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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
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'Northern Climes, September 2004'

One of the world’s great hotels, Gleneagles, venue for the next G8 summit, has been pretending to customers that diners ordering salmon are served “Tay salmon”, wild fish caught from the River Tay. Given that it is an offence to buy or sell rod and line caught salmon in Scotland, and that there are no netting stations in the river, Gleneagles was either breaking the law or being disingenuous with the truth about where its salmon came from.

After pondering the problem for a few weeks, the offending statement disappeared from the Gleneagles website, but the hotel menus still remain reluctant to tell diners whether or not the salmon on their plates is wild or farmed. Are they ashamed to admit that they are dishing up artificial fish that have spent their entire lives swimming around amidst their own filth?

Meanwhile, anglers should hurry along to fish the Balmoral Beats of the River Dee where HM Queen’s agents are offering free farm salmon – provided that they put back any wild fish they catch. The objective is said to be to preserve wild stocks, but it seems to have escaped the notice of Brenda’s advisors that by promoting farm salmon they are in fact speeding the demise of the real thing.

A principal reason for the decline in Dee wild stocks is that when young fish reach the sea for the first time there is nothing there for them to eat before something bigger eats them: the sand eels that used to sustain them have all been hoovered up to make into food for, er, farm salmon. It takes three tonnes of sand eels to produce one ton of farm salmon.

Anglers who accept such largesse should be aware that they are also getting, along with the fake fish, and also for free, a sprinkling if PCB’s, PBDE’s (chemical flame retardants), artificial colourants and, who knows, maybe even a little dash of the banned cancer-linked substance, malachite green?

The presence of PCB’s and PBDE’s in fake salmon has been identified by USA and Canadian researchers who studied 700 samples before reaching their conclusions. They have been branded by industry apologist Brian Simpson of ‘Scottish Quality Salmon’ as being “Another example of wealthy American anti-Scottish salmon farming campaigners [trying] to scare the public.” As we say in Scotland, ‘aye, right’.

Toxic loch on the Island of Lewis

These naughty old naturally occurring toxic algal blooms have been busy again, this time in Lewis in the Western Isles, where a loch has been declared a public health hazard because it is poisoned. Loch Ereray (OS Map 8, Stornoway & North Lewis, Scale 1:50,000 Grid reference 327506) is shallow, average depth 6ft, drains Loch Urrahag to the east of the A858 Carloway/Port of Ness road and exits into the sea by Sliegeag (Gd ref: 327509).

According to a report in The West Highland Free Press (30/07/04) Lewis anglers are ignoring warning signs posted round the loch advising people not to swim in the loch, drink the water, eat fish caught in the loch, or to let their dogs splash about there because of “serious concern” about “very high levels” of algal bloom.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Seap) has a duty to care for water quality and when approached, they said that they didn’t really know why Loch Ereray had gone toxic. A Sepa official insisted, however, that the bloom was ‘naturally occurring’ and that a number of factors could be involved; including global warming, hot weather, crofters re-seeding fields and using nitrogen to encourage new grass growth.

What Sepa didn’t mention was the fact that there has been a salmon smolt rearing hatchery on the banks of the River Ereray for 20 years. When asked about this, Sepa immediately went on the offensive: “No, the hatchery is not involved. It has improved the quality of waste discharge into the river in recent years. They now treat their effluent. They have always conformed to the dictates of the discharge consent we approved.”

So, Sepa is asking us to believe that 20 years of discharges from the hatchery has had no affect whatsoever on water quality in the loch. Was Sepa examining any possibility that the hatchery might have been maybe partly responsible for the state of the loch? “We examine all possibilities, but I think that you can discount the hatchery.”

The situation on Loch Ererary mirrors a similar instance in Loch nam Brac near Scourie in North West Sutherland. Loch man Brac was the principal trout loch for the Scourie & District Angling Club, but in the mid 1990’s, it too was declared a public heath hazard; notices posted round the shore warning people not to drink the water, let pets swim, or eat any fish caught from the loch.

When Sepa was asked for an explanation, they said that it was difficult to ascertain the cause, but that it could be due to global warming, or because a crofter was feeding his half-dozen cows on the shores of the loch and that their ‘ablutions’ might have raised nutrient levels.

When asked about the salmon smolt rearing cages in the loch, - moored in the same position for 12 years - Sepa said that it was highly unlikely that they had had anything to do with the loch turning toxic: “Algal blooms are naturally occurring, you know,” a spokesman said.

The truth is that Sepa hasn’t single shred of peer-reviewed scientific evidence to substantiate their claim that toxic algal blooms are not associated with untreated waste discharged from fish farms. I believe that Sepa has to take this ridiculous stance for two reasons: firstly, the SE has told them to do so, and, secondly, if they admitted a link, then they could be prosecuted for improperly issuing discharge consents.

Rod McGill