Only thinking: Last year, the monthly fishing reports suggested that anglers were experiencing a torrid time especially on the east coast. This would include world-famous rivers such as the Tay, the Spey and the Tweed. For decades, the east coast has been held up as the shining example of salmon angling, whilst catches on the west have suffered significant declines.

There is no doubt that we can expect to see numerous analyses of what has happened as and when the catch data is published, but in the meantime, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Tying magazine (FFF&T) have reviewed the season in their latest issue. They say a combination of climate change and fish farming are being blamed for catching salmon in a perfect pincer movement and producing the ‘worst ever’ angling season in living memory.

FFF&T say that the numbers tell a tale of precipitous falls in rod catches. On the River Spey’s Upper Arndilly beat, no salmon were caught this year compared to 52 in 2017 and 180 in 2016.

The River Fyne in Argyll once recorded catches of 700 fish or more, whilst this season it was just two. Roger Brook of the Argyll Fisheries Trust said that ‘salmon are in decline everywhere but they are declining more on the west coast of Scotland and they are declining more the further down west you go.’

FFF&T says that whilst not putting all the blame on the effect of lice from salmon farms Mr Brooks thinks their impact must be significant. And here lies the problem. The angling sector has a fixation about salmon farming that is way beyond its impact on wild fish. Whilst, FFF&T say that salmon after being caught in a pincer movement by climate change and salmon farming yet, we at Callander McDowell can only wonder how salmon farming can be blamed for what is happening on Scotland’s east coast.

We have always believed that the impacts of salmon farming has been greatly exaggerated for the simple reason that the salmon farming industry is a convenient scapegoat.This has never been more true now that wild salmon are in trouble across all of Scotland.  In 2016, a report on the comparison of east and west coast salmon and sea trout stocks was published by Stuart Middlemas, Gordon Smith and John Armstrong of Marine Scotland Science. One of their graphs clearly shows that wild salmon stocks caught from rivers in the Aquaculture Zone account for between 5 and 19% of the total Scottish catch. The highest figure occurred only in one year. Typically, the average catch is around 10% of the national catch. This means that salmon farming has no impact on nine out of ten salmon caught from Scottish rivers. Even if salmon farming had caused the extinction of wild salmon in the Aquaculture Zone, this would mean only one out of ten salmon. However, as a third of rivers and fishery districts in the Aquaculture Zone are classified as Grade 1 and therefore available for exploitation, the state of stocks in west coast rivers is not as claimed. We already know that the River Carron performed well in 2018 with a healthy catch of salmon, unlike some east coast rivers. So the suggestion made by Mr Brook that salmon are in rapid decline on the west coast may not be borne out by the catch data or the river gradings.

Mr Brook also told FFF&T that while not putting all the blame on salmon farms, he thinks that their impact must be significant. What caught our attention was that Mr Brook only thinks that the impact of salmon farming must be significant. He doesn’t seem to know. In fact, there is a distinct lack of firm evidence that links salmon farming to declines of wild salmon. It is all circumstantial and even some of the circumstantial evidence is misinformed.

This is the fundamental problem with the debate about salmon farming. The simple presence of a salmon farm in a loch is sufficient evidence for it to be blamed for impacting on wild fish. If a salmon farm is present, then there doesn’t seem to be any reason to look for any other factor to account for declines. It must be salmon farming that is the problem.

For us at Callander McDowell, there is however a bigger issue and that is Mr Brook is also a member of the Government Interactions Group. Can we expect any future decisions to be based on truth or simply what individual members think, but don’t seem to know.

What we do know is that only 5% of migrating smolts now return to breed and this occurs across Scotland so has nothing to do with salmon farming. In addition, trials from Norway and Ireland have found the impact of sea lice to be around 1% of the population. This is not indicative of a major problem. Marine Scotland Science repeated a variation of this work and were unable to detect any impact all.

