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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, May 2004'

I noted last month that the Crown Estate (CE) had rejected an application for a new fish farm in Skye. I suggested then that the decision had more to do with the opinion of The Highland Council (HC), a statutory consultee in the planning process, than with the opinion of the CE - who profit by some £2m a year from their fish farm tenants. This seems to be confirmed by a second HC decision to recommend refusal of a fish farm application, this time at Annat Bay near Ullapool.

Council officials advised the planning committee to submit an unfavourable view to the Crown Estate, arguing that the development would “detract from the valued sense of remoteness of Annat Bay” and that the production of farm salmon could have “adverse impacts” on Atlantic salmon. HC also received more than 100 letters of objection from members of the public.

After a site visit, councillors attended a meeting in Ullapool where local people overwhelmingly opposed the application. The council report on the application said: “The approval of this seabed lease would reduce the individual and community residential amenity. It is highly valued in its present unspoiled state and this would be lost if the application was approved.”

The report concluded, “On the basis of the advice received from Scottish Natural Heritage, the landscape information contained with the Environmental Statement, and representations received, the scenic qualities of Annat Bay are sufficiently important to suggest that the proposed site is inappropriate for the location of a large fish farm and associated equipment.”

This is a victory for common sense, and for those prepared to speak up in defence of our wild salmon and sea-trout. It might also indicate that the tide of public and official opinion is turning in favour of preserving our wild salmonids, our precious marine and freshwater environment and the jobs of all those who depend upon clean waters for their livelihood - rather that continuing to allow them to be used as a lavatory by foreign, multi national fake-fish farm conglomerates.

It is a sad reflection on Scotland’s mainstream angling bodies - the Scottish Anglers’ National Association, Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland), The Sea Trout Group (STG), The Atlantic Salmon Trust et al – that they played no part whatsoever in achieving the Annat Bay success. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult to understand what these people do with their time, other than talk endlessly about how they can ‘accommodate’ the financial needs of the fish farmers.

This is perhaps best exemplified by The Sea Trout Group’s decision to appoint a full-time lobbyist (last month’s column) at a salary not dissimilar to circa £30,000 pa to promote a better awareness of wild fish interests in the corridors of power. Are we to assume, therefore, that the other bodies noted above are incapable of carrying out this role? Isn’t this exactly what they keep telling us that they do – use their influence and connections to help protect our wild fish?

Even sadder is the fact that STG appointee has a long track record of professionally ‘rubbishing’ the views of those who express concern about the impact of fish farming on West Highland and Island wild sea-trout and salmon - understandably, because she worked for three years as a journalist with IntraFish, the aquaculture industry’s leading news group. For example:

“If an intelligent, well-educated person – who is able to perceive the more self-seeking type of anti-industry propaganda for exactly what it is – is sufficiently perturbed to travel into the centre of Aberdeen on a Saturday morning to hand out leaflets [opposing salmon farming], where is the industry failing to wind hearts and minds?”

The former ItraFish journalist seems to have undergone a Damascus-like transformation, according to her comments in the STG Press Release announcing her appointment:

“I’m not opposed to salmon farming,” said Ms Cameron. “It has brought much-needed jobs and economic input to some of Scotland’s most remote areas. It also takes the pressure off wild fish; there’s less incentive to catch them commercially since farmed salmon has brought prices down. I believe that, although we’ll see growing demands for the industry to relocate, sea-cages on Scotland’s western and island coasts will be with us for some time to come.

“It’s therefore essential that we ensure that every avenue is followed to minimise the fish farming industry’s impact on our native wild salmonids. I know that many of Scotland’s fish farmers are also concerned to ensure this, and progress has been made in looking for solutions.

“However, there’s still some damage being done, and there’s no time to be lost if these fish and the local employment based on them – a valuable part of our natural heritage – are to be there for future generations.

“It can’t be a matter of ‘one or the other’,” added Fiona Cameron. “There has to be room for both the wild fish and the fish farms to survive, and it will be my task to keep that fact foremost in the minds of decision-makers.”

That will really get people like Dr Graeme Dear of Marine Harvest and his chums in the Scottish Executive, Jack McConnell, Ross Finny, Allan Wilson and Gordon Brown et al shaking in their boots. Well done STG team, Anthony Steel, Colin Innes, David Mackay and the rest. Rod and line anglers everywhere are in your debt. Where would our West Highland and Island wild salmon and sea-trout be without the likes of you to fight their corner?

Rod McGill