Interacting again: The minutes of the second meeting of the Interactions Group were just published, yet again the next meeting has already taken place. This means it is impossible to comment on what was said or even to provide more detailed information. It seems that the Interaction Group are not particularly keen to interact, other than with themselves. Certainly, we had offered to present our findings of the relationship between farmed and wild salmon, but our offer was refused.  It seems that there are some who don’t want their narrative to be challenged.

The account of the Interaction Group meeting includes a section on emerging areas of possible consensus. The first point is a statement of a joint position. This is: ‘to acknowledge the potential hazard that farmed salmonid aquaculture presents to wild salmonids and agrees to examine measures to minimize the potential risk.’

In our opinion this statement is far too vague and can have several different interpretations. We, at Callander McDowell, would certainly take the view that the impact is minimal. It is only necessary to look at the river classifications for 2019 to see that 53% of the fishery districts within the aquaculture zone can be exploited by anglers. This means that stocks are sufficiently robust for anglers to kill some of the salmon they catch. This compares with just 77% in areas without salmon farms. Unfortunately, because of the way that the interactions group has been set up, the impact of anglers will not be discussed until after agreement has been reached on the impacts of salmon farming. The reality is that none of the impacts occur in isolation and therefore should not really be considered as such.

We have previously argued that the salmon catch from rivers within the aquaculture zone represents less than 10% of the Scottish total. The report produced in Norway for S&TC suggests that the loss of wild salmon to salmon farming is 10%. We don’t agree with this figure, but this would mean about 1% of the Scottish catch is lost to salmon farming. Using the Norwegian figures, the loss of wild salmon to salmon farming is less than the number of fish killed by anglers (2016 figures).

In the case of sea trout, we will repeat yet again that stocks were in decline for at least thirty years before salmon farming arrived in the west coast. We are still waiting for anyone from the wild fish sector to explain the reason for this decline and why, whatever has caused that decline before the 1980s cannot still be causing the ongoing decline now.

Whilst we would argue that potential hazard equates to minimal, the wild fish sector continues to warn that wild fish stocks on the west coast are heading for extinction.

Other issues from the minutes that caught our attention include that the SSPO had questioned the methodology employed relating to sea lice and rod catches. Dr John Armstrong circulated some scientific papers in support of whatever methods had been used. These papers include one from Vollestad that is also cited in Marine Scotland Science’s Summary of Science on the Scottish Government website. Regular readers of reLAKSation will remember that we have questioned many aspects of this paper and so far failed to get MSS to explain. In fact, we had a meeting with them in August last year in which they said that the issues in the paper are no longer relevant as MSS had moved on. What this meant was that MSS had decided that the issue of sea lice and wild fish was no longer a question of whether there was an impact but what to do about it. We certainly disagreed saying that any measures are pointless if there is only minimal impact.

The point now is that if the paper is no longer relevant, then why has Dr Armstrong circulated it to the group to justify the methodology, because in our opinion it doesn’t. Could it be that Dr Armstrong is attached to this paper because he just happens to be one of the authors and therefore it could be seen that if we are questioning the validity of the paper, then we are also questioning Dr Armstrong’s credibility.

Finally, the wild fish representatives are to draw up a list of sites that they consider to be sensitive for wild fish. The reality is that they could argue that anywhere, where there are wild fish could be classed as sensitive. However, it doesn’t stop them continuing with their sport.

 

Wider interactions: On March 29th, Fisheries Management Scotland are hosting their annual conference in Edinburgh to mark the Year of the Salmon. The draft programme includes a workshop on the impact of salmon farming. We, at Callander McDowell, did offer to speak, but it seems FMS prefer to follow their own agenda. In addition to salmon farming, other workshops will include climate change, hydro, predators, commercial fisheries and finally a workshop on restoration. It is only a one-day conference, so they seem to have dropped any discussion about the impacts of angling in order to save time.

Unlike Norway, where there seems to be a conference almost every week during the winter months, Scotland seems to offer few opportunities to engage in a wider discussion about the issues affecting wild fish. In 1993, the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory, the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, held a one-day meeting in Inverness entitled ‘Problems with Sea Trout and Salmon in the Western Highlands’ in which a variety of speakers discussed various issues in a semi-scientific way. It seems to us that this is the sort of event that should be taking place at this time rather than have closed meetings for just a handful of selective, and not necessarily qualified people, to discuss what is happening to wild fish in Scottish waters. Perhaps, if the wild fish sector won’t organise such an event, then the Interactions Group should. It will help inform and guide future discussions.

 

Tweedbleats: The main problem for the Interactions Group is that much of the criticism against salmon farming is based simply on conjecture rather than hard facts. Salmon farming has simply become a convenient scapegoat for the angling community. The current Tweedbeats blogpost is a case in point.

In 2011, the now defunct Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) produced a graph showing that whilst catches from east coast rivers were increasing those on the west coast were in decline. The difference between the two coasts was down to the fact that salmon farming is located on the west coast, whilst the east coast is salmon farm free. Therefore, good angling is associated with the absence of salmon farming.

Tweedbeats looks forward to the new fishing season but then refers to the relaunched video from Salmon & Trout Conservation about the demise of the Loch Maree sea trout fishery which is blamed on the arrival of salmon farming to Loch Ewe. The video is now introduced by TV celebrity Jeremy Paxman.