Finally, we recently learned that Mr Brooks had been advised to speak to us and hear our view. Unfortunately, like most members of the wild fish sector, Mr Brook was minded not to do so. It seems that they have a certain narrative about the impacts of salmon farming and they don’t want to hear anything that might undermine that narrative.

 

Closed minds: The UK Parliaments’ Environment Audit Committee (EAC) has heard that moving salmon farming onto land into closed containment would cost an estimated £2 billion. Undercurrent News report that the EEAC were collecting evidence for their inquiry into Sustainable Seas. One company is apparently investing close to £50 million to produce 1,000 tonnes of fish at any one time. Thus, replacing Scotland’s existing industry would cost over £2 billion.

The Committee were told that the positive benefits of low CO2 emissions would be lost and closed containment is hungry for power. However, we, at Callander McDowell would add that if closed containment was encouraged, it would be unlikely to occur in Scotland. Any premium for Scottish salmon would be lost in the massive costs. We would also add that as yet, closed containment for market salmon has not yet been proved to be commercially viable. Critics also would complain about the high stocking densities required. They already complain about the low stocking of net pens.

Undercurrent News say that the points raised about closed containment did not necessarily address the argument made by Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) who recommend that over the mid to long term, the industry should move to closed containment to ensure a biological separation between farmed and wild fish.

This raises three points:

  1. S&TCS aren’t really arguing the point as it takes two sides to have an argument and S&TCS seem extremely reluctant to come out from behind their PC screens and have the discussion as to whether closed containment is the answer.
  2. Secondly, S&TCS’s demands for a biological separation between farmed and wild fish are becoming less of an issue as the continued decline of wild fish around all of Scotland means that it won’t be long before there are no wild fish left anywhere. As we have already discussed, wild salmon and sea trout are in decline across all of Scotland so salmon farming cannot be the issue as there are no farms along the east coast. If S&TCS were willing to engage with us, we would show them why salmon farming isn’t the problem they claim it to be.
  3. Finally, if S&TCS are so convinced that closed containment is the solution, then why did they not support the recently closed petition (PE01715) to the Scottish Parliament that demanded salmon farming move to closed containment. In total, just 384 people signed the petition, including quite a number from overseas. The only names that we recognised were James Merryweather, Lyn Schweisfurth, John F Robins, Howard Wood and Richard Luxmoore. Notable absences as well as S&TCS, are Corin Smith and a handful of regular Tweeters. Surely, this petition would have been an ideal opportunity for these salmon industry critics to express their support for this strategy. Apparently not.

Talking of farmed salmon critics, Corin Smith, posted the following on Twitter and Facebook: ‘The lobbyists for the offshore salmon farming industry operating in Scotland, along with Scot Govt agencies, chose to attempt to discredit me and deny the suffering of stock and poor husbandry I filmed at the Vacasay salmon feedlot.’

Mr Smith calls us, at Callander McDowell, lobbyists but we have no idea of any attempt to discredit him. But then, we are not paid lobbyists, which may explain why we are in the dark about these attempts. We are not aware that anyone has denied that the salmon farm in Loch Roag experienced problems that no farmer wishes ever to see but salmon like other farmed livestock succumb to disease. We happened to see Countryfile last week and the pictures of hundreds of dead pigs due to swine flu. Now a more virulent strain is just on the other side of the Channel and there after concerns that it will eventually end up in the UK and potentially could wipe out the UK herd. Of course, no one wants that to happen to any living thing.

What we, at Callander McDowell would say is that it is not the problems on the farm that are being denied but their alleged impacts on wild fish. We would be more than willing to discuss this but when we asked to see the evidence, we were told that they were not available to us because we would obfuscate the evidence.

Interestingly, whilst Mr Smith appears to make himself the victim, we would remind readers of reLAKation that we recently reported Mr Smith’s comments about us that we are not taken seriously and are laughed off the park. Clearly Mr Smith doesn’t like the shoe being on the other foot.

