Paying attention?:  This week, we were given a copy of a letter sent out by the Tay District Salmon Fishery Board which notified proprietors and others that the Board had taken the momentous decision to recommend that everyone refrains from killing any wild salmon or sea trout caught from the River Tay and instead return all fish back into the river. This is akin to reclassifying the River Tay as a Grade three river.

Just to be clear, this is the River Tay, not some small west coast river.

We, at Callander McDowell, would make the point that the mouth of the River Tay is about 650 kilometres from the nearest salmon farm. We mention this minor fact because there has been so much media coverage in recent years about the negative impact of salmon farming on wild fish numbers that declines along the east coast rivers have been rarely discussed. The reality is that many of the east coast rivers are suffering from such poor catches that this can no longer be ignored. We are not surprised that people from the wild fish sector are so reluctant to talk to us, because it is hard to justify controls on salmon farms, when rivers that are on a completely different coast are also clearly in decline.

In their letter, the District Salmon Fishery Board refers to their newsletter for an explanation of what is happening to the river. They say that last summer and autumn grilse run was the poorest for many years and there are similarities between this and the type of runs that prevailed between the 1920’s and the 1950’s when grilse were relatively scarce and spring salmon were dominant. The fishery board says that they don’t know if this latest dip is a repeat of that cycle or something different. What they claim to know is that both events have happened at a time when North Sea water temperatures have risen. They don’t know if this is a coincidence or not but have recommended catch and release until stocks are seen to improve.

They may have a very long wait.

 

Keeping busy: A week after the River Tay District Salmon Fishery Board sent out its catch and release letter, the Herald newspaper reports that Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland are keeping themselves busy. They have accused Scotland’s environmental regulator (SEPA) of ‘outrageous’ attempts to subvert the public’s right to vital information about the impact of salmon farming. They say that SEPA are using delaying tactics to avoid releasing controversial information. For example, S&TCS asked for any correspondence between SEPA and Marine Scotland relating to the environmental impact of sea lice medicine. Given that catches on east coast rivers are in a state of collapse, we are not sure how vital information about sea lice medication really is. Some of the wild fish sector including S&TCS have become so blinkered by salmon farming that they are missing the point that the problems for wild fish extend far beyond the west coast. We are reminded of Nero fiddling whilst Rome burned.

The scale of the problem on the east coast can be seen from the Tweed. The news sections of the Tweedbeats website reports that by the beginning of June 643 salmon and 62 sea trout had been caught from the river. Last year, which also was described as a poor year had landed nearly 2,000 salmon and 200 sea trout. This equates to a reduction of about two-thirds. Sadly, few rivers report in the same way as the Tweed so we are unable to see whether salmon catches are declining in a similar way across all of Scotland. Perhaps if there were a system of real time reporting in place but until then we must wait until next year to see what is really happening.

Meanwhile, we would be happy to talk to Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland to discuss whether salmon farming is the culprit in west coast declines. They could then perhaps focus on the wider issues than ‘fiddling’ on the margins.

 

Western queen: Few Scottish rivers provide a reliable account of the weekly catches. The River Lochy on Scotland’s west coast publishes a weekly blog, the latest posting was June 3rd (http://riverlochy.com/news/ ). This relates that the weather was more like the Costa del Sol than the west coast and with day times temperatures at 27oC, the fishing was not at its best. In the lower beats, fish were seen coming in and out on the tide and 3 salmon had been caught; a 13lb, 14lb and a 20lb fish. Later in the week, thunder showers improved the water level and it is hoped for better fishing in the days to come. It certainly seems that there is a more optimistic view for the Lochy than expressed by the managers of the River Tay.

The River Lochy website states: The Lochy has seen a remarkable revival of the last 20 years. From a mere 32 fish in 1998 to an average now of around 450 salmon and grilse. With its majestic backdrop mouth-watering pools and glides, it is still without doubt ‘The Queen of Scottish Salmon Rivers.’

We, at Callander McDowell, find this statement a little puzzling because we are sure we have been told that wild fish stocks along Scotland’s aquaculture zone have been decimated by the presence of salmon farming!

 

For lough nor money: As we previously mentioned, Corin Smith seems to no longer reference the economic impacts of salmon farming and has turned his attention to environmental issues. He has widened his concern to include Ireland where he has repeated a post from the Irish group ‘No Salmon Farms at Sea’ (NSFAS). This relates to Lough Currane in Waterville, Co Kerry which was once regarded at the premier sea trout fishery in Europe producing some specimen sea trout.

