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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 2004'

Figures for farm salmon production relative to the combined declared wild salmon rod catch for the North West and West Coast Statistical Regions (fig a) between 1970 and 2000, and the declared wild salmon rod catch from East, Moray, North East and North Statistical Regions (fig b). SERAD figures

This month’s column was written six years ago in 1998. It is reproduced here to show how little the industry has changed during that time, and to exemplify how little the Scottish Executive (formerly the Scottish Office) or industry regulators have done to address key issues surrounding aquaculture: fish farm sea lice damage to wild fish populations; pollution of marine and freshwater environment; public health risks associated with eating farm salmon.

Rod McGill, 1998:

In a move charged with cynicism the Scottish Office (SO) has announced that rod and line sport angling might have to be curbed in an effort to conserve wild salmon and sea-trout stocks. I think they have made this announcement solely in order to divert attention away from the real cause of the disaster currently overwhelming Scotland’s wild salmonids: massive infestation of wild fish by sea lice from ineffectively regulated factory-fish farms.

I believe the farm salmon industry is now running completely out of control and that the SO has already made the decision that Scotland’s West Highlands and Islands wild salmonids should be allowed to spiral to extinction. The relationship between the fish farmers and the SO, who are supposed to regulate the industry, is, I think, unhealthily close. I suggest these people might be “in bed” together, working to protect the commercial interests of an industry that kills our wild fish.

The issue transcends politics. SO policy on fish farming under New Labour is essentially the same as it was when the Tory party ruled our lives. It has been alleged the SO is being “economical” with the truth and that they may not be giving parliamentarians all the facts in connection with the impact fish farming is having on wild fish, and upon the fragile economy of the rural areas where the industry operates.

The present Fisheries Minister, Lord Sewell, trots out exactly the same line as his predecessor, ex-Tory Government Environment Minister, Lord Jamie Lindsay, now the £70,000 pa, two day a week chairman of the Scottish Salmon Growers’ Association, the representative body for the industry in mainland Scotland.

This allegation is underscored by the fact that the SO has retained the right to legislate on the impact of sea lice infestations. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), whose responsibility it could be to address this matter, note this fact in their paper, “Regulation and Monitoring of Marine Cage Fish Farming in Scotland, ‘A Manual of Procedures’:

“Advertisement of marine farm proposals can on occasion attract representations related to the spread of disease or sea lice infestation to wild stocks or other fish farms. Whilst the definition of trade effluent includes micro-organisms which could include pathogenic species, the management and control of fish diseases falls more sensibly to the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment & Fisheries Department within their remit under the Diseases of Fish Acts, because of their ability to isolate and identify particular species.

“Sea lice do not fall within this definition as they are only capable of replication as microscopic adults. In addition, juvenile, free-swimming stages of sea lice are able to swim into and out of cages and other fish pathogens will be carried through a cage by water currents, and the operator has no control over their movement. In view of this, the imposition of restrictive conditions on the discharge of sea lice or pathogenic bacteria is considered to be unreasonable and ultra vires.”

Now read this extract from a letter dated 28th July [1998] on the subject, written by Ms Angela Wiseman of the SO Environment Protection Unit in which she explains why an Application by Kames Fish Farming Limited for discharge consent at a fish farm in Seil Sound in the West Highlands should be approved:

“Declines in sea trout stocks, in particular, have been evident since 1952 when catch statistics began to be collected on an annual basis. These declines occurred prior to the advent of fish farming and are evident in areas where no fish farming has taken place, for example, on the east as well as the west coast.

“It is recognised that fish farming is likely to be a contributory factor in west coast declines but to place the blame squarely on a single cause is to exclude other potential factors such as climate and oceanographic changes, predation, illegal fishing etc.”

It is obvious from this statement, or at least it seems obvious to me, that, yet again, the SO have moved to protect the interests of the fish farmers at the expense of our wild salmon and sea-trout. Aquaculture Consultant, Allan Berry commented:

“It is clear [from Angela Wiseman’s letter] that there has been a change in attitude towards the recognition of the impact of fish farming on sea-trout stocks. Unfortunately the writer is not as emphatic as the Scottish Office fishery scientist [Dr Richard Shelton] reported in the “New Scientist” as saying, in regard to the relationship between the collapse of West Highland sea-trout stocks and factory-fish farm sea lice infestations, that “...it is as plain as the nose on your face.”

But above all, who has decided that Scotland’s wild fish should be driven to extinction to satisfy the financial demands of a polluting industry that is substantially owned by foreign companies? Who has decided that a species that has survived in our waters since the end of the last Ice Age is “expendable”? Nobody asked the Scottish people, but it seems that such a decision has been taken. Will those responsible please stand up and explain themselves; tell us upon what authority they have determined to “play God” with one of nature’s miracle creatures?

Rod McGill

Rod McGill