The Salmon Farm Monitor
ĎNorthern Climesí, September 2002
Some coach tour visitors to Scotlandís West Highlands are getting rather more than nice scenery and ceilidhs: they are also getting severe bouts of vomiting, sickness and diarrhoea, known in medical terms as summer vomiting virus. Local environmental health officers have been inundated with reports of tourists falling ill, in Stornoway, Skye, Oban, Inverness, Kingussie and Fort William.
The symptoms described match those of diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP), which occur after eating poisoned shellfish: nausea, sickness and diarrhoea. And most of the areas affected seem to be related to areas where shellfish fishing has been banned because of poisonous algal blooms; almost certainly exacerbated by the dumping of untreated salmon farm sewage into coastal waters. Could DSP be in any way implicated in outbreaks of summer vomiting virus?
Last month, the Seaforth Hotel in Stornoway was closed for two days following an outbreak. Across the Western Isles, another 26 cases were reported. A ward in the Lorn and Islands General Hospital in Oban was closed because of the virus. There have been outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting at the Mackinnon Memorial Hospital on Skye.
But testing for DSP is a complicated procedure, far beyond local resources. So samples are sent to the Scottish Executiveís (SE) fishery research services laboratory in Aberdeen. Here, government scientists have consistently denied that there is any link, or any evidence of such a link, between fish farm excrement and the occurrence of the toxic algal blooms that promote DSP.
This opinion is confirmed again today (31/7/02) by a new SE report. And who is one of the principal authors of this comforting report? Step forward our old friend, Dr Kenny Black; SE-appointed Ďindependent scientificí advisor to the Scottish Parliamentís fatuous rolling inquiry into fish farming. Dr Black works at the marine research facility, near Oban.
A new dimension has been added to the delights of fishing in North West Scotland Ė military tourism. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) firing range at Cape Wrath, near the small community of Durness in Sutherland, was busy in July with a Joint Maritime Course involving UK and other EU navies and a contingent from the USA.
Great local angst was aroused when a shell, fired by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Somerset, landed a mile from shore-side cottages and eight miles adrift from the firing range. A local crofter saw the shell hit the water: "We heard this shell coming in towards the shore, and then we saw the spume of water. We were quite alarmed" he said. More worrying is the fact that Commander Bertie Armstrong, ops officer for the exercise, claimed that the shell had not gone astray, but had landed exactly where it was intended to land.
Still at Durness, Loch Caladail, one of the finest wild brown trout fisheries in Europe, is quietly draining away because of the indolence of those responsible for the maintenance of the dam that constrains the loch. In recent months the level of the loch is estimated to have dropped by as much as 18 inches.
In 1846 the 2nd Duke of Sutherland built the dam to form the loch, which was then used as a public water supply for the Durness area. The dam height was increased to its present level (approximately 10ft) in 1903.
The pH of the loch is in the order 8.5, caused by the underlying limestone, and it is this that makes the loch and the surround area so special for trout; and for outstanding wildflowers such as Mountain aven, Mountain everlasting and a wide range of orchids and other plant and bird species.
The land upon which the loch lies is substantially owned by the Scottish Executive (SE) and by the Durness Estate - a section of their land touches Loch Caladail. The Durness Estate appears to be owned by a secretive Belgian company, Vibel AS, who have an interest in developing a superquarry to the east of Loch Caladail.
Fishing on the lochs is let to the Cape Wrath Hotel whose previous owner, Mr Jack Watson, claimed that the dam had passed a recent inspection carried out by Highland Council Officials. But it has been discovered that the "recent" inspection was in fact carried out on 22nd August 2001, and that it resulted in a report being submitted to the Scottish Executive recommending urgent repairs to stop the dam leaking, such repairs to be carried out by 22nd August 2002.
The SE has written to Vibelís Edinburgh lawyers, MacLure & Naysmith, and to Ian Wilson, their factor, asking for their share of the cost of the dam inspection, and for comments on undertaking repairs. None of these letters, written in January, February, March, April and June have so far elicited any response. Is this the end for Loch Caladail?
Meanwhile, to stave off the day of reckoning for the filthy business of fish farming, Allan Wilson, Scotlandís deputy minister for environment & rural development has set up yet another Ďadvisory groupí, this time to design Scotlandís first ever aquaculture strategy plan; due to appear, he says, "sometime" later this year.
Wilson boasted, "The team I have put together includes leading figures from the industry to WWF." But of eighteen members, only one has any positive involvement in or real knowledge of the plight Scotlandís wild salmon and sea-trout face from fish farm disease and pollution.
The rest are Scottish Executive place-men and industry apologists: Jamie Lindsay, Scottish Quality Salmon; Trica Henton, boss girl of the Scottish environment pollution agency; fish-farm-huggers Georgie Hamilton and Sandy Cumming from Highland Council and Highlands & Islands Enterprise; and that famously independent observer of all things fishy, Dr Kenny Black from the SEís Argyll marine laboratory.
Perhaps the group could investigate the employment figures the industry increasingly rely upon to justify their continued existence? For the past four years fish farmers have claimed, come hell or high-water, that they support 6,500 to 7,000 jobs. According to figures produced by Scotlandís biggest fake fish farmer, Dutch-owned Marine Harvest, 40,000 tonnes production sustain 1,467 jobs.
Using the industryís own figures, in 1999, when factory salmon farming was churning out 100,000 tonnes and claiming to employ 6,500, comparable employment figures could only have been 3,940. Production this year is expected to top 150,000 tonnes, 5,910 jobs. Where are the other 1000 jobs? The truth is that they exist only in the minds of industry spin-merchants and the gullible, sad, politicians who believe them.