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'Northern Climes, October 2004'

Killing by kindness? – River Deveron riparian owners implicated in west coast sea-trout disaster

The River Deveron District Salmon Fishery Board website banners its front page with the announcement, What do we do? The site then proceeds to provide the answers to that question. What the site doesn’t do, however, is tell you that they have just sanctioned the stocking of their river, one of Scotland’s most famous east coast sea-trout streams with some 30,000 2”/3” sea-trout fry from eggs purchased in the West Highlands.

Neither, it seems, prior to dumping the fry into the King Edward burn at the end of September, did they bother to discuss the matter with local anglers or the Huntley angling association who lease some 26 miles of the river. According to statistics published by the Scottish Executive (see below) sea-trout stocks in East Coast Rivers have generally improved since the 1960’s, why, therefore, did the Board agree to such a scientifically flawed course of action?

Chairman Robert Shields supplied an ingenious answer when he linked the event to the operation of the Deveron hatchery. Apparently, the board wanted to ‘test’ their new hatchery and decided to buy 80,000 west coast sea-trout eggs to do a trail run. But when the surviving 30,000 fish reached fry stage, they had to be disposed of, so they were released into the King Edward burn; described in a 1998 report (River Deveron Habitat Survey) as having …”some potential as spawning tributaries but limited to some degree by streambed compaction and siltation” These sad fish will almost certainly die through lack of food.

Andrew Wallace, Director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards had this to say about the incident: “The Association strongly council against the stocking of any Scottish river system with fish not native to that system. In exceptional circumstances, where stocks are badly depleted, it may be necessary to consider using other ‘near local’ stocks if available However, there is now a growing consensus that, at best, the use of non-native stock is likely to be a waste of money and at worst, evidence is mounting that repeated stocking of non-native fish could be damaging from a genetic point of view.”

This sordid story sickens even more, given the place where these sea-trout were caught and stripped of their eggs and milt, Loch Coulin, a headwater loch on the River Ewe system in Wester Ross; conveniently close to the hatchery at the Highland School of Aquaculture at Lochcarron where they spent the early days of their lives. Its principal, Bob Kindness is in the business, in my view, of robbing imperilled wild sea-trout of their eggs and selling them on to, as far as I can see, anyone who can pay the price.

When Loch Maree is starved of sea-trout and millions of pounds in angling tourist business have been lost, Bob Kindness appears to be intent on selling off the west coast family sea-trout silver to east coast river owners who either don’t know or don’t care about the damage being caused to west coast wild stocks by fish farms.

Reading between the lines – Scottish Executive sex-up sea-trout figures

The Scottish Executive’s (SE) publication, ‘Scottish Salmon and Sea Trout Catches 2003’ guardedly admits (page 21) for the first time that sea-trout stocks on the west coast are declining more rapidly than they are on the east coast:

“Analysis of the catch data suggests contrasting trends on the east and west coast over the last 40 years. In the absence of other evidence to the contrary, increasing rod catches on the east coast may be taken as evidence for increasing spawning escapement. In contrast, declining rod catches in the west suggest that the populations supporting the west coast rod fisheries are currently the most vulnerable.”

On the face of it, the figures for east/west rod and line sea-trout catches might seem to be rational (East 8596 – West 5196). Everybody knows that rivers such as the Spey, Deveron, North Esk, South Esk, Tay, Forth and Tweed should produce more sea-trout than the west coast. Therefore, whilst it may be a pity that west coast numbers have declined more rapidly, these figures hardly substantiate the claims made by the likes of your correspondent. After all, according to the SE it has being happening over a period of 40 years, long before the advent of fish farming.

But a closer examination of the building-blocks of their comparison quickly reveals their duplicity. Conveniently lumped in with the ‘West Coast’ are famous south west sea-trout fisheries such as The Clyde (Loch Lomond), Nith and Annan, with a total sea-trout catch by all methods of 4701 fish. All of these systems are miles distant from the nearest fish farm, but they handsomely sex-up the SE’s misleading claims.

For instance, if you isolate the North West Region figures from the rest, the reality of the catastrophe that has overwhelmed sea-trout fisheries like Lochs Stack, Maree, Eilt, and Shiel is immediately apparent. The combined all methods sea-trout catch from Inchard in North Sutherland to Morar to Shiel down the west coast during 2003 amounted to only 358 fish. Prior to the expansion of fish farming in 1989 Loch Maree alone produced upwards of 1,500 sea-trout each season.

In my view, their presentation of these figures represents nothing less than a sickly attempt to disguise the truth about the havoc fish farm disease and pollution is wrecking on West Highlands and Islands wild sea-trout. Given that SE fishery scientists have been responsible for promoting fake fish farming, ably aided and abetted by successive waves of compliant politicians, they had little option other than to try to maintain their pretence that fish farm sea lice are not responsible for driving distinct populations of wild salmonids to verge of extinction.

It would be quite improper for me to suggest that the SE report is simply a meaningless and disgusting piece of ‘spin’ designed to cover up the failure of the SE to preserve and protect West Highland and Islands wild sea-trout, but in all honesty I can’t think of a better way of describing the impact this specious piece of ‘Yes Minister’ speak had on me.

Rod McGill

Rod McGill