New Year Interview: The speed at which New Year arrives each year appears to get faster as the years go by. We were rather surprised to see that it is now three years since the Irish Marine Institute posted their video about salmon farming and sea lice on the internet – (https://vimeo.com/83845976). With the passing of the years, it is easy to forget the furore that their peer-reviewed research, as well as similar research from Norway, caused within the angling community. According to the video, just 5 out of every 100 smolts migrating out to sea subsequently return as adults. Of the 95 that failed to return, just one, maybe two, died as a result of sea lice.
As time passes, this massive mortality to those smolts which occurs whilst they are at sea appears to fade into minor importance as the emphasis is placed on the threat from sea lice to wild salmon smolts that migrate past salmon farms. In Norway, this New Year will see the introduction of the traffic light system to control the growth of the salmon farming industry even though just one, maybe two migrating salmon smolts will die from sea lice. It seems that no thought is given to finding out what has killed the other 93-94 smolts that die at sea, including those that don’t even migrate past a salmon farm as they swim out to sea.
Of course, the reason why is simple. It is very difficult to remedy the problems that cause the deaths of so many salmon so far out at sea whereas, it is some much easier to focus on salmon farms that are located close to shore providing a constant, but often misplaced, reminder of the problems affecting wild salmon stocks.
In a New Year interview with Kyst.no, Erik Sterud of Norske Lakseelver (Norwegian Salmon Rivers) expressed his fears that controls over salmon farming will continue to damage wild salmon stocks in Norway. He said that he was pleased with the introduction of the new traffic light system to controlled the growth of the salmon industry but was worried that the Government might not impose the required limits that will ensure an emphasis on sustainability rather than growth.
His concerns arise because he says that originally the definition of the amber light was that between 10-30% increased likelihood of mortality but this now seems to have been rewritten as 10-30% probability of mortality instead. Mr Sterud said that these two wordings are very different and it should be questioned whether such an acceptance of resource destruction is legal. He added that ‘Just imagine if the same politicians suggested that an acceptable impact of oil production in Lofoten, ‘God Forbid’ was 30% destruction annually of cod?’
We would suggest that just imagine if something happened (we can’t imagine just what) on a salmon farm that ‘God Forbid (to use Mr Sterud’s expression) resulted in the deaths of 93,700 large breeding adult salmon. There would be a national outcry yet Mr Sterud’s organisation oversaw the deaths of this estimated number of fish in 2016 by anglers in the name of sport. If Mr Sterud is so concerned about the state of wild salmon stocks surely his first action is to ensure that all the fish returning to Norwegian rivers have the opportunity to breed to ensure the future viability of the stocks. Mr Sterud and the angling community are perfectly entitled to go fishing for salmon but why do they need to kill them? About 20% of those fish caught are now returned to the water so why not return every fish caught to ensure that every fish is given the chance to breed and produce the next generation.
We don’t have a problem with Mr Sterud and his fellow anglers killing the salmon they catch but where we do object is to why he then blames salmon farming for the declining population. We would point out to Mr Sterud that peer reviewed research has shown that sea lice for which the traffic light system is supposed to protect against, account for the deaths of up to two migrating smolts. It seems he has more concerns for these two fish than the 90 plus others that die at sea for other reasons.
Mr Sterud also uses his New Year interview with Kyst to highlight the challenges of escapes from salmon farms. He said that this might be an even bigger problem than lice because these genetic changes are irreversible.
We have read that modern salmon evolved after the last ice age and have remained largely unchanged since. Yet, salmon, like all other animals, are constantly exposed to evolutionary pressures that cause change whether good and bad. However, those changes that are benefit to the animal are those that prevail. These evolutionary pressures mean that changes are not necessarily irreversible, as Mr Sterud suggests. The Peppered Moth is a classic example of the way that natural selection works and is now known as Darwin’s Moth.
The Peppered Moth is so named because it is a white moth with small black speckles. During the industrial revolution, heavy pollution meant that buildings, trees and almost everything outside became covered in soot. A white moth stood out against such a background and became an easy target for predators. Over time, those moths that managed to avoid predators were those with the largest and most spreckles. As nature favoured those that manged to avoid predation, the speckles merged and the moth became black.
In recent years, the environment has much improved and the soot has long gone. Resting Black Peppered Moths now stand out against the much cleaner buildings and tree trunks where they become an easy target for predators. Nature now favours those moths with smaller speckles and a large white colour. The natural population has changed back to its natural form because this is what ensures the survival of the fittest.
Salmon too will evolve in response to evolutionary pressures but the gene pool is also impacted by man’s activities. For many years, large hauls of salmon mean that the gene pool has significantly declined possibly losing some of the traits that would actually benefit the salmon’s future. However, it is only now that farmed salmon escape into the wild that concern about the genetic stock is being expressed.
We have heard time and time again, that interbreeding between wild and farmed salmon is damaging to the wild population but the reality is that if such interbreeding brings about negative changes, then these changes will not survive into future generations because they do not bring any advantage to the salmon. It is also worth remembering that farmed salmon are effectively genetically identical to the wild fish. They may have genetic markers that are different but these are just markers.
Of course, no farm wants to see any salmon escape because they represent a financial loss. Most escaped salmon swim out to sea and subsequently die. Even those found in rivers doesn’t mean that they are actually breeding.
We can only repeat that perhaps those who are concerned about the future viability of wild salmon should focus more on the 90 plus salmon smolts that die at sea. In 1980., 25% of salmon smolts returned to Norwegian rivers as adults, now is just 5%. How many will return in 30 years time? Mr Sterud says he favours closed containment for salmon farming. If he gets his way and all salmon are farmed in closed systems and no wild salmon return to Norway’s rivers, who will he blame then?
Appalled: Salmon & Trout Conservation, formerly the Salmon & Trout Association, have issued yet another press release about salmon farming, although it seems that this time the press has completely ignored their gripes.
S&TC are ‘appalled’ to hear the promotion that the BBC gave to farmed salmon in the run up to Christmas. S&TC refer to a TV programme called ‘Christmas Supermarket Secrets’ but they fail to mention that the programme broadcast at some off-peak time in the schedules on a lesser TV channel was actually a repeat first broadcast in 2013. The programme was being reshown along with others in the Supermarket Secrets series to fill out the schedules. The programme was fairly innocuous with a visit to a salmon farm to see how the fish are grown.
This latest press release follows on from one that called on supermarkets Sainsbury’s and the Coop to stop selling farmed salmon because of an unacceptable parasite loading. We can report that after a number of visits to both supermarket chains, both the Coop and Sainsbury’s continued to widely sell farmed salmon this Christmas. S&TC calls went unnoticed.
We, at Callander McDowell, have written previously on more than one occasion that we have tried to meet with S&TC to discuss the impacts of salmon farming on wild salmon catches. Unfortunately, S&TC did not even acknowledge our contact let alone agree to meet with us. Instead, they prefer to rely on issuing these press releases because it means that they do not have to engage in discussion.
In their press release, they highlight that there is now a host of incontrovertible evidence showing that sea lice emanating from open pen salmon farms are having a lethal effect on migrating wild salmon and sea trout. Yet, when we have asked why some catches of wild salmon have increased in rivers adjacent to salmon farms, we are met with a wall of silence and yet more press releases.
Nothing changes: A new year but the same old message. Kyst.no reports that WWF in Norway wants a moratorium on salmon farming until problems with sea lice and escapes are dealt with satisfactorily. Karoline Andaur, head of WWF in Norway said that they are working at many levels to reduce the environmental impact of aquaculture. She said they are fighting for better legislation, more frequent inspections and more sustainable feed but first and foremost the industry should not be allowed to expand until problems with sea lice and escapes are solved.
We, at Callander McDowell hope that the new year will bring about a good dose of realism, especially for the WWF. They say that they are working to reduce the environmental impact of aquaculture and that their main target is lice and escapes. As we have discussed, we recognise that lice and escapes are a major headache for farmers but as the impacts supposedly relate to wild salmon, we don’t see that this is sufficient issue to curtail any further growth. Certainly, our research in Scotland shows that despite claims otherwise, the impact on wild salmon stocks is minimal and there are much greater threats elsewhere. The same applies to escapes as it clearly makes little difference to anglers is the salmon they kill has gene A or gene B.
The WWF say that they are also concerned about the sustainability of the food fed to farmed salmon but yet we still hear a deafening silence about the inclusion of wild caught fish in pet feeds. Surely, this is of much more concern since pet animals don’t eat fish in the wild whereas salmon do.
Whilst the WWF have expressed concerns about the need to place a stop on growth of salmon farming, they don’t say whether such restrictions should apply to the 94 salmon farms that have been certified as sustainable by the ASC. These farms already have limitations on the impact that they can have on lice and escapes so should fall outside the WWF concerns. However, this is not the case. The WWF say that the current standards for ASC do not include everything they want of environmental requirement and as such is something that the WWF wishes to improve. In fact, the WWF say that they are pleased that there are companies now looking at closed containment as an alternative method of production. It is clear in which direction the WWF want to improve the ASC standard.
Karoline Andaur says that it is also important that the ASC strictly enforce the standards of those farms that have been certified. She said that if a site cannot follow the requirements, then they must lose their certification. She said this happened to the farm at Gulesto, which lost its certification because of escapes. We think that this would be big news but we cannot find any reference to the withdrawal of any ASC certification and according to the ASC website, the Gulesto farm is still fully certified until 2018.
We think that the WWF have got their priorities wrong. There is much happening in the natural world that needs to be addressed but it seems that they prefer to focus their attention on whether a few salmon escape rather than for example, the fact that the oceans are awash with micro-plastics – a much greater threat to our planet than salmon farming could ever bring. However, as we have said many times previously, salmon farming is an easy target and as we suggest, when it comes to the WWF, nothing changes.
Mainlander: It is not just the environmental sector who are against the idea of farming salmon although many hide behind environmental and conservation groups. ABC News in Australia reports that the man behind the latest campaign to stop expansion of salmon farming in Tasmania is a millionaire internet entrepreneur. A group called ‘Lets Grow Tasmania’s Future’ has launched a social media and TV campaign opposing planned expansion in Okehampton Bay by salmon farming company Tassal.
LGTF’s advert can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/LetsGrowTas/videos/356791078016524/ . It features a couple of anglers in a boat, one of who defecates over the side into the bay. The message is that farming 800,000 salmon is the same as allowing the waste of about 10,000 people to flow into the bay. This is clearly nonsense as the waste is not the same and fish naturally defecate in the sea.
Graeme Wood, the entrepreneur, told ABC that he has publicly stated his opposition to the farm in Okehampton Bay because of its undoubted negative impact on tourism jobs and development of the east coast. In the past, Mr Wood has donated millions to the green political group. However, this latest opposition may have little to do with the environmental impact of the salmon farm rather than the fact that Mr Wood recently bought a former woodchip mill near the bay which he is planning to convert into a multi-million-dollar hotel, restaurant and conference complex.
Mr Woods support for the LGTF campaign has angered both the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian public some of whom have accused him of being a ‘mainlander’ who is interfering in Tasmanian issues.
Presumably, Mr Wood won’t allow any of the guests to his hotel to dump their waste into the bay!!