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‘Northern Climes’, June 2002

Mother Nature seems to have it in for poor Willie Baxter, boss man of Orkney Sea Farms. There has been a massive escape of fake salmon from his fish farm at Puldrite Bay near Finstown.

Over the Easter weekend upwards of 200,000 fish either escaped or died because unusually high/low tides damaged the farm's cages. Unusual tides in Spring? Whatever next!

In January 2000 Willie lost approximately 300,000 farm fish from another site at Veantrow Bay. Unexpected gales did the damage that time. Unexpected gales, in Orkney, in January? Who would believe it!

The poor misshapen Easter weekend monsters turned up dead and alive all along the shoreline between Finstown and Kirkwall where local people have been pitch-forking them into their freezers.

They could, however, make for a less than savoury fish supper, if they had been recently treated with the toxic chemicals fish farmers use to rid their captive stock of blood-sucking sea lice. Mr Baxter insist that his fish had not been treated with sea lice "medicines", but some ex-fish farm workers who examined fish thought that they might have been.

Meanwhile, Seap (Scottish environment pollution agency) says it has nothing to do with them. Scottish Natural Heritage says it has nothing to do with them. Orkney Island Council says it is nothing to do with them, although they did warn the public not to eat dead fish washed up on the shore.

The Scottish Executive is rushing through legislation that will make the reporting of fish escapes mandatory. As they have been doing for the past two years. However, the general official opinion seems to be that it is not too great a disaster for Orcadian wild salmonids because there are so few of them left anyway in Orkney to worry about. 

Perhaps somebody should point out to Ross Finny, the responsible SE minister, and to the incompetent Orcadian councillors who rule the development of fish farming in these once pristine isles, that fish can swim - like over the Pentland Firth to invade north coast salmon streams?

So it looks like Willie Baxter might be checking out his legal armoury. Hopefully more carefully than when he claimed damages after the Braer tanker oil spill in Shetland in January 1993. Dismissing that claim, Scottish high court judge, Lord Gill, said: "Mr Baxter was not a satisfactory witness. I did not regard him as credible on any of the crucial issues of fact."

Dichclorvos, a highly toxic organophosphate that most fish farmers used to treat captive stock for sea lice infestations has been banned in UK, but some fish farmers still have permission to use it.  If humans come into contact with dichclorvos it could seriously disrupt their nervous system.

A few years ago, higher than normal levels of testicular cancer were observed amongst Irish fish farm workers. One worker, suffering from testicular cancer, is currently pursuing legal action against his former employers blaming them for exposing him to dichclorvos. It is not known whether tests have been carried out on Scottish fish farm workers who may have been exposed to dichclorvos.

Dichclorvos is an active ingredient in a number of household products, such as Vapona fly-sprays and fly-killers sold by Boots, and in other horticultural products. Its use has now been banned in UK on advice from the 'Advisory Committee on Pesticides', the 'Committee on Mutagenicity', 'Committee on Carcinognicity', the government's chief medical officer, and even Sir John Krab's 'Food Standards Agency'.

Do Scotland's foreign-owned multi-national fish farm companies use this cancer-causing organophosphate to treat sea lice infestations in their farm salmon-packed cages? Has Seap, who after a presumably careful study of all relevant scientific facts gave the fish farmers the all clear to use Dichclorvos, withdrawn these consents?

Well, er, no, because Seap haven't a clue how many Dichclorvos consents they issued, or to whom, other than that they were probably to fake fish farmers. According to aquaculture industry information bulletin, 'Intrafish', Seap say: "The process of going through registers to find all the dichclorvos consents, so that they could be withdrawn, would deflect scarce manpower [Seap employ 800] from the task of processing applications for the use of the current sea lice treatments." Nothing to worry about there then?

What may cause worry is the fact that Professor David Mackay, Seap's recently retired North Region Director, has been elected President of the Scottish Anglers' National Association (SANA). Readers may remember that David Mackay was responsible for investigating the deaths of 250,000 west coast farm salmon in 1999. They may also recall that the Professor said in July 1999 that a report on the incident had been submitted to the Procurator Fiscal, when in fact no such report had been sent.

Out-going SANA President, Ms Jane Wright, commented: "David believes that the future resolution of conflicts [between rod and line anglers, and Scottish Executive and fish farmers] lies in the realm of co-operation and mutual understanding rather than naked aggression and viscous (sic) propaganda. If elected as President, that will be his style," she said.

A lot of talk also about the fate of the cash anglers donated to the dimly remembered 'Sea Trout Group'; set up allegedly to save Scotland's West Highland and Island wild salmonids from destruction and fish farm disease and pollution. Upwards of £170,000 was supposed to have been donated to the fund and, so far, the Group has conspicuously failed to publish any audited account of how this money was dispersed.

I wonder what effect this deafening silence will have on any future calls for financial help from anglers? Where is the money? What bank is it in? Is it earning interest? How much has been spent, and upon what? Has it got to the stage were legal proceedings will have to mounted to force the Sea Trout group to disclose exactly what has happened to the cash?  Or do my questions fall into Jane Wright's category of "naked aggression"?