The commentary continues that ‘it would be easy for the east coast to be more relaxed about the disastrous effects of salmon farms and their sea lice because there are no salmon farms on the east coast, until you understand that our precious east coast migrating smolts must swim past the Shetland Isles on their way north, where they could be set upon by a sea lice soup.’

Is it not strange that this alleged ‘sea lice soup’ was never an issue until catches from east coast rivers began to decline? After so many years, it is now argued that it is salmon farming that is to blame!

The problem for anglers like the writer of Tweedbeats is that they only hear one side of the story so naturally salmon farming is a permanent evil. The angling press never give any space to the view from salmon farmers, the organisations will only talk to anyone who will agree with their narrative, and the media in general only seems to prefer the negative stories.

Marine Scotland are supposed to be impartial, which is why they should organise the sort of event, such as we mentioned earlier, where there can be a frank and open discussion rather than allow some to keep their heads firmly stick in the sand.

 

Seagan 2: Following our discussion about ‘Think Seagan’ in January, the Seagan Starter Kit has been published. We don’t know how much exposure it has received as we only happened on it through a ‘Fish is the Dish’ tweet.

The starter kit is a 21 page on line booklet containing recipes and a twenty-eight-day menu planner. The introduction states that the Seagan lifestyle is a plant-based diet with the addition of seafood. It continues that ‘As with a Vegan diet, Seaganism avoids all animal products including dairy and eggs.’ (http://view.flipdocs.com/?ID=10004628_845383#1)

We can only repeat our previous comments – fish are animals, so how a Seagan diet can avoid all animal products is a complete mystery.

The booklet also includes a 28-day lifestyle diet which to all intents and purposes looks like a diet planner and we are not convinced that a lifestyle change does have to resemble the way weight loss diets are usually presented.  A lifestyle change does not have to be regimented and follow a specific plan. It is perfectly possible to eat according to conviction on a day to day basis. In fact, we would imagine that in today’s hectic life, many of those considering a change of food, are unlikely to want a complex solution. If we look just at breakfast in week 1, the Seagan diet recommends whole wheat biscuits, porridge, toasted oats, branflakes, toast, and vegan sausages. That is a lot of different things to buy when in our experience, most people who eat breakfast are in a rush and stick to one thing with a possible change at the weekend. Equally, most people we know are more likely to make a large portion of something like a simple vegetable chilli and then eat it over two nights.

Veganism is a lifestyle choice that involves abstaining from the use of any animal products. This includes abstaining from fish. Seaganism is better described as Flexitarianism. It seems that this attempt to promote the consumption of fish is simply jumping on the vegan bandwagon, but it will fail because veganism and fish simply do not go together.

 

MSC – Mackerel Stewardship Council: The Times newspaper reports that ‘its delicious, its good for you and you didn’t have to feel guilty about eating it because it has been in plentiful supply. However, shoppers have now been warned to avoid mackerel because of rampant overfishing. As a result, the fish is due to lose its status as a sustainable fish with the loss of the MSC’s certification. We are not sure how much of this over-fished mackerel stocks ends up with British consumers since mackerel is not really a dominant fish on the fish counter. When celebrity cook, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall tried to promote mackerel baps as an alternative to cod in fish and chips shops, his call fell on deaf ears. Mackerel sales last year were about 14,000 tonnes compared with 47,000 tonnes for cod and 57,000 tonnes for salmon. We suspect that whether mackerel is MSC certified or not will be largely irrelevant to many UK consumers.

The mackerel stock in the North East Atlantic has reportedly fallen from 4.79 million tonnes in 2011 to 2.75 million tonnes last year. ICES have advised that the annual catch be reduced by 68% to 318,000 tonnes but under pressure from the fishing industry, the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes have set a lit of 653,000 tonnes.

Andrew Clayton of Pew Trust said that countries managing mackerel stocks have been overfishing the stock for years and last year their luck ran out with scientists advising huge cuts. However, Governments have ignored this advice again this year. He added that this is a short-sighted decision.

We have previously discussed the debate over the estimation of the mackerel stock which has resulted from a change in the way the fish have been tagged for stock studies.

This has led to a difference in opinion as to the size of the stock. The advice from ICES suggests that the stock has collapsed, but as the Irish Times recently highlighted, there is also a view that mackerel stocks have exploded in size, but this enlarged stock is not located where mackerel are usually found.

Jens Christian Holst argues that mackerel stocks have spread north and west from the traditional fishing grounds, producing a six-fold increase in stock over the last ten years. Yet, at the same time, whilst the stock has increased in size, the large fish are now smaller than they used to be. This is because there are many more fish competing for the same amount of food. Dr Holst also says that sea birds such as kittiwakes and puffins are struggling because so many mackerel are competing for the same food. More importantly, these mackerel are also competing with migrating salmon for food and this competition has had serious consequences for salmon that have been unable to compete and are dying at sea. This is why it is suggested that the number of returning salmon has fallen significantly over recent years.

Certainly, something is happening to wild salmon at sea, and Dr Holst has put forward a plausible explanation. The question is whether the recent decision by ICES scientists to cut the mackerel catch will just make the problem worse. Alternatively, there is a question whether mackerel stocks have collapsed as ICES suggest. It seems that irrespective of which can be proved to be true, there are no winners.

 

Smoked salmon/sea trout

Last week’s pictures a) Farmed salmon, b) Wild salmon, c) Farmed trout, d) Wild sea trout