The Salmon Farm Monitor
‘Northern Climes’, April 2002
These naughty old "naturally occurring" toxic algal blooms have been at it again, this time in Chile where factory-fish farming has expanded massively in recent years. After Norway, Chile is the world's largest producer/exporter of fake salmon. Scotland comes third.
A vast 'red tide' has overwhelmed coastal communities. In the Island of Chiloé almost 80% of the population depend upon catching and trading in seafood products for their livelihood. A ban on shellfish fishing has been imposed because their waters are contaminated.
Ramón Andrade of Chile's red tide laboratory said: "There are no tools for saving the Region because it's a natural phenomenon [red tides]". This official explanation will sound familiar to Scottish shellfish fishermen whose own livelihoods are being destroyed by toxic algal blooms.
Hundreds of square miles of Scottish waters are regularly closed to shellfish fishing because of toxic algal blooms, almost certainly exacerbated by untreated waste from factory-fish farms. A ban imposed last June on fishing for king scallops in a 300 square mile area in the Moray Firth has only recently been lifted.
But a new ban has been imposed on fishing for scallops off the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides because of high levels of "naturally occurring" amnesic shellfish poisoning toxins. Prior to the expansion of fish farming in 1989 there were no recorded instances of any such toxic algal blooms anywhere in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
In the meantime, Seap (Scottish environment pollution agency) has gone into overdrive dishing out consents for the use of toxic chemicals - known affectionately in the trade as 'medicines' - to treat fish farm sea lice infestations. According to Seap, approvals for Azamethiphos, Cypermethrin, Emamectin benzoate and Teflbenzuron have leapt from less than 50 in 1998 to 723 in 2001.
Andy Rosie, chairman of Seap's aquaculture management committee is unconcerned: "There is an acceptable level of sustainable development here and we believe we have licensed the safe use of chemicals." What volume of chemicals has Seap licensed? Seap don't keep a record. Your local GP would be struck off if he/she failed to record prescriptions.
Will these chemicals impact on the coastal environment? Not according to Dr Kenny Black, head of the coastal impact research group at SAMS (Scottish association of marine sciences), a body dependent entirely upon government cash handouts for their survival. Dr Kenny explained: "The view has been expressed that some sea-lochs are being absolutely wiped out by these therapeutants - well, we've seen nothing to back that up."
And, and at long last, the Scottish Executive has announced the name of the "independent scientific advisor" it has appointed to the Scottish Parliament's rolling inquiry into fish farming. Step forward SAMS, fronted by the indomitable "independent" Dr Kenny Black.
Meanwhile, most UK supermarkets are less than anxious to implement new EU regulations for labelling farm salmon products. Why? Because they fear that telling customers the truth about their fish might turn them off - that it is farm salmon, rather than, for instance, that it is 'fresh salmon from the clear, unpolluted waters of Scotland'.
Market research by the company Omnimas/Taylor Nelson Sofre for the Seafish Industry Authority, reported in Scottish newspaper, 'The Herald' indicates that customers have "overall negative attitudes" to fish farming. Bad news for fish farmers but good news for everyone fighting to save wild salmonids from the impact of fish farm disease and pollution.
Don Staniford, fishery scientist and environmentalist is scathing about supermarket plans to try to "soften" the blow by introducing words such as 'cultivated' and phrases like 'farmed on the Scottish coast.' He claims: "Supermarkets are already actively misleading the public with special promotions and 'catch of the day' adverts for farm salmon.
"This latest attempt to deliberately confuse is despicable. They should be telling customers about the hidden extras in farmed salmon: artificial colourings, antibiotics, pesticides and carcinogenic chemicals such as PCB's and dioxins and the fact that farmed salmon is three times a fatty as its wild equivalent."
The lurch towards "organic" salmon farming won't help this noxious business. UK Soil Association's Director Patrick Holden told 'The Herald': "The Soil Association went into fish farming after intense debate because we felt that we had a public duty to come up with solutions to the problems associated with aquaculture. But there could come a day when we can't stay in this area because we cannot reconcile vital environmental husbandry and health principles."
Further mire hit the industry when Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), the industry representative body, issued a press release claiming that their product had been endorsed by the Marine Conservation Society in their recently published 'Good Fish Guide'. Not so, said the Society and SQS were humiliatingly forced to withdraw the offending document.
When all's said and done, the fight to save our wild fish will be won in the supermarkets. Scientific victory was achieved more than two years ago when the Scottish Executive (SE) refused hold an independent public inquiry into this filthy business. SE scientists knew that any independent assessment of their role in promoting fish farming would have exposed them to scientific ridicule.
Consequently, the rolling inquiry stumbles on, shaped and designed by Scottish Minister Ross Finny and his terrified scientific advisors; purely to protect their own tarnished reputations and to promote the interests of the fish farmers. What they can't do, however, is to force the public to eat farm salmon.
You can influence the outcome of this struggle. Every time you visit a supermarket, ask these questions: Is this farmed salmon or wild salmon? Exactly which farm did it come from? Has it come from a farm where fish are diseased? Has it been tested for the presence of PCB's and dioxins? Why are there wide white ribs in the flesh? Is this fat? It will be uncomfortable, I know, to ask these questions, but please help?