The Salmon Farm Monitor
'Northern Climes, February 2006'
Lord Nickson, Scottish Salmon Strategy Task Force, 1997, Recommendation No 61:
“Clear planning policy guidance is required for fish farms. An independent regulatory body should be established with powers to control the siting of fish farms, inspect fish farms and enforce the adoption of measures to reduce the impact of fish farming upon wild salmon and sea trout populations and the marine and freshwater environment.”
Is anybody else sceptical about the true worth of the public consultation process surrounding the current Aquaculture & Fisheries Bill? Does anyone really believe that it is going to persuade the fish farmers to mend their ways and help protect our remaining West Highland and Islands wild salmonid stocks from fish farm disease and pollution?
The Consultation Paper and Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment was published in December 2005 and I have carefully studied all of its 86 pages. Annex D to the document was a Respondent Information Form and Consultation Questionnaire (51 questions), to be completed and returned to ‘Fisheries Bill Team’ in Edinburgh; or you could wade through the process online at www.scotland.gov.uk/Consultations .
Public meetings were held in Lerwick, Stornoway, Inverness, Aberdeen, Stirling, Dundee, Ayr and Peebles during January and early February, with tea and biscuits, when participants were divided into working groups guided by members of the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill Team. Comments and suggestions from the ‘floor’ were studiously entered by an assistant on a flip chart, to be collated and made available for information to Scottish Ministers and MSPs.
I attended one of those meetings. Did I come away feeling confident that all of the concerns that I have expressed in this column for more than a decade were at last going to be addressed? That finally, the fish farmers were going to be brought to heel and held accountable in law for the impact that their activities have had and are having on our wild salmon and sea-trout populations and on our marine and freshwater environment?
Before sitting down to write this piece, I searched my bookshelves and files and extracted from them some of the reports, studies, documents and consultation papers relating to aquaculture that have come my way in recent years. I built them into a pile on my desk and measured their height: 1’ 6” - and those were just the ones that I had retained. For information, I have named some of them below:
I think that it might also useful to consider the validity of the present ‘consultation’ process in the light of the vast sums of money being spent on scientific research, for the benefit of fish farmers. Here are just a few examples of some of these studies and how much they cost:
Given the existing wealth of research, why is the Scottish Executive so desperate to reinvent the wheel by means of yet another piece of, no doubt, toothless legislation. What further evidence do they need to convince them, beyond all reasonable doubt, that fish farm disease and pollution kills wild salmonids and pollutes our waters? Orri Vigfusson of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund never spoke a truer word when he said, a few years back, that we were studying our wild fish to death.
Alarm bells began ringing in my mind at the end of the meeting I attended. The fish farmers immediately engaged in a hearty bout of back-slapping and hand-shaking with the members of the Scottish Executive Aquaculture Bill Team who had been conducting the proceedings. Clearly, ‘all pals together’. Some of my colleagues who were at other meetings reported a similar level of bonhomie between the industry and those who are supposed to regulate it.
As such, I find it hard to escape the conclusion that the ‘consultation’ process and, indeed, the proposed Bill itself, is nothing other than a piece of pure public relations on the part of the Scottish Executive (SE). At the end of the day, Aquaculture Bill or not, I think that the SE will make sure that it’s business as usual for their fishing farming friends.
In his introduction to the 1997 Report of the Scottish Salmon Strategy Salmon Task Force, Chairman Lord Nickson, KBE, DL, commented, “We hope that the Report will become the foundation for the management, conservation and sustainable exploitation of Scotland’s salmon fisheries for many years to come.” As we say in Scotland, ‘Aye, right’.