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'Northern Climes, December 2003'

Going Dutch

Dutch multi-national Nutreco Holding NV (annual sales £270m) is the world’s largest producer of fake salmon. It has production and processing plants in twenty two countries and employs approximately 13,000 people.

Nutreco, through their company Marine Harvest, operates fish farms in Chile and expanded production there in 2002 by 45%. Marine Harvest is also Scotland’s largest fish farmer where it produces approximately 30,000 tonnes of the stuff each year.

Nutreco’s mission statement says, “Our activities are characterized by a commitment to food safety through strict quality control and traceability.” But when it comes to responding to a request for information about “quality control and tractability” Nutreco seems to be reluctant to give a straight answer or, indeed, any answer at all.

In July, three container-loads of Chilean farm salmon (180 tonnes) destined for European consumers and contaminated with the carcinogenic chemical malachite green were detained at Rotterdam docks. Another load was detained in Bilbao for the same reason.

Malachite green, used to treat fungal infections in caged fish, was banned in UK in June 2002 by DEFRA “….to prevent the presence of residues likely to prove harmful to human health in the final product.” It had already been banned from use in salmon farming in Chile for several years prior to the DEFRA decision.

Further Chilean fish farm mire hit the fan when more containers sent from Chile to Japan were blocked, this time because of the presence of unacceptably high levels of antibiotics in the fish.

Emails sent to Frank van Ooijen, Nutreco corporate communications director asking if any of the detained products had been sourced from Marine Harvest farms in Chile, as of today, remain unanswered.

Malachite green has been detected in farm fish on sale in UK supermarkets this summer by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. However, experts have said that these residues probably date from before the UK ban was in place.

The EU directorate general for health was less than impressed: “This substance should not have been around in the first place. If it continues to be used we will be forced to ban the export of salmon and start proceedings to fine Britain.”

How concerned is the Scottish Executive about malachite green in fish produced in Scotland? Replying to SMP Robin Harper, leader of the Scottish Green Party, fisheries Minister Allan Wilson said: “The Scottish Executive has no functions in relation to testing for residues of veterinary medicines or any subsequent prosecutions.”

More of the same from Allan Wilson

Question to the minister from Eleanor Scott MSP, Scottish Green Party.
Oral answer, 30 October 2003, Environment and Rural Affairs Department.

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is satisfied that there are no negative impacts of sea lice originating from fish farms.

Allan Wilson, Environment Minister:

“No.”

More more of the same from Allan Wilson

On 2/11/03 Allan Wilson in a letter to the editor in ‘Scotland on Sunday’ said: “…. fish farming remains one of this [Scotland] country’s great economic success stories, especially, but not exclusively, in the Highlands and Islands.”

Sea Trout Group

All of this information is in the public domain. Why, therefore, does the Sea Trout Group now propose to waste more anglers’ money by employing the services of an “Angling Activist” whose principal function will be to lobby MSP’s and the Executive (SE) on the importance of saving Scotland’s wild fish from extinction by fish farm disease and pollution?

Surely, based upon the available evidence (see letter from Paul Shave, SE fish health expert’s letter in last month’s Rod McGill), it is screamingly obvious that the SE has no intention whatsoever of doing anything that will expose their fish farming chums to public scrutiny, or interfere with this murky business to save our wild salmonids?

This same applies to the local authorities in whose domains the fish farmers operate: Shetland Island Council, Orkney Island Council, Highland Council, Western Isles Council and Argyll & Bute Council, and to Highland & Island Enterprise and their regional organisations. Every one of these bodies has signed up to the aquaculture ‘nightmare’ and has unequivocally stated their support for fish farming.

Sea Trout Group chairman, Anthony Steel, interviewed by the online-fish farmer’s magazine IntraFish and justifying employing an “Angling Activist”, said: “The salmon farms are a huge worry. We don’t want to close them down, as we know they are important for jobs, but they must clean up their act. The Authorities must apply far more pressure to the aquaculture industry. Far less damage to the environment could be done, as there is new technology coming forward all the time.”

I do not deny the commitment of the Sea Trout Group to doing what they can to save our wild fish, but why don’t they keep themselves up-to-date on these issues? Why doesn’t the Group call for the fish farms to be brought ashore, out of the routes of migratory species? And how does Anthony Steel know that the industry is “important for jobs”? How many jobs, where? Why are they not ‘informed’?

Does the Sea Trout Group honestly believe that spending up to £30,000 pa of our money for a couple of years on an ‘Angling Activist’ will have any impact whatsoever on either the Scottish Executive or the Loch Authorities involved in this dirty business? If they do, then they are sadly mistaken.

And, finally...

In Paul Shave’s letter (see above and last month’s column) the SE fish health expert tells those who write to the SE to express concern about fish farm damage and pollution, and its impact on shellfish fishing that “The profusion of mussel growth on fish farm cages demonstrates just how benign finfish farming is to shellfish farming.”

Have a look at the accompanying map issued by the Food Standards Agency. These maps and other information are published regularly to warn shellfish fishermen about which areas are closed to fishing because of toxic algal blooms. This one was issued on 4th September 2003. Is it just coincidence that the majority of closure areas are exactly where the fish farmers operate?

Rod McGill