The Salmon Farm Monitor
‘Northern Climes’, November 2002
Scotland’s beleaguered and bewhiskered rural affairs and environment minister, Ross Finny, has been accused of caring more for big business interests than for the interests of Scotland’s environment and natural heritage. That couldn’t possibly be true?
In August, a plague of tiny jellyfish from the Pacific Ocean travelled thousands of miles, clinging to the hulls of boats, or following favourable currents round Cape Horn or through the Panama Canal, just to attack a few foreign owned fake fish farms in remote sea lochs on the east coast of the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
One million factory salmon died. Stolt Sea Farm’s managing director, Petter Krabberod, of the ancient Scottish Clan McKrabberod, said: "It is a major disaster." Initially, the fish farmers estimated losses in the order of £2 million. A few days later, however, this figure had risen to £4 million. We were told that all the dead fish were recovered and ‘pulped’ into fishmeal for use in animal feed.
But two weeks later the BBC reported a half-mile long slick of dead salmon, consisting of hundreds of thousands of rotting fish, bobbing about on the broken waters of The Minch. The Scottish environmental pollution agency (Seap) warned the public to "stay away from the slick in case the fish proved to be toxic."
By the next day, however, the fish farmers and their government quango chums had got their act together and the story changed: the morts were simply leftovers from the jellyfish attack.
Murdo Mackay, local manager of one of the companies involved, said that whilst clearing up the mess, some of the corpses had eluded them. When these decomposing fish resurfaced they naturally attracted seagulls, giving the impression of a large slick over a wide area.
Ole Petter Krabberod said there were only "about 300 fish", and not, as erroneously reported, hundreds of thousands of fish, in the slick. A Seap spokeswoman confirmed this statement, whilst at the same time vigorously denying any suggestion that toxins were to blame.
Of course, jellyfish attacks have nothing whatsoever to do with the operation of fish farms. Nothing whatsoever to do with the shit they hourly excrete into the marine environment. Nothing to do with creating a habitat round their cages that invites jellyfish attack?
Not according to Graeme Smith, a marine biologist at the Oban Sea Life Centre in Argyll, who breed jellyfish. Mr Smith said that they [the jellyfish] were more likely to be a native variety that had thrived in ideal breeding conditions.
Throughout this charade Ross Finny remained silent. His agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, remained silent. And is Seap going to prosecute Stolt Sea Farms for polluting the marine environment?
But how do fishless fish farmers turn an honest coin when they have nothing to sell? Could they ‘well-boat’ in salmon from Norway, process them locally, and market them as ‘Scottish’. That would be illegal and no fish farmer would ever, ever break the law.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Executive has rejected an application from Assynt anglers for a Protection Order, under the terms of the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1976, covering the Loch Assynt and Coigach Area.
This is the first such an application to be rejected and the reasons the Executive gives for refusing the Order are wondrous to behold. They claim that proposed permit charges are too high, £5.00 per rod per day for bank fishing. To the north, in the Reay Forest, they granted an Order where bank fishing permit charges were set at, er, £5.00 per rod per day.
Another reason for rejection is that "insufficient provision for fishing on rivers in the area [for brown trout] covered by the Order." The principal rivers, the Kirkaig and the Inver, are not brown trout streams and never have been. And, again, to the north, the Laxford River does not allow public access for trout fishing.
Four years ago, in the area administered by the Assynt Angling Group, the Assynt Angling Club leased 20 lochs from estates, upon which they had six boats. Now, after protracted negotiation with the riparian owners the numbers of lochs available for public angling has risen to 226, and a fleet of 20 new boats are in place.
The real reason for rejecting the application is that Allan Wilson, Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development has decided to: "look afresh at the management of freshwater fishing in Scotland… because there has been widespread criticism of the 1976 Act." In other words, the Act will be repealed.
A couple of years ago, I carried out an extensive survey amongst riparian owners, angling clubs and anglers who fished there in areas covered by Protection Orders. Yes, there was concern about specific matters in some areas. But, and overwhelmingly, all of those I spoke to said that the Orders were working well.
The objective of these Orders is to give Scotland’s wild brown trout the legal protection they deserve. The Executive now seems determined to destroy this consensus and undo all work done to protect our wild fish. What is most sad, in my opinion, is that rather than refuse the Assynt application because they intend to repeal the 1976 Act, the Executive prefers to pretend that this excellent application is "flawed".
And call my a cynic if you will, but I wonder if this sudden decision to repeal the 1976 Act could possibly be just another attempt by the Scottish Executive to divert attention away from the filthy business of fish farming?
Finally, an exclusive on how Crown Estate officials allegedly told one of Scotland’s leading fish farmers that an "activist" had told them that he planned to sabotage their fish farm cages in a Ross-shire sea loch.
The fish farmer immediately reported to matter to the police and insisted that PC McPlod "visit" the miscreant, a late middle-aged male now urgently seeking advice from his legal advisors.
But no names, no pack-drill, to avoid causing embarrassment to Graeme ‘macho’ Dear, managing director of Norwegian-owned fish farmers Marine Harvest who is currently chomping on loads of humble pie.