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Northern Climes, June 2003

The end for Loch Caladail, the most famous brown trout loch in Europe?

Last summer, I reported on the condition of the dam on Loch Caladail; one of the famous Durness limestone lochs and, in my view, probably the finest brown trout loch in Europe. Regular readers of this column will remember that, in spite of assurances to the contrary from the previous owner of the Cape Wrath Hotel who lease the fishing, the dam was leaking like a sieve.

In the intervening period, nothing whatsoever has done to repair the dam and it has deteriorated even further. The loch level is now some 2ft below normal and during periods of dry weather the present mooring bay is barely ankle-deep in water. The owners of Loch Caladail are The Scottish Ministers, and the Belgium company, Vibel SA.

In August 2001, The Highland Council, who are responsible for ensuring that dams in the region are safe and kept in good repair, instructed the owners to repair the dam by August 2002. Nothing has been done. Caladail is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Conservation Area candidate site. Scottish Natural Heritage, who oversea both schemes, is aware of the plight of Caladail but do not seem to have taken action to protect the environmental integrity of the loch.

The new owners of the Cape Wrath Hotel have adopted a policy of ‘discouraging’ non hotel residents and local anglers from fishing the limestone lochs. As such, for instance, when a group of three local anglers requested permission to fish Loch Lanlish last year they were told that it would cost £90.00 for the day. Boats on Borralie, Croispol and Caladial were to cost £30.00 per person per day.

This policy has stirred up a hornet’s nest of local anger and angst and poaching has become endemic. I myself found five anglers spinning and using set lines on little Lanlish. Fishing friends at Durness tell me that Loch Caladail has been particularly badly ‘hit’, with groups of anglers taking hundreds of fish from the loch using all and any fishing methods, legal and illegal. The lochs are not policed and notice boards saying ‘Fly Only’ and ‘Private Fishing’ have been removed and burned.

Quite clearly, the situation is out of control and nobody seems able or willing to resolve the mess. Cape Wrath Hotel guests, travelling many miles to enjoy fishing the famous Durness Limestone Lochs, and paying handsomely for the privilege of doing so, will be unaware of these problems. Before booking, they should seek clarification from the hotel (Tel: 01971 511212) about the state of the dam, and about what measures are in place to protect the lochs from poachers?

Late News: The Scottish Executive has prepared plans for the repair of the Caladail dam and is now seeking tenders for the work. It is anticipated that this work will be carried out at the end of fishing season, to minimize disturbance to anglers.

Vibel SA, joint owners of Loch Caladial, and their factor, Ian Wilson, have allegedly so far ignored all requests from the SE to participate in this work, and, as they are legally obliged to do so, to share the financial costs involved.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean comes clean

Scottish Tory Party leader, David McLetchie, outlining Conservative policy on salmon farming in the Highlands and Islands, recently claimed that the industry provided 11,100 jobs in remote rural areas; an amazing ‘leap in faith’ from the 6,500 jobs the industry itself boasts of supporting.

Mr McLetchie also claimed that, “bureaucracy and red tape is breaking the back of the industry” and promised that any future Conservative administration would “cut through this bureaucracy…and reduce the ridiculous burdens which currently exist.”

Funny that, because one of the principal architects of burgeoning aquaculture in Scotland in recent years was Tory Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth (1995-1997) who now, ‘Damascus-like’ admits the errors of his ways in failing to control fish farm expansion.

Michael Forsyth, now Lord Forsyth of Drumlean sponsored a House of Lords debate in April on the plight of Scotland’s salmon and sea-trout and, before joining battle, he delivered himself of a moving plea on behalf of our wild fish in a Scottish Sunday newspaper:

“I once naively believed that farmed salmon would help save wild fish… poorly managed farms have done enormous damage by allowing catastrophic escapes, nearly 400,000 last year alone… young smolts setting off to feeding grounds are ruthlessly attacked by sea lice from farmed fish… the Executive’s [Labour administration] position is irresponsible, stupid and disingenuous.”

What could have prompted the noble lord to suddenly get so hot under his ermine collar? Might it have anything to do with the prospect of smolts [immature salmon] being reared in a fish farm on the banks of the River Ettrick, a tributary of Tweed where Lord Forsyth just happens to fish for wild salmon?

“There was an understanding, I thought, that no fish farms would be allowed in the East Coast. It turns out that the plan is to produce three to four million smolts [on the Ettrick] from non-native salmon,” he complained.

This confirms (see Rod McGill/Oct 02) that more than a decade ago government and fish farmers brokered a private agreement whereby the fish farmers would be allowed to do as they pleased with West Highland and Island wild salmon and sea-trout, including driving the to extinction, so long as they promised to keep their fish farms away from Scotland’s major salmon streams: Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey. And which political party fixed up this disgusting deal with their fish farming friends? Step forward Michael Forsyth and his Tory party chums.

Lord Forsyth is also believed to be anxious to have early and ‘full and frank’ discussions with his then junior minister, Lord Jamie Lindsay, who had charge of the day-to-day business of overseeing fish farming. Lord Lindsay, it has been suggested, repeatedly reassured his boss that everything in the fish pond was lovely when, it now appears, it wasn’t.

Lord Lindsay shouldn’t be too hard to find. Shortly after leaving government Lord Lindsay was appointed to the allegedly £70,000pa three-day-a week post of Chairman of the Scottish Salmon Growers’ Association, the forerunner of Scottish Quality Salmon, the fish farmers representative body.