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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
"That which you have wasted will not be there for future generations"

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Guest Column, July 2004

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Jim Semple is a riparian owner on the River Shiel in Argyllshire. Over the years he has seen the numbers of wild salmon and sea-trout in the Shiel and Loch Shiel decline to near-extinction levels. He has been tireless in his efforts to reverse the decline and to highlight the dangers and damage caused by factory fish farming to wild stocks.

A grandfather's despair at the destruction of our environmental heritage

Jim Semple

I was sitting by the river trying to paint a picture of a salmon pool. During the war it contained so many fish that it used to be netted for food. Apparently, a ton of salmon was once taken from this pool and used to feed soldiers training in Ardnamurchan.

Earlier, I had hurried out of bed at five thirty to have a cast before the sun was up. Now, I am now painting a water colour. I have been on the water for the past four hours without seeing a single rise, apart from salmon parr. They are there in abundance, rising where the salmon should be. The salmon chase the little ones away so I knew there were no salmon where they ought to be. I decided to paint, rather than fish. At least I could enjoy the scenery and remember the old times when there were fish splashing everywhere.

The problem is, and has been for the past 20 odd years, the impact of fish farm disease and pollution on wild fish returning to the river. My long playing record is now switched on and for those who are still unaware of the extent of the problem here is a shortened version of the situation as I see it today.

It has been proved conclusively and beyond reasonable doubt that where fish farms set up business, the local migratory wild fish stocks disappear. Please applaud the efforts of our biologists who have now collected ample data to make this judgment complete and sound. Please applaud also the fishing proprietors who core fund and set up the management of the Trusts and Boards whose sole interests are focussed on the wild fish stocks and all that it might take to reinstate them.

At the same time please give a loud and very rude raspberry to those who have consistently let our unique environment be sufficiently poisoned by fish farming to destroy our heritage in the twinkling of an eye. When I was a boy I could go down to the Sea Pool here on the Shiel and be ‘knocked’ by finnock time after time, again and again, perhaps a hundred strikes before twelve o’clock. I take my grandchildren down to the same place today and in sixty yards of perfect water they do not have the thrill of a single pull.

I cry when I see the look of disappointment in their eyes as they try to convince me that they are enjoying themselves. They have looked forward to the summer time when they can catch fish with the rods that I made for them tied up in their school colours: light grey bindings on one and yellow and green on the other. “Gramps,” they shout, “what happens if we catch a fish?” I dab my eyes and try and not to let them see my despair.

Scottish Fishery Boards, along with Fishery Trusts, in league with reluctant fish farmers and the Scottish Executive, have now, with huge and valiant efforts, established Area Management Agreements (AMA’s). The success or otherwise of this admirable arrangement depends entirely upon synchronised fallowing periods for salmon cages, which, if properly adhered to, breaks the life-cycle of the deadly sea lice that kill wild fish. But there is insufficient determination to make these work. The sea lice burden in many rivers is as bad as it was and as a result we are bereft of salmon and sea-trout.

In my lifetime, I have witnessed the destruction of our precious wild salmonids. The responsibility for this rests completely in the hands of commercial thugs, aided and abetted by environmental pirates. Most of these vagabonds are foreigners who couldn’t give a dam what happens to our Scottish seaboard and rivers. Nutreco, who own the majority of Scottish fish farms, is a Dutch company. There is not a single salmon river in their own country. Why should they care for our rivers and coastal waters, other than to make a profit out of them?

The Pirates are the Scottish Executive. It has been known for some that Chile can produce farmed fish at a much lower cost than is possible here in Scotland. Why, therefore, does our Holyrood Parliament keep supporting a wealth inhibitor? The banks and insurance companies, on sound financial grounds, have restricted the support that they give to fish farmers. It simply doesn’t make commercial sense for the SE to continue to do so.

I predict with confidence that, within ten years time, there will not be a single fish farm left in Scottish waters. The industry will simply self-destruct through sheer greed and materialism. Until then I will continue to paint, and live in the hope that sufficient wild fish survive to bring a sparkle back to my river and a smile to faces of my grandchildren.