The Salmon Farm Monitor
An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
"That which you have wasted will not be there for future generations"

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'Northern Climes, March 2003'

What happens to sick farm salmon when they die? Some are minced up and used as protein in animal food; others are emulsified and sold to the cosmetics industry as an oil base for use in the manufacture of beauty care products. However, the Scottish executive (SE) claims that the bulk of 'morts,' as dead salmon are known in the trade, are dumped in approved landfill sites.

Which approved landfill sites? A spokesperson for the government's fisheries research services said, "We don't keep records of this but the local authorities will know." And indeed they do. Colin Clark, Highland council's head of waste management says that none of their sites has been used for this purpose. The Scottish environment pollution agency (Seap) warns that dead salmon can pose a serious health hazard if not disposed of properly. So, can Seap tell us how many dead salmon were buried during the past year, and where they were buried? Yup, you guessed, they haven't a clue.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Executive, a day or so before Christmas, quietly published a so-called consultation document, 'A Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture'. Indeed, the strategy was issued so quietly that only one UK newspaper, 'The Shetland Times', reported the event.

And, as is to be expected, there are lots of goodies here for the SE's fish farming pals: employment up from 7,000 to 9,000, 25m inward investment pa, 10m technology transfer pa, faster access to drugs and toxic chemicals to treat fish farm disease. Best of all, a promise to launch a nationwide, tax-payer-funded 'education' programme to persuade us that farmed fish are nutritious, delicious and tasty.

Neither have Scotland's wild fish, on the verge of extinction because of disease and pollution from fish farms, been forgotten: the strategy promises more research into the impact fish farm sea lice have on wild salmon and sea-trout; the objective being to try to establish how sea lice transfer between wild stocks and farmed fish, and how great the impact of this transfer process is. Good news all round then!

"Is it safe to allow my grandchildren to eat 2 or 3 portions of farmed salmon a week?" inquired a concerned granddad of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), worried about reports of pesticide and dioxin residues in farmed salmon.

Frankie Brookes-Tombs, of the Chemical Contaminants and Animal Feed Division rushed to reassure him: "The legal use of veterinary medicines on farmed salmon will not cause a health risk for any group of consumers, including children." Phew. that's a relief!

But is it? Brookes-Tombs goes on to say: "The Agency cannot however rule out the possibility that illegal use of veterinary products could cause a health risk to consumers, as we do not know whether this will cause the presence of harmful residues in edible tissues."

But don't panic, it really is all right: "The scientific evidence clearly supports the view that the benefits of eating the recommended amounts (what amounts? Ed) of fish are well established and outweigh any potential risks to due to dioxins and PCB's.

"However, there is insufficient evidence at the present time to give definitive advice about the level of consumption at which the risks of oily fish consumption outweigh the benefits for individual customers." Reassured, granddad?

With the sound of Easter bunnies hopping about around the corner, many people may be looking forward to a nice side of thinly sliced smoked Scottish salmon during the holiday period. But consumers would be well advised to ask if the fish is farmed or wild, prior to squeezing the lemon and breaking out the brown bread.

The sad truth is that more than 95% of all salmon sold, frozen or smoked is farmed. Even sadder is that some of the smoked salmon on offer in supermarkets may be a stranger to the inside of a traditional Scottish smoke house. A quick 35min/45min plus a dash of colouring and oak-scented flavouring could be the most that some fish ever see.

And, of course, there is our little parasite friend, Kudoa (K. thyrsites), known in the trade as "soft-flesh syndrome", first revealed to readers in this column two years ago. Kudoa is of huge concern to Canadian and Norwegian fish farmers, but, allegedly, so far remains 'unreported 'in Scotland?

The problem for fish farmers is that Kudoa does not manifest itself until several days after the fish has been slaughtered, when it 'liquefies' the salmon's flesh. This makes it impossible to smoke, let alone to slice Kudoa-infected fish. But all is not gloom for fish farmers: the parasite doesn't harm human health, so some infected fish might be sold on, for instance to fish & chip shops?

Consumers should also be aware of the reality of the 'clean, fresh, unpolluted Scottish waters' that the fish they eat swim in. Untreated effluent from West Highland and Island fish farms is equivalent to untreated waste discharged from a human population of 10 million people.

We also have to take into account pollution from nuclear power stations, as outlined by Norwegian researcher Hilde Hedal, who reported on increased levels of Technetium in the waters around Scotland. And we must add to this nauseous 'soup' discharged radioactive coolant from nuclear submarines. A Royal Navy spokesman, Lt. Col. Ben Currie, commented that coolant is discharged every time a 'sub' reactor is started up, but, "always away from areas of population."

It is little wonder that the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department described farm salmon as being "deformed" (Return of Salmon and Sea Trout catches for the year 2002). Indeed, consumer purchases of whole salmon fell by 21% last year. Given all of the above, the message to consumers is obvious, think twice before eating farm salmon, and to Scotland's foreign-owned fake fish farmers: either clean up or clear out.