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‘Northern Climes’, January 2003

“For a salmon to be classified as being of farmed origin,” according to the Scottish executive (SE), “it should exhibit 2 or more of these features: deformed or shortened fins, especially the dorsal and tail fin; deformed or shortened gill covers (may only be on one side); deformed or shortened snout; heavy pigmentation, spots more numerous than are usual on a wild salmon.”

Nearly 2000 forms containing this information have been sent to river owners by the government’s Fishery Research Service. This is so that the ever-increasing numbers of escapee farm salmon (according to SE figures, now approximately 100,000 each year) running Scotland’s rivers can be factored into their annual ‘Scottish Salmon and Sea Trout Catches’ statistical bulletin. The SE obviously considers that a riparian owner is incapable of recognising his/her own face in front of the mirror, let alone being able to spot an incursive Frankenstein-monster-salmon in their stream.

But this isn’t of much use to consumers; most of whom don’t even know they are buying deformed farmed salmon. All they see in supermarkets are the chemically colouredsanitised’ bits; bedecked with spurious industry hype about clean, unpolluted Highland waters and strident claims that some of the products are allegedly ‘organic’.

Public perception was changed substantially on Saturday 26th October, following the outstanding success of the Salmon Farm Protest Group’s (SFPG) action day (www.salmonfarmmonitor.org).  More than 15,000 leaflets were dished out in front of supermarkets in 97 UK cities and towns asking consumers not to buy farm salmon. The response from consumers was almost 100% positive, with large numbers saying that they never ate farm fish anyway. Most were aware that salmon farming was destroying wild fish, and that some farm salmon could contain dangerous chemical residues.

Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), the industry representative body, lashed itself into lather, condemning the protest as being “malicious and ill-informed”. In a flurry of press releases, they claimed that everything the SFPG said was wrong. The Shetland Salmon Grower’s Association responded in a more responsible fashion. Whilst they agreed most of what the Group claimed was true, they argued that the Group had been highly selective, and, indeed, at times misleading in its use of alleged facts.

However, SQS remained strangely silent about one small matter: the SFPG’s assertion that the famous ‘Tartan Quality’ label adorning its members products isn’t worth the paper its printed on. Authority to use the label is given by Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd (FCS), a company who say they are independent of the fish farmers they scrutinise. This “sham” claim was exposed in this magazine years ago, but has not prevented SQS from continuing to pretend they have no influence over FCS decisions.

To be honest, FCS has improved their efficiency, by 50%. They now employ three inspectors, rather than two, to rigorously examine some 250 farms at least twice a year, and to ‘certify’ an annual production of approximately 40 million deformed salmon. Perhaps FCS will soon be able to afford its own office in Scotland, rather than using the premises of an Inverness firm of accountants at 19 Culduthel Road as a ‘post box’?  Maybe they might even apply to have themselves listed in the local telephone directory?

As to being ‘independent’, I honesty believe that nothing could be further from the truth. But don’t take my word for it, listen instead to SQS/FCS themselves. When the fake salmon farmers hurried to a European Parliament meeting in Brussels on the future of fish farming, Angus Morgan, a director of SQS and chairman of Ardvar Salmon Ltd in Sutherland, told the assembled delegates that he also represented, er, Food Certification Scotland. Well, of course he would! He is a member of the FCS board of governors!

Meanwhile, Graeme Dear (see Rod McGill, November), boss-man of Dutch-owned Marine Harvest and Scotland’s largest producers of deformed salmon, launched an immediate damage-limitation exercise to counter the SFPG’s action. He went for the jugular, in Glasgow. On the Saturday following the protest, Graeme could be found manning a stall outside a Liberal Democrat conference. Sporting a fan of fish-bedecked cocktail sticks, Graeme  ‘mugged’ entering delegates inviting them to enjoy a pre-debate nibble on his tasty farmed salmon morsels.

At least Graeme Dear put his mouth where his money was. Not so at the recent ‘Fish Expo’ jamboree in Qingdao, China, where Norwegian fish farmers were promoting their particular brand of deformed farm salmon. Neighbouring their stand was the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute, offering an enticing array of wild Alaskan salmon and Pacific smoked Sockeye salmon. Guess where the Norwegian fish farmers chose to dine?

Finally, how do you think the SE have reacted to scientific evidence, collated by their own fishery scientists, that factory farm sea lice are indeed responsible for the catastrophic decline in West Highland and Island wild salmonid numbers? This is the answer Allan Wilson, SE fishery minister, gave to a question tabled by Richard Lochhead, SNP fisheries spokesman:

“Recent research results suggest a correlation between levels of sea lice on salmon farms and in the local marine environment. Proposals for further research into the distribution and behaviour of sea lice and their impact on wild stock are under consideration.” So that’s all right, isn’t it?

                                                                                                                             

Rod McGill

[Since the publication of this piece, I have learned that Food Certification Scotland has established dedicated offices at Findhorn House, Dochfour Business Centre, Dochgarroch, Inverness IV3 8GY. Tel: 01870 286 2860]