(t)ewe sensitive?: The news that there is an offer on the table to close the salmon farm in Loch Ewe has reached the angling press. The editorial of Trout and Salmon magazine says that this is great news for Loch Maree as for three decades its migrating salmon and sea trout have been forced to pass sea lice infested farms in Loch Ewe.

According to the editorial, Andrew Graham Stewart, director of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) has welcomed this news. He said that ‘There can be no doubt that this is a vindication of S&TCS’ long campaign to end salmon farming in Loch Ewe which has devasted sea-trout stocks in neighbouring Loch Maree’.

The editor says that whether Loch Maree can bounce back remains to be seen but he suggests that if sea trout are given the opportunity to thrive without being infested with parasitic sea lice it will be a start. However, we, at Callander McDowell remain unconvinced.

We do appreciate that our view is one which is not widely held amongst the wild fish sector, yet we will continue to argue that salmon farming is not the main cause of declines of wild fish stocks along Scotland’s west coast. Salmon farming is simply a convenient scapegoat for the wild fish sector to blame.

As mentioned above, the editor says that migrating salmon are forced to pass sea lice infested farms in Loch Ewe, however, there is not the slightest bit of evidence to support the view that the salmon farm in Loch Ewe has had any impact on local wild salmon populations. We have previously highlighted that the River Ewe, which empties into Loch Ewe has been classified by the Scottish Government as a Category 1 river. This means that exploitation of wild salmon is sustainable and that if local regulations allow, wild salmon can be caught and killed for sport.

The fishing report for the River Ewe in the current issue of Trout & Salmon magazine (the same issue as the editorial) includes details of the following catches:

A lady angler landing her first ever salmon. This was