The Salmon Farm Monitor
‘Northern Climes’, October 2002
It is hard to believe that the Scottish Executive and it predecessor body, the Scottish Office, and their senior civil servants and fishery scientists, could have signed a death warrant for West Highland and Island wild salmon and sea-trout? It is equally hard to believe that successive waves of politicians, of whatever political party, may have colluded in this decision; such as former Tory Scottish Office environment minister, Lord Jamie Lindsay, now chairman of the fish farmers representative body, Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS)?
Surely, if there had been any perception that factory salmon farming might destroy wild fish, nobody in their right mind would have allowed it to happen? The Crown Estate would never have sanctioned such a thing. Neither would the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards. And, of course, we have Scottish Natural Heritage, charged with protecting our natural environment, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) whose primary duty is the environmental protection of Scotland’s marine and coastal waters, and their predecessor bodies: none of these organisations would ever have been party to an act of environmental vandalism?
But it seems clear, according to Brian Simpson, Lord Lindsay’s chief executive at SQS, that this is exactly what might have happened. Mr Simpson, talking to Lesley Riddoch on BBC Radio Scotland at the end of August, let slip a truth: years ago, a secret agreement was signed to protect east coast salmon rivers from the impact of fish farming. Lesley was addressing concerns of those who fished the River Snizort in Skye, where, allegedly, fish farm pollution and disease has ruined the river. Now, another massive fish farm, approved by Sepa and SNH, is to be sited in the sea loch into which the Snizort drains.
Before you read on, may I set the scene, please? Mention had already been made on the programme that in Norway, because it accepts that salmon farming does damage wild fish, farm salmon cages are kept well away from important wild fish streams, and in certain areas fish farming is completely banned. This ‘slight’ on Scotland’s foreign-owned fake fish farmers was too much for Mr Simpson to bear…
"Simpson: Just a little point I would like to clarify here. We actually have agreed many years ago that the whole east coast of Scotland should not be allowed to develop salmon farming, that it should in fact be confined to the west.
Riddoch: Why was that?
Simpson: Well, remember that we have got very big important salmon rivers over here, and again with the potential concerns of them, a decision was taken that we would not develop salmon farming on the whole east coast of Scotland. So I don’t want Norway to get away with the fact that they have decreed a couple of fjords …
Riddoch: But unfortunately, Brian, by telling us that, you expose a lack of logic, in insisting that you want to be at the mouth [of the Snizort] of a migratory salmon run?
Simpson: No, no I….
Riddoch: You know, if the logic is to avoid the whole east coast because its got, you know, all the big rivers that we know about, then perhaps the logic would be that you just avoid them everywhere?
Simpson: We are quite happy to sign up to that. I am quite sure that we could develop salmon farming on the east coast of Scotland with the right agreements, with the right technology, and so on. The reality is the fact is that we have signed to this [agreement not to have fish farms on the east coast]…
Riddoch: Lets try it again, Brian, just go for it, you can answer. The logic is if you are avoiding, if you are effectively already doing prudent avoidance of the Spey, The Tay, you know, whatever, if you are already doing that, the Tweed, then why not just extend it to all the river mouths? They may be smaller, they may be not have such large vested interests arguing for them, but you know, the Snizort is as important to folk in Skye as the Spey is to folk in the North East. So why not just avoid those river mouths? All of them.
Simpson: And it is possible we may do, but there are of course a lot of rivers. I mean, you are comparing some rivers with four or five fish, compared to some very major rivers like the Tay, Tweed and so on, so we are hardly in the same comparison, logic-wise here…."
Brian Simpson confesses an agreement was signed to keep the east coast fish farm free whilst allowing the industry to expand on the west coast. Such an agreement presupposes that those making it were aware that fish farming posed a significant danger to wild fish populations; why otherwise would they be so anxious to keep fish farms away from the east coast? Nevertheless, and in spite of this knowledge, they were prepared to unilaterally consign west coast wild salmon and sea-trout to extinction in the pursuit of their own commercial gain and economic aims.
Who could these people be? Obviously, the fish farmers were party to the agreement. Brian Simpson admits that they were. And it would be strange if the Crown Estate were not involved? After all, the CE is both landlord and planning authority for the location of fish farms. They would have to know about the agreement? Was the then Scottish Office involved? They must have been. Why else, as the impact of fish farming on wild stocks became clear, did they not act to limit the damage being done? Is the present Scottish Executive aware of the existence of this agreement?
What about the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards? Did they sacrifice west coast rivers to protect the Tweed, Tay, Dee and Spey from the impact of fake fish farming? Did they discuss this with west coast river owners? And what about our political masters? Did any of them know that a secret agreement had been signed that would eventually cost hundreds of jobs in remote rural areas and lead to the extinction of species that had survived in Scottish waters since the end of the last Ice Age? Perhaps Ross Finny might care to clarify this matter for us?
If anybody from the derelict Sea Trout Group is still out there, reading this, don’t you think that this is the very opportunity that you have been waiting for? Take Scottish Quality Salmon to court and force them to explain, before a judge, the exact nature of this almost certainly illegal agreement. A lot of people have a lot to answer for: the Scottish Executive, fish farmers, the Crown Estate, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, district fishery boards; and the sad politicians who allowed themselves to be fooled by permanent civil servants who, I honestly believe, masterminded this particularly disgusting piece of deceit.