Despite, claims otherwise, the industry does not solicit our views, and neither are their views expressed to us other than what we read in the press. However, we did hear on the grape vine that a couple of salmon farming companies, we don’t know which, have invited Mr Smith to come and meet them and look round their farms. Apparently, he refused.

This contrasts with our own position that should we be invited by the wild fish sector to come and meet them, we would be there like a shot. We can live in hope.

 

Going Native: We don’t usually read the Daily Telegraph but whilst visiting family, we came across the newspaper’s Saturday magazine. The lifestyle section is called ‘The Cut’ and we were surprisingly delighted to see that the food section featured a four-page account about the Native Hebridean Salmon. This is something that we have recently begun to see on Waitrose’s fish counters.

Native Hebridean Salmon have been bred from local salmon originally caught from the wild. Scottish Salmon Company have now produced 88 different families of the fish that form their brood stock. These fish are bred to provide the eggs that hatch into the fish that are eventually destined for the fish counter.

The article was complemented with three very different recipes; roast salmon with lime & capers, Beetroot cured salmon with orange salad and spiced yogurt and finally Teriyaki salmon with noodles.

It is a refreshing change to read a positive foodie story in the press about salmon. Until recently, the press was dominated by the views of a handful of critics who found any excuse to criticise any salmon destined for the consumer. We congratulate the Daily Telegraph for ensuring these premium fish are given the coverage they rightly deserve.

 

VATless: We recently discussed the campaign by Norwegian supermarket Kiwi to encourage fish consumption in Norway by cutting the VAT on nearly 150 fish products. The supermarket has now reported that they have never sold as much fish as they did during the first week of the campaign. Sales increased by 56.8% compared to the same week the previous year. Whilst they are still short of their goal of raising consumption by 20% in the six weeks of the campaign, there is still time to achieve their goal.

The Norwegian Fisheries Minister, Harald Tom Nesvik said the figures are fantastic but it could be due to a consequence of several things, such as marketing, and increased attention, besides price. Regardless, he said all things that contribute to increased consumption are positive.

Mr Nesvik is right to welcome an increase in sales of fish in Norway because there are major concerns that far from seeing growth, consumption of fish in Norway is in decline. According to Intrafish, research director at the Institute of Marne Research, Gro Ingunn Hemre and marketing director at the Norwegian Seafood Council, Kristin Pettersen are concerned that Norwegians are eating too little seafood. Fromm 2012 to 2017, seafood consumption fell by 17%. Most consumers are now over 64 years of age and everyone else eats a lot less. By comparison, younger people aged under 35 have halved their consumption. The view is that despite the encouraging results from Kiwi supermarket, price is not the driving factor.

According to Intrafish, seafood in Norway is seen as a tradition rather then being modern and exciting. Thus the belief is that any attempt to stimulate consumption must start with younger consumers. Currently, 50% of Norwegians eat pizza during a typical week as an everyday meal choice. One of the problems is that parents are now eating what their kids wants, rather than the other way round.

The challenge is to find ways to turn this round. We, at Callander McDowell believe that it is time to look beyond the traditional view of fish.

 

ATM: ILAKS reports that Singaporean consumers are now able to get their salmon fix 24 hours a day with the launch of what they call the world’s first Norwegian Salmon ATM. The machine dispenses 200g packs of Norwegian salmon fillet selling at 5.90. Singaporean dollars or about £16.65/kg.

     

Fourteen more of these ATMs are planned for locations around Singapore. However, although the ATM was launched last Saturday, some Twitter users have said that it has been removed.

We, at Callander McDowell always welcome innovation but we are not sure if this development is a step too far. This is because we cannot see even the ardent salmon consumer would be so desperate to get their salmon fix that they need to obtain a portion of salmon from a dedicated machine. After all, the portion is frozen and thus will likely need to be defrosted first so can never be an instantaneous fix.

We think that a more likely use for such a machine would be a salmon based ready to eat product that can be eaten immediately after it is dispensed.

We will be watching with interest.