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'Northern Climes, September 2003'

Last month’s column noted that Professor David Mackay, President of the Scottish Anglers’ National Association, had been fulsome in his praise of the Dutch-owned multi-national fish farmer Marine Harvest’s involvement in the restocking of West Highland sea-trout rivers. He said: "With this new spirit of co-operation, I believe we are in a better position than we have ever been since the industry started to get on top of the sea lice problem and restore these fisheries."

However, Rod McGill has seen correspondence that suggests that the SANA President might not really have known what he was talking about when he made that statement: “Having had no personal involvement in the planning or execution of the re-stocking programme I am not in a position to give definitive answers [about the re-stocking] …. I have been told that eggs from individual west coast rivers were reared and returned to the rivers of origin but I am not able to substantiate that.”

If this is indeed the case, then why did Professor Mackay, speaking on behalf of SANA and without any detailed knowledge of what he was praising, throw the whole weight of his association behind a sea-trout re-stocking programme supported by a fish farmer whose practices are implicated in the killing of these selfsame wild sea-trout?

SANA’s colleague organisation, the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland), also welcomed the Marine Harvest re-stocking programme, when Scottish director David Henderson described it as being “…an excellent example of the industry working with wild fish interests and hopefully a portent of things to come."

Even stranger, however, is Mr Henderson’s response to a report in ‘The Independent on Sunday’ (3/8/03) about a claim that a million Scottish farmed salmon had escaped from their cages in recent years, and that these escapees threatened the survival of wild fish. Mr Henderson said: “We’re tremendously worried that if these escapes continue, farmed fish might outnumber wild fish.” Is he unaware of the fact that this has already happened – that farmed salmon now out-number wild salmon by 48 to 1 in the North Atlantic?

The Sea Trout Group also seems to be experiencing organisational difficulties: caretaker treasurer Ian Moutter has resigned. In his resignation letter, sent (17/06/03) to all the members of the Sea Trout Group Committee, Mr Moutter complains: “ since Jane [Wright] and Patrick [Fotheringham] relinquished their positions I have received only two communications from the group, both of these were from the current chairman [Anthony Steel]. Both communications were by telephone and both left me feeling a distinct lack of confidence in the method and approach being taken by the caller.”

Anthony Steel was concerned about the group’s bank account, having been informed that “…an account with £63,000 had been closed and all the money transferred.” Ian Moutter, who was acting treasurer at the time of this incident, commented in his resignation letter, “As I am no longer sent bank communications by the office [sic] I was unable to explain the position.” If the acting treasurer doesn’t receive “bank communications”, who does?

Given that the group holds upwards of £90,000 pounds of angler’s money, the balance that remains of the £170,000 gifted to them so that they could mount a legal challenge against the fish farmers, many might feel, as I do, that the group should request an immediate and independent audit of their operation; its constitution; how members were and are appointed and by whom; the minute book record of meetings; an assessment of financial transactions and how they have been conducted and managed.

Anglers placed their trust and a substantial amount of their money in the Sea Trout Group’s ability to deliver on its promise of mounting a legal challenge to the fish farmers. I honestly believe that this “trust” has been woefully misplaced. The group appears to be moribund. After the undoubted success of its recent visit to the mouth of the River Ewe to investigate fish farm sea lice infestations on wild sea-trout, the group held a ‘brain-storming session’ when, according to chairman Anthony Steel, “Various ideas were forthcoming but to be honest there was no “eureka “ solution.”

I would be the first to recognise the Sea Trout Group committee is made up of volunteers who give freely of their time and energy to address the affairs of the group. And therein, I think, the problem lies. They are all busy people with only a limited amount of time to spare, and, as such, it must be difficult to arrange meetings and attend to all the necessary facets of keeping everyone, themselves include, informed about what is or is not going on. This might also apply to the employed staff in SANA and S&TA who I suspect the group relies upon to provide them with at least some secretarial and other services?

The group was founded for the sole purpose of mounting a legal challenge in regard to fish farming. It was not set up as a ‘long-term’ organisation. SANA and S&TA should provide that focus. I believe that the group should consider appointing an informed individual on a short-term, part-time contract to take forward the objective of identifying a legal challenge and manage the administrative and financial affairs of the group until when that legal challenge is ready to be mounted. Rod McGill would be happy to suggest a suitable individual to advise the group on both of these matters, if they so wish.

In summary, therefore, and given all of the above, I think that it is now time for SANA and S&TA (Scotland) to each make available to their members an unequivocal statement about exactly what they are going to do to save Scotland’s fast-disappearing West Highland and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout, and how they are going to do it. As a member of both of these organisations I wish them nothing other than good, but they must accept the fact that their very credibility is now at serious risk, and that just ‘spin’ and obfuscation is no longer good enough.

Rod McGill