The Salmon Farm Monitor
'Northern Climes, July 2007'
I thought that, with the Scottish National Party in power, Scotland would witness a sea-change in government’s attitude towards the nightmare that is fake salmon farming; an end to protecting the industry from meaningful public scrutiny; no more feather-bedding the fish farmers with bucket-loads of tax-payer cash; an independent inquiry into the true number of jobs that the industry supports; the relocation of fish farms away from the migratory routes of endangered populations of West Highlands and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout.
Dream on. Barely four months into office and Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment has nailed his colours to the mast: “It is critically important that we bring further investment to this industry, which plays a vital part in Scotland’s rural economy. I want to realise the potential to increase production in Scotland at suitable sites and within the carrying capacity of the environment,” he said in August.
Mr Lochhead said this prior to a Scottish contingent of fish-farm-huggers jetting off to Norway to try to persuade the Norwegians to invest more money in their Scottish fish farm businesses. This high profile team, begging bowls at the ready, included Sid Patten, chief executive officer of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) and representatives from Scottish Development International, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Mr Lochhead also commented, “I am keen that we continue to build on the industry’s strengths and achievements for a sustainable and successful future.”
Sid Patten chipped in his two-pennyworth: “This is an enormously important initiative as it will inform future investment strategies. Salmon farming is a major part of Scotland’s rural communities, contributing significantly to social and economic growth over the last 30 years”. I guess that Sid Patten would blow the industry trumpet, after all, that is what he is paid to do, but I don’t know where Richard Lochhead has been living for the past few decades.
If it has been in Scotland, then he has out-Nelsoned Nelson in turning a blind eye to what has been happening to wild fish stocks and the environment in the West Highlands and Islands: the catastrophic collapse in wild salmon and sea-trout numbers; rampant outbreaks of vast and unique toxic algal blooms, almost certainly acerbated by the thousands of tonnes of untreated waste the fish farmers dump into our marine and freshwater environment every year.
The escape of millions of farmed salmon into the wild where they compete with wild fish for a finite spawning habitat and degrade the genetic integrity of wild salmonids; more than 2,000 fish farm jobs shed in the past three years, and more to come; hundreds of other job losses, in sport angling tourism, as anglers desert classic waters such as Lochs Stack, Eilt, Shiel and Marre because sea-lice from salmon feed-lots have decimated once prolific runs of wild fish.
If this is what Richard Lochhead considers to be a “vital part of Scotland’s rural economy” then God help the rest of Scotland’s precious rural environment. Perhaps he should have a word with Phillip Riddle, chief executive of Visit Scotland, who recently identified the importance of rod and line angling to Scotland’s rural economy: “Angling has a significant impact on the Scottish economy and will play an important role in helping to achieve our joint industry ambition to double tourism revenues by 2015,” he said.
The greatest fallacy the fish farmers promote is that their industry provides substantial employment in Scotland’s rural areas. Currently, they estimate that the industry sustains upwards of 8,000 jobs. In my view this is simply not true, because this figure is adjusted upwards or downwards (most upwards) based upon figures calculated in 1997; and even then these figures were significantly flawed because they failed to take into account the impact of the ISA outbreak in May 1998 or job losses in sport angling due to the collapse of West Highland and Island wild fish caused by the impact of fish farm sea lice infestations.
More significant is that the vast majority of these so-called jobs are out-with the West Highlands and Islands. They are concentrated in urban communities, such as Inverness, Dingwall, Fort William, Aberdeen and the Scottish Borders. The true figure for jobs in the front-line is under 1,000, approximately 1,000 less than it was 20 years ago. It also has to be said that, increasingly, immigrant workers hold more than 50% of jobs in the industry; including some rural communities, such as South Uist. Fewer and fewer of my fellow Scots appear to want to work in fish farming or fish processing.
And what of the future? This will be decided not by the likes of Richard Lochhead, but by the harsh realities of business necessity. In August, Marine Harvest, the largest salmon farming business in the world, announced that 2007 second quarter operating profits for the organisation showed a drop compared to the same period in 2006, and this seems to be the result of problems in Scotland and in Chile. Questions have also been raised about future of the Marine Harvest processing plant in Stornoway and is seems to be possible that this plant will be either closed down or sold, putting another 200 jobs at risk.
In my view, from its birth in Loch Ailort in the late 1960’s to the present day, fish farming has been an unmitigated disaster for my native land. If this be error and upon me proved, I will eat a plateful of farm salmon - provided that it is not does not come from the Queen’s Grocer, Waitrose; their Scottish Smoked Salmon Parcels 115g and their Poached Salmon Terrines 100g have been recalled (21/08/07) because of contamination with Listera monocytogenes - not very tasty, nutritious or delicious.