The Salmon Farm Monitor
Northern Climes, May 2003
Congratulations to the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) on scoring a century. The S&TA 2003 Annual Review arrived on my desk this morning and it is a handsome publication; interest-packed and visually vibrant, peopled with weel-kent faces from the angling world and a credit to all those involved it its production.
The Scottish Anglers' National Association (SANA), similarly, goes from strength to strength, doing the best it can to preserve and protect our well-loved, gentle art. So does S&TA and SANA's little 'love child', the Sea Trout Group, warts and all, in spite of reservations I frequently express in this column about the incontinent actions of their dirty baby.
Congratulations also to the much maligned Scottish Executive's (SE) 'Tripartite Working Group'. No finer body of men and woman ever clustered round a civil service teapot in the dank corridors of power; struggling selflessly and tirelessly to wedlock the passion of fish farmers to the cash needs of west coast lairds and salmon river proprietors. More power to their pocket calculators!
Neither must we forget the sterling efforts of the Association of West Coast Fisheries Trusts, nor the wonderful financial contribution that the fish farmers make to these Trusts to oil the wheels of progress and keep scientific noses hard pressed to the grind-stone; attempting to solve the problem of why West Highlands and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout populations are spiraling into oblivion? Will we ever know?
I am also in awe of the work of the Atlantic Salmon Trust. It was spirited and wonderful of them to give fish farmer Graeme Dear, managing director of Dutch owned multinational Nutreco, so much space in their recent report on Trust activities. Anglers everywhere will be reassured to read about how little impact the chemicals, sorry, medicines, that fish farmers must use have on the marine environment and upon wild fish.
It would be improper of me not to include also a heartfelt 'thank you' to the Association of District Salmon Fishery Boards (ADSFB), and to their hard-working director, Andrew Wallace. I hope and pray that Andrew's bid for £4m European funding to "improve" salmonid habitats in Scotland's big four East Coast rivers, Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey, and a few smaller streams, is successful. Scotland's west coast anglers will be so happy.
Then, of course, there are our like-minded colleague organizations, such as Simon Pepper's private army, WWF, who helped mastermind the SE's recently published incomparable Aquaculture Strategy policy. A policy that promises an immediate injection of £100,000 of tax-payer funds each year to persuade consumers that farm salmon are, according to Scottish Quality Salmon, "tasty, delicious and nutritious", and "more research" into the problems of fish farm sea lice. What a victory was there for wild fish interests!
And the UK's largest environmental charity, the 'Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' (RSPB). The RSPB's illustrious Scottish Chairman, Lord Jamie Lindsay, who also happens to be Chairman of Scottish Quality Salmon, confidently guides his troops in their great work of protecting our feathered friends. But, apparently, not necessarily black-throated divers. According to their latest report on the status of these birds the RSPB says, enigmatically, that the impact of freshwater fish farms on black-throated divers is "not clear".
I don't want to be accused of partiality, so I must also pay tribute to my friends in the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Where would we be without them? Before approving consents for fish farm toxic chemical discharges they rigorously study the science. And what a fine job they have made of it! Who will ever forget their anguish and concern when it was discovered that they had, unwittingly, for years, authorised the use on fish farms of Dichlorvas, a substance linked to causing cancers?
And what about the hundreds of poorly-paid Scottish government fisheries scientists, and their university-based colleagues, who have laboured so mightily for more than a decade to address the problems surrounding salmon farming? Surely their sterling work deserves to be acknowledged? They have, with unfailing probity, maintained the highest professional standards, and, without fear or favour, always told the truth. They have never allowed themselves, or their 'science', to be 'muzzled' by their political paymasters.
I know that it is wrong to single out individuals for praise, so I hope that you will excuse me when I offer my special thanks to the President of SANA, Professor David Mackay. Since taking up the burden of SANA leadership after the hardships of being the North Region Director of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Professor Mackay has made real progress in coming to an 'accommodation' with the fish farmers to prevent any further 'unpleasantness' about the damage their sea lice cause to wild fish.
May I also thank SATA (Scotland) chairman Colin Innes who has to walk a thin line between what could be perceived as a 'conflict of interest' in the conduct of his SATA duties? Colin's 'day job' is as a senior partner in the Edinburgh firm of Shepherd & Wedderburn, WS, who number amongst their clients, fish farming interests. During the recent £300 per head Sea Change conference in Dunkeld, when SE fisheries minister Allan Wilson unveiled his 'Aquaculture Strategy' policy to a packed audience of fish farmers and their chums, Shepherd & Wedderburn's European Policy Advisor on fish farming was there, the delectable Inga Wolframm, busy taking notes on behalf of her employers.
But above all, let's put our hands together for the waves of politicians who have played the major role in protecting Scotland's wild salmon and sea-trout from the ungentle administrations of the dubious business of fish farming. I remember, particularly, Lord Jamie Lindsay, one of the most effective regulators of salmon farming the Conservative Party has ever had; Lord Sewell, the first Labour fisheries minister, who told us all that, like it or lump it, salmon farming was here to stay.
And 'Red' John Home Robertson, who thought that 350,000 escapee salmon from Orkney was "no big deal" because Orkney had no salmon rivers; conveniently forgetting that escapee salmon can swim, like across the Pentland Firth to North Coast rivers such as the Thurso, Halladale, Naver, Borgie and Helmsdale? Rhona 'flounder' Brankin, Ross Finny, Allan Wilson and so many more. When will we see their likes again? Anglers everywhere are in their debt.