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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
"That which you have wasted will not be there for future generations"

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'Northern Climes, July 2003'

Fish farming’s foreign legions

The last fallacy of fish farming, that it supports upwards of 6,500 jobs in “fragile, remote rural areas”, has finally been exposed: it now seems that more than 2,500 of these supposedly vital jobs appear to be held by immigrant workers, approximately 800 of whom are allegedly working in UK illegally.

In a swoop on fish-processing plants code-named ‘Operation Shark’, the Department for Work and Pensions and the police also discovered that many of these immigrants were working twelve ­hour shifts, and double eight-hour shifts, seven days a week, and were being paid less than the minimum wage for the privilege of doing so.

This should, but probably won’t, cause considerable embarrassment to the raft of members of the Scottish Parliament, such as Fergus Ewing, Jamie Stone, John Farquhar Munro, Jamie MacGrigor, et al, not to mention rural affairs boss Ross Finny and his fisheries minister, Allan Wilson, who rush to the aid of the fish farmers by claiming that the jobs this industry supports are vital to health and wealth of remote Highland communities.

Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), which represents more than 60% of the Scottish farm salmon industry, including the Dutch owned multi-national Marine Harvest (currently laying off 82 of their workers in “fragile rural areas”), failed to return a call asking if any SQS members employed foreign workers. Nevertheless, SQS did speak to Fiona Cameron, deputy European editor of the trade magazine IntraFish and told her that they thought it “seemed highly unlikely that over a third of jobs supported by fish farming were held by immigrants.

Surely this is something that SQS should know? As representatives of the industry, surely they have an accurate breakdown of employment statistics? Perhaps SQS chairman and former Tory government fishery minister Lord Jamie Lindsay could enlighten us? Does any SQS member employ immigrant workers, and if so, how many? And have any SQS members had immigrant workers at their fish processing plants detained by the police for working in Scotland illegally?

IntraFish coyly admits that this has happened, whilst carefully avoiding telling readers that farm salmon processing plants were involved: “There have been examples in the past of the use of illegal immigrant labour in the food processing industry.” But I remember reading a number of press reports over the years concerning immigrant workers being carted off by the van-load from various fish processing plants?

If my memory serves me right, I think these visitations included Fame Salmon in Berwickshire, Strathaird Salmon in Inverness, Edinburgh Smoked Salmon Company in Dingwall, and Marine Harvest (SQS members) in Fort William. If I am wrong I will happily apologise to the companies concerned.

The press report about the recent raids on fish processing plants appeared in Scotland on Sunday on May 18. It did not specify numbers, but gave percentages:

The investigation, carried out jointly by the Department of Work and Pensions and police under the code-name ‘Operation Shark’ found that “more than 50% of workers gutting, filleting and packing fish at the plants - believed to be in Scotland - were foreign and a third of those were in the country illegally.”

Given that SQS, and the industry itself, consistently claims that salmon farming in Scotland supports 6,500 jobs, the figures seem to me to add up as follows: 1,500 people are directly employed at the ‘sharp end’, on the fish farms, therefore downstream employment must account for the remaining 5,000 jobs. 50% of 5,000 equals 2,500, and a third of that figure, the alleged number of immigrants working illegally, totals about 800. Again, if I have somehow got this wrong, perhaps SQS could enlighten me?

Therefore, it seems to me that our West Highland and Islands wild salmon and sea trout are being sacrificed for the sole benefit and private profit of a handful of foreign-owned multi-national companies and for the substantial benefit of unfortunate itinerant workers from central Europe, the Middle East and Iberia, and that our once pristine coastal waters and an ever-increasing number of freshwater lochs, are being used as a toile to serve an industry that depletes our seas of wild fish simply in order to feed them to fake salmon.

Over the past decade those amongst us, such as Allan Berry and Don Staniford in Scotland, and Alexandra Morton in Canada, have won the scientific battle with the government fishery scientists who have promoted the dirty business of fish farming. In Scotland, nothing more clearly exemplifies this than the refusal by the Executive to hold an independent public inquiry into their failure to control the industry, and the damage the industry has caused to our marine environment and to our wild fish.

I honestly believe that it is now also transparently clear that the last remaining argument in support of fish farming, that it provides vital jobs in rural communities lies in tatters. All fish farming does, and will do, is destabilise once stable rural communities. If this be error and upon me proved, speak to the Marine Harvest employees in Stornoway who are to lose their jobs at local fish processing plant and to the attendant Lewis business that will also suffer when this plant closes.

Further proof of about the unpalatable nature of this fish-farm pudding hit the industry in May, when the Scottish Environment Pollution Agency (Seap) disclosed that fish-farm pollution incidents had doubled in the year 2002-2003. The report also noted sewage fungus and fungal growth in the River Moidart, diesel-oil spills into Loch Hourn, fatty fish-farm deposits on a Shetland beach, decaying salmon in Loch Errisort, and sewage fungus blanketing the River Rannoch in the West Highlands.

One other incident, that Seap unaccountably chose to ignore, other than asking the company concerned to clean up the mess, involved a 10-metre long fish-farm pontoon owned by Lighthouse of Scotland that unaccountably broke loose from its mooring in Portree Bay on the Island of Skye. Four days later, having floated undetected across a busy shipping lane, the pontoon washed up on the shore near Gairloch in mainland Scotland.

The five tanks on the pontoon, labelled ‘hydrogen peroxide’ were in fact stuffed with dead and decaying farm salmon. What does the Scottish Executive propose to do about all this fish farm filth and deception? In the wheeling and dealing between Labour and the Liberal Democrats to form a new administration following the Scottish parliament elections, the fish farmers have been promised that the Executive will reduce the number of regulatory agencies that govern the industry.