed on the deck of my workboat. I would sweep them back into the sea. I donít need to do this today because juvenile lumpfish are no longer seen in areas of intensive salmon farm activity.

Lumpfish are a fascinating species when observed by a diver. In winter and early spring it is the male that guards the cluster of eggs deposited on a shallow, rocky substrate. His role is not only to protect them but to oxygenate them as well.

It is when he is engaged in this parental duty that the deadly pox of salmon farm sea lice start to literally suck the life force from him. It is a pathetic sight to see; a lumpfish covered in dozens of sea lice and so moribund that the diver can catch him by hand. When he is released his overwhelming instinct is to return to his charges in the vain hope that he will survive long enough to see his offspring hatch.

But, alas, he will die and so will his brood. Without his protection they are doomed to be consumed by predators or suffocate before hatching. I have seen this more than once, not in areas saturated with salmon farm cages because these areas are now totally devoid of lumpfish, but in sea lochs that are less blighted by sea cages.

The only logical explanation for this is that lice originating from intensive salmon farm sites have now entered and altered the biodiversity of whole systems to such an extent that this species is rapidly becoming extinct. What will the consequences be, particularly for the European Otter which rely on lumpfish as their major source of food during winter months?

It is not only wild creatures that suffer from the blight of sea cage aquaculture. In Iceland where multinational fin fish farms are expanding, there is at present a wild fishery for lumpfish roe; I suspect that the Icelandic authorities are oblivious to the impending demise of what has been, up until now, a sustainable, valuable fishery.

I have reported my observations to both the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and to the Scottish Executive, but as no agency will take responsibility for the sea lice plagues emanating from fin fish aquaculture sites, information regarding their detrimental effects on lumpfish wonít be passed to other nations. Thus, the global environmental fraud of fish farming continues. Big business wins again.