The Salmon Farm Monitor
‘Northern Climes’, August 2002
‘SEPA View’ is the flagship magazine of the Scottish environment pollution agency (Seap). The summer issue arrived on my desk this morning. And what a handsome production it is. Loads of pictures of happy families splashing in clear waters, a housewife shopping for free range eggs, children playing on beaches, mountain scenery, fishing boats, white-coated scientists busy with important tasks; and, of course, the statutory, self-laudatory foreword from Seap’s chief executive, Ms Tricia Henton. Also included was a free Seap calendar, "made out of 100% recycled material and printed on totally chlorine free card." Clearly, no expense has been spared.
What was entirely lacking from the summer issue, and lacking from most of the other editions of ‘SEAP VIEW’ I have viewed, is any mention of the environmental disaster that Seap is orchestrating amongst Scotland’s coastal waters and freshwater lochs. About salmon farming, and the huge and growing outcry over the damage this filthy business has caused and is causing, Seap is understandably silent.
Understandably, because Seap themselves dish out authority to Scotland’s foreign-owned fish farmers to use Scottish waters as their personal toilet; thus driving wild salmonids to extinction and almost certainly acerbating the outbreaks of the toxic algal blooms that are destroying the livelihoods of Scottish shellfish fishermen. In my opinion, ‘SEAP View’ is nothing other than self-promoting ‘spin’. By excluding any information or discussion about aqaculture, the validity and veracity of the rest of the magazine’s content is necessarily devalued. i.e.: a complete waste of public money.
The myth that Scottish fishery scientists had ‘tamed’ the farm salmon killer disease infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) has finally been exploded. A recently published report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh suggests that clinical outbreaks of ISA appear to have been eradicated, but it still wants the Scottish executive’s (SE) fisheries research services (FRS) to recommence studies to see if the virus is present in wild salmon and in fake-salmon farms.
When ISA first struck in May 1998, in Loch Nevis, SE scientists, over a period of a few months, confirmed the presence of ISA in eleven fish farms. The farmers were order to slaughter all the fish that showed clinical signs of the disease. Upwards of 4 million farm salmon were killed. Thereafter, a further 25 farms were identified as being suspected of harbouring the disease. But as the months rolled by, none of the remaining ‘suspected’ farms were ‘confirmed’.
At the time, this seemed to me to be quite implausible, and even more implausible when the SE stated that it’s objective was to eradicate ISA. Given the Norwegian experience, where ISA was first identified, it was clear that the eradication policy was unworkable. As I write, there are continuing ISA outbreaks in Norwegian fish farms. The Norwegian policy is to ‘contain’ the damage. They accept that because of the high-density stocking of fish farm cages, eradication is not a viable option.
I believe the reason that none of the Scottish suspected sites were confirmed had more to do with cash than it had to do with science. The SE faces a multi-million pound compensation claim from fish farmers forced to cull their stock because of ISA. If suspected sites had been confirmed, then the cost of compensation could have risen to a figure not unadjacent to £100 million. Therefore, rather than confirm the presence of ISA, I think, although I have not a scrap of evidence to support my theory, that maybe the SE allowed farmers to harvest out fish from these sites before they showed ‘clinical’ signs of the disease? Thereafter, providing the fish showed no clinical signs of ISA, farmers were permitted to sell them for unsuspecting human consumption.
This seems in some measure to mirror the attitude of the Royal Society independent study into ISA. They were concerned that SE studies on ISA had ceased. According to a report in the Aberdeen Press & Journal (26/06/02), the Royal Society called for "extended surveillance of Scottish [fish] farms for the virus, to determine if it is still present in the absence of the full-blown disease…. There is a need for ongoing external quality assurance and we believe that to provide assurance on quality control at the FRS laboratory, there needs to be a regular exchange of samples between national and international accredited laboratories." So, it’s back to the drawing board for Dr Ron Stagg and his lads in the Marine lab at Aberdeen.
Meanwhile, more and more people are getting the message that eating farm salmon could be less than good for you. Tests on a variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables and salmon, showed worrying levels of pesticide residues. According to a study carried out for the independent Pesticides Residue Committee, 71 out of 73 fresh salmon tested showed pesticide levels to be above the acceptable level.
Neither are worries about the quality of farm salmon confined to UK. In America, three supermarkets in the Seattle area have withdrawn farm salmon from their shelves because of concerns over quality. Larry Roberts, the operations director of the supermarkets concerned said: "The primary driver was the quality. It comes down to quality as much as anything else. [Farmed fish] is a product of what they eat."
Mr Roberts commented that his company was becoming increasingly concerned over the environmental issues associated with salmon farming, such as escapes, pollution, antibiotic usage and its effect on fisherman." Given the growing response to this magazine’s call for support for a UK-wide day of action outside British supermarkets, highlighting the dangers and damage of fake fish farming, perhaps, at last, the day of reckoning for the industry and its chums-in-high-places is nigh?