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'Northern Climes, June 2005'

The master spin doctor of Scottish Quality Salmon, Brian Simpson, has been at it again; trying to persuade everyone that he and his allegedly environmentally friendly and caring members are working hand in hand with wild fish interests to find solutions to common problems.

Quoted in the May edition of the industry rag Fish Farming Today, Simpson commented: “The real issue here [about fish farm sea lice] is how we control sea lice – this is an area where both farmers and wild fish interests come together. Both sectors want no lice.”

The article continues, “Brian Simpson also pointed out that salmon farmers on the west coast of Scotland were working together successfully with other interest groups and voluntary ‘area management agreements’ to monitor sea lice and minimise the risk of infection for both farmed salmon and wild fish.”

It’s an old ploy, invented I think by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322BC), pretending that something is factual and then building your argument around it; in this case that wild fish interests are collaborating with the fish farmers to control sea lice, because sea lice are a problem for wild fish.

This is patent rubbish; at least it was until the arrival of fish farming in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Before then, wild fish interests and anglers in particular welcomed sea lice on the salmon they caught. They showed just how fresh the fish was. Sea lice never were a problem for wild fish prior to fish farming; the lice died in fresh water, that’s why they’re called ‘sea’ lice.

What anglers don’t want to see on their wild salmon and sea-trout are hundreds of lice from fish farms and the only way to achieve this is by getting fake salmon out of our marine environment. It is a simple as that. These farms could more accurately be described as ‘sea lice farms’, rather than ‘salmon farms’; sea lice feed and breed in their billions on the pseudo fish held captive there.

Scottish Quality Salmon and their Scottish Executive backers make a great noise about the ‘voluntary area management agreements’ entered into by West Coast Fisheries Trusts - with the self-same fish farmers who are destroying their wild salmonid populations. The existence of these agreements provides the industry with a ‘front’ that, I believe, they can then use to pretend that they are actually trying to do something to clean up the dirty business in which they are engaged.

Personally, I have seen no evidence whatsoever to support this claim. Nothing has changed. Fish farm sea lice still infest and kill wild salmon and sea-trout returning to spawn in their native rivers, as they kill smolts when they attempt to migrate to sea. It is estimated that fewer than 20 sea lice per individual smolt will kill the host fish. Sea lice counts on wild fish consistently show lice levels far in access of that lethal number.

Aquaculture apologists will point to the increased number of wild fish entering our rivers over the past two years. What they avoid mentioning is that this recovery is confined to the North East, East and South West coasts of Scotland which is singularly devoid of polluting fish farms. The most probable cause of this recovery is the work of Orri Vigfusson and his North Atlantic Salmon Fund; Vigfusson and his colleagues have engineered a virtual moratorium on salmon fishing in the North Atlantic, thus creating a safe-haven where wild fish can eat and grow unhindered by commercial exploitation before they return to their natal streams.

It is 16 years since the dangers of sea lice infestations to wild salmonids was first aired publicly, at a conference held at the Loch Maree Hotel in Wester Ross. Since then, a raft of scientific studies, carried out in Scotland, Norway, Ireland, and most recently in British Columbia, have confirmed what anglers have known all along: that West Highland and Islands wild fish populations are being driven to extinction by sea lice from fish farms.

In that same year, 1989, the then Nature Conservancy Council (now reborn as Scottish Natural Heritage) published a report, Fish Farming and the safeguard of the natural marine environment and a document based upon on a report prepared for them by Dr P S Maitland, The genetic impact of farmed Atlantic salmon on wild populations. Both papers warned of the implicit danger to wild fish from fish farming. Dr Maitland noted: “Salmon farming is still comparatively young in Scotland and it is important to protect native stocks.” Nobody was listening then and nobody is listening today.

My opinion is that if we really want to save West Highland and Islands wild fish then we should hold fast to the truth that these polluting cages must be removed from our marine environment. Where they are moved to is no concern of mine - land-based closed containment systems, whatever - that is a decision for the industry itself. If the industry says that it can’t survive financially unless it is allowed to continue destroying our wild fish and polluting our coastal waters, then it has no place either in our economy or in our environment.

I suggest, with the greatest respect to those who are currently involved in ‘voluntary area management agreements’, and in discussions with the fish farmers and the Scottish Executive, that the time for talk is over. Just because fish farms are ‘there’ does not mean that we have to accept it. It is obvious that the Scottish Executive has no intention other than the continued promotion of the industry, and that in doing so they are prepared to consign Scotland’s West Coast salmonids to history. Let’s make it quite clear to them, once and for all, that this is simply just not acceptable. Get these farms out of our waters now.

Rod McGill