NSFAS say that sadly this has now gone. They suggest that the decline of Lough Currane has been taking place over several years and that stocks have plummeted to levels that warrant an investigation by the Irish Government. This is impacting on visitor numbers and the local economy.

The main reason given for the decline of sea trout, and also of salmon, is of course salmon farming. NSFAS say that there are reports of juvenile sea trout being caught that have gone out into the lough but have returned covered in sea lice. They say that the Marine Harvest farm at Deenish must be investigated and in NSFAS’s opinion should be removed.

The local fishery trust, established in January 2017, has also posted their view. They say that for the third year running, there has been a very poor run of sea trout and for the first time in recent memory, just one specimen fish has been caught whereas in a normal year, there would have been a good number. The trust has been lobbying Government to act to prevent a complete collapse of the fishery. They say that the problems of Lough Currane are obvious. Other migratory fisheries throughout the west coast of Ireland and Scotland have suffered from a proliferation of sea lice from salmon farms. Probably the most famous of these, once of equal standing to Lough Currane, was Loch Maree, which was also famous for its large specimen trout. They say it was similarly decimated twenty-five years ago and so far, the fishery has yet to recover.

The comparison with Loch Maree is quite interesting. The angling sector blamed the collapse of the Loch Maree in 1988 on the arrival of a salmon farm in adjacent Loch Ewe in 1987. Thus, the collapse occurred within a year of the onset of salmon farming in the locality. Our understanding is that the farm at Deenish was fully operational from 1995 although it might have been first established about six years earlier, yet it seems that it is only in the last three years that there has been concern about the state of the local Lough Currane fishery. This suggests that the two have been co-existing side by side with no major issues.

Inland Fisheries Ireland post regular updates of fisheries around Ireland including reports from Loch Currane. These are written by local guide Vincent who also posts daily updates throughout the season on his blog at www.salmonandseatrout.com. There are too many catches of sea trout to mention in previous years but catches of note include on the 22nd September last year a sea trout of ten and a half pounds, which was the biggest that the angler had caught despite fishing the lough for over forty years. The week before, the blog included a letter from a Belgian angler who it seems was responding to criticism that he and his fishing friends has kept and killed three sea trout. In his letter, he makes the point that this group of friends had been visiting Lough Currane since 1998 and if they manage to catch a sea trout they do keep one, but it does vary from year to year depending on the catch. He writes that two years ago (2015) they caught more than 70 sea trout and three years ago it was 40. In 1998, they managed to catch 14 fish and in 2000, it was just one. He makes the point that for visiting anglers like himself, sea trout fishing on Lough Currane is a fluctuating experience. He adds that if the lough was mandatory catch and release than they would abide by the rules but as it isn’t then they are within their rights to retain a sea trout. Finally, he pointed out that during their weeks’ fishing, there were just a handful of anglers fishing whereas the fishery used to employ over 40 ghillies. This was at a time when salmon and sea trout were also being commercially netted.

This year, catches do appear to be lower than usual but entries in the daily blog are mostly about the weather and how it relates to the fishing. Despite this a specimen trout was caught on the 10th May weighing around 9lb. A handful of smaller fish around the 3-4lb weight have also been caught in May. June began with a 3lb sea trout that was caught and retained.

It does seem that Lough Currane and Loch Maree do have something in common – a reluctance to return even small sea trout. The last fish to be killed in Loch Maree were only about 300g each. Of course, it is much easier to blame salmon farms when the fishery does not produce the expected fish catches.

 

Causation and correlation: This week we were reminded of comments made during the third evidence session of the REC Committee enquiry. Mr Stewart Stevenson MSP for the Banffshire and Buchan Coast asked the representatives of the various development bodies such as the Crown Estate and Highland council whether they agreed ‘that correlation is not indicative of causation. In other words, if there is a correlation between two things happening in two domains, that could mean an interaction between those things or it could be a further, shared external factor; correlation does not tell us that there is an interaction that is a causation. Is that correct?’

We came across a Tweet from North America that included the following graph:

This shows how consumption of margarine correlates with the divorce rate in Maine, USA. We suggest that any married people visiting the north-east corner of the United States should be cautious about eating margarine. Perhaps they should stick to butter!

We suspect that Mr Stevenson had asked the question because it is claimed that the decline in wild fish catches along the west coast corelates with the rise of salmon farming. However, closer examination of the data shows that this correlation is overstated. Wild fish stocks were well in decline long before salmon farming arrived on the west coast.

 

Free(dom) speech: Fish Farming Expert interviewed John Avizienius and Malcolm Johnstone of RSPCA Freedom Food who said that they were just ‘two lines on fish welfare in the report produced by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee following its inquiry into the environmental effects of salmon farming. They said that the Committee had appeared to rely on simplistic headlines and simplistic impressions which they would have been able to correct. Unfortunately, the RSPCA were not deemed suitable to give evidence to the Committee. John Avizienius said that it was very frustrating that they couldn’t give evidence to try to counter some of the negativity because they would have been able to provide evidence to show that the industry had much improved. He said that if the Committee had taken the trouble to read their written submission they would have been able to balance the negativity with these improvements.

Mr Avizienius said that in particular, the MSPs appeared to think that the heightened mortality was the norm when we know its not. He also questioned the claim that if any other sector had a similar mortality level then there would be a public outcry. He added that this is untrue and cited the example of Countryfile which showed upland sheep were experiencing mortality of up to 50% per year.

The RSPCA had also applied to the REC Committee to give oral evidence but were told that the witness base had been finalised and the REC secretariat were unsure into which witness category the RSPCA would fit. We, at Callander McDowell, can believe this because we now know that a couple of members of the committee had asked if our Dr Jaffa could give evidence and this didn’t materialise because Martin didn’t fit into any of the categories. Perhaps, the Committee should have included another session into the inquiry.

Mr Johnstone told Fish Farming Expert that the RSPCA felt that unbalanced views based on partial or no evidence was unhelpful. He felt that some of the MSPs were talking as if the industry wasn’t aware of the problems and were happy to let the problems continue. This was so misleading as salmon farming is the most dynamic sector that the RSPCA is working with. He added that everyone knows what the problems are, and everyone is working hard collectively to find solutions, yet the level of scrutiny and negative publicity doesn’t make sense. Mr Johnstone said that he doesn’t see that in other sectors. For example, he has been talking about lame dairy cows for the last thirty years and yet there is no inquiry into the dairy industry.

In response, the ECCLR and REC Committees issued a joint statement that it is very important for the committees to hear a wide range of stakeholder groups to inform all of our inquiries. The RSPCA submitted written statements to both committees and these are as valuable as oral evidence and are fully taken into account. The statement continued that they couldn’t accommodate all witnesses to speak in front of the committees as they have limited capacity but that every effort is made to hear a balanced and wide variety of views.

We will have to wait until early autumn to see whether the REC Committee’s report has listened to both sides of the debate and how much note they have taken of written submissions. We have written previously that we did not think that the ECCLR Committee gave the salmon industry a fair hearing. Unlike the REC Committee, just one representative of the salmon industry was given the opportunity to speak but had to share a platform with critics when doing so. By comparison, the Committee heard from eleven other witnesses. We would also mention that one witness gave oral evidence to both committees, which was totally unnecessary.

The joint statement from both committees states that all written submissions are taken into account, yet as we have pointed out previously, the ECCLR report appeared extremely selective in the evidence it presented. In the section of most interest to us at Callander McDowell – the impact of sea lice on wild fish, the committee cites the following evidence:

  1. The SAMS report – of which the sea lice section was written by an expert on fish genetics not an expert on sea lice.
  2. Fisheries Management Scotland who highlighted a 20% loss (1 in 5) of returning salmon due to sea lice even though the actual experimental work showing this impact found 1 in 100 returning salmon had been impacted by sea lice.
  3. The National Trust For Scotland who said that the report did not mention the impact of sea lice on sea trout.
  4. The Lochaber Fisheries Trust who said that lice burdens are highest on sea trout nearest salmon farms even though the research doesn’t actually show this.
  5. Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland said that catches have declined in recent years and referred to a report they had commissioned from Norway which stated that sea lice form salmon farms had a negative effect on wild fish, even though, if the Norwegian data is equated to Scottish Production, then the alleged mortality of wild fish due to salmon farming is less than the number of fish killed by anglers for sport.

To counter these claims against the salmon farming industry, the Committee referred to submissions made by:

  1. SSPO who said that the impact of sea lice on wild fish is insignificant
  2. Marine Harvest who said that there is some risk to wild fish.

The Committee chose to ignore submissions that questioned the impacts of sea lice from:

  1. Professor Randolph Richards, a fish health specialist from the University of Stirling
  2. Callander McDowell

Most importantly, they chose to ignore the graph in our submission that clearly shows sea trout catches in decline for thirty years before the salmon farming industry began to commercially harvest its first thousand tonnes of salmon.

We believe that the RSPCA have every right to be concerned.