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'Northern Climes, May 2006'

Good news from Orkney. Reports from the islands suggest that sea-trout runs this spring have been the best for many years. Senior Orcadian anglers say that areas which a few years ago seemed to be devoid of sea-trout are now holding fish again. One angler told me, “I’ve hardly had a sea-trout so far this season that’s had sea lice on it, in comparison to 3-4 years ago when I felt that I had to kill 12” fish because they were so badly infested with lice.”

The Orkney Trout Fishing Association (http://orkneytroutfishing.co.uk) website notes that “The east coast of Hoy was back in form and definitely the place to go for a red letter day. Malcolm Thomson, Neil Firth and Neil Macleod enjoyed sport with 10 fish of up to 3lb from Hoy’s shallow sea bays. Malcolm Russell took 12 for 17lb with a best fish at 3lb 8oz.”

However, the most spectacular sea-trout taken, and one of the largest ever caught in Orkney waters, fell to Hoy angler Donald Macissac and weighed 11lb 3oz. The fish was caught in Creekland Bay on an orange muddler. Other once-productive sea-trout locations have also been producing great sport, including Graemshall to the west of the 1st of the Churchill Barriers, across from the Italian Chapel.

The general opinion amongst Orcadian anglers is that this resurgence of sea-trout is directly linked to a down-turn in the activities of Orkney salmon farmers. It is alleged that many cages are either being fallowed or are simply empty of fish because of the long period of low prices the industry has endured through over-production in recent years.

There is little doubt in this observers mind that this is indeed the case. Wherever and whenever farm salmon cages are empty, wild salmonids return. Wherever and whenever the cages are refilled, sea-tout and salmon stocks collapse again. This simple truth seems to be beyond the understanding of Scottish Executive ministers and their fishery scientists, and outwith the grasp of Scottish Natural Heritage, the government body charged with the responsibility of protecting and preserving our natural habitat.

(Malcolm Thomson is currently studying the status of Orcadian sea-trout and asks local and visiting anglers to send him scale samples and details of any fish they catch. Contact Malcolm on tel: 01856 8516560).

A little cadmium with your cod, madam? Cod has become the great white hope of the aquaculture industry. Millions of pounds of private and EU cash is being poured into the business as the public become increasingly aware of the risks associated with eating farmed salmon.

But serious problems remain, primarily with food fed to farm cod. It is similar to farm salmon food in that it can contain significant levels of contaminants, and/or substances like cadmium; a highly poisonous heavy metal linked to bone, kidney and lung disorders in humans and suspected of causing kidney and prostrate cancer.

According to reports in the West Highland Free Press, an alarm was sounded in April 2005 when Norwegian fish food manufacturers EWOS alerted the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) that it had exported fish feed to UK with cadmium levels more than 30 times over EU limits. The food was delivered to a EWOS base at Bathgate in West Lothian.

When asked what had happened to the contaminated feed, the FSA replied that, based upon the information they had received, all the contaminated feed had been destroyed. Nine months later, however, in January 2006, EWOS confessed that not all the load had been accounted for and that 50kg was still missing.

West Lothian Council officials promptly mounted a cadmium hunt and discovered that the feed had been sent to a cod farm in Argyll. It had been fed to young cod that had subsequently been transferred to another farm and mixed in with other fish. Did the EU or the FSA order all these fish to be culled and dumped?

An EU spokesman said, “An assessment indicates that, given the dilution factors and the very small increase in cadmium in the final fish, the risk to the consumers will be low.” So that’s all right, then, isn’t it?

When Canadian and US researchers found significantly higher levels of cancer-causing contaminants in farm salmon than in wild salmon, Scottish fish farmers hit the panic button.

The study fingered their fish as the most PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyl) contaminated of 700 samples examined. PCB’s are known to cause cancer and are associated with impacts on the development of children.

Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), mouth-piece for Marine Harvest, the world’s largest fish farmer, manned the barricades and did what they were told to do: they launched a damage-limitation public relations exercise.

The campaign, master-minded by London-based Chrome Consulting, won an award last November in the Public Relations Association’s Golden World Awards (buy two get one free?) for “restoring and increasing sales after the scare.”

Who paid for the spin? Step forward The Crown Estate who lease seabed sites to fish farmers and collect approximately £2m pa for doing so; closely followed by the fish farmer’s best friends, the Scottish Executive, with match-funding for this £3 million pound campaign.

But the Canadian and US research on farm salmon contaminant levels has not been disproved. It spite of SQS bombast about legal action, all that they have really been able to come up with is more public relations: salmon gives your baby brains; reduces the risk of heart disease death by 25%; saves your skin from sunburn. All by eating more farmed salmon, of course!

Rod McGill