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'Northern Climes, July 2004'

At the end of May, just prior to the European elections, the Sunday Post carried an exclusive front page story: Blair moves to protect salmon jobs!

“The Prime Minister has persuaded the EU to introduce measures to prevent Norway from dumping thousands of tonnes of cheap farmed salmon in Europe, under-cutting Scottish prices and putting Scottish firms out of business.”

This was, of course, complete nonsense, as was confirmed next day when a Scottish Executive (SE) spokesman said: “Negotiations between the EU and other member states are continuing. No decision has been taken.”

The story was pure electioneering, no doubt leaked to the press by the SE itself. Blair was alleged to have been, “furious when told of the problem and spoke to the Finish Prime Minister and Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy.”

According to the report, Trade and Industry Minister Mike O’Brien was also busy, “contacting his counterparts in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Belgium to gain their support.”

And, of course, SE fisheries minister Allan Wilson got in his two penny-worth: “This move will prevent Norway from dumping their farmed salmon on us. Tony Blair has been tremendous on this. As soon as he heard of the threat, he acted to save Scottish jobs.”

Never far behind in the brown-nosing stakes, Western Isles MSP Alasdair Morrison said that he also asked Mr Blair to help: “He has a remarkable depth of knowledge about the industry. Last week, he was questioned on it by one of my constituents. Tony Blair spoke about fish farming for three-and-a-half minutes. It was really impressive.”

What really is impressive is that these people don’t relaise that there is no such thing as a ‘Scottish’ fish farm industry. Fish farming in Scotland is controlled by Norwegian and Dutch companies. Marine Harvest Europe, for example, is part of the Dutch conglomerate Nutreco who dominate Scotland’s fish farms, and who also operate in Norway and Chile.

These companies are unlikely to accept spurious ‘protectionism’ lying down: Oslo-based Fjord Seafood, one of the top five aquaculture companies in the world has already set alarum bells ringing. Fjord’s Scottish farms lost £2.5 million in the last quarter of 2003 alone. Fjord world-wide President, Helge Midttun said that his company could loose up to an additional £5 million pounds if sanctions were passed.

It doesn’t take degree in business economics to guess what these companies will do, or where they will relocate to, if they start hemorrhaging even more money in Scotland because of sanctions.

I suppose that Scotland’s First Minister, Jack McConnell, will, even now, be busy writing a grovelling thank-you letter to his Dear Leader for ‘saving’ Scottish jobs.

Alasdair Morrison has already picked up his reward for the part he played in this ‘sham’. According to a report in the West Highland Free Press, Morrison has been appointed to a “ministerial working group on aquaculture chaired by deputy environment minister Allan Wilson.”

Allan Wilson preened: “I am very happy that Alasdair Morrison has been appointed and I look forward to him sharing with us his expertise in fish farming. His commitment to the aquaculture industry cannot be questioned and it is that type of focus and energy that will be invaluable on my working group.”

Never one to miss an opportunity to blow the fish farmer’s trumpet, Mr Wilson added: “I fully appreciate the importance that aquaculture plays in the economy of the Western Isles. It is my intention and the executive’s desire to ensure that this remains the case, not only in the islands but in every community where aquaculture has a presence.”

Meanwhile, what of the alleged EU embargo to prevent Norway and Chile from dumping thousands of tonnes of cheap farmed salmon in Europe under-cutting Scottish prices and putting Scottish firms out of business? A decision is still awaited and further discussion on the subject has been delayed, yet again.

As was predicted, other EU countries, including Germany, Denmark and Poland are seeking to maintain the status quo of duty-free salmon imports from non EU countries. They are concerned that were restrictions imposed, then their fish processing companies, who rely upon Norwegian and Chilean imports, would become uncompetitive and jobs losses would certainly follow.

Funny that Alasdair Morrison didn’t think about this before shouting about protecting independent Scottish fish farmers? Perhaps, given his “expertise” on the subject, Mr Morrison could identify these allegedly independent firms for us? According to my knowledge, about 90% of the industry in the Western Isles is either Norwegian or Dutch owned and depends heavily upon foreign investment in order to survive.

Maybe at the same time he could tell us how many jobs have been lost to sport angling because of the impact of fish farm disease and pollution on wild stocks; the financial loss to shellfish farmers because toxic algal blooms – almost certainly caused by untreated waste from fish farms – regularly close their fishing grounds; the declining numbers of cod, haddock and other North Sea species that starve because their food source is hovered up to be turned into farm salmon feed?

It would also be useful if Mr Morrison, or indeed anybody at the Scottish Executive could explain exactly where the supposed “6,000 to upwards of 10,000” jobs the industry is supposed to sustain are? Who counted them, and who verified the count? On past experience it is highly unlikely that my request for information will meet with any useful response, because the people spreading the ‘good news’ about fishing farming haven’t a clue, and even if they had, they would make certain that the long-suffering public would be the last to know.

If you want to do something effective to save our wild salmon and sea-trout, vote with your mouth and don’t buy or eat farm salmon. Encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same. Please.

Rod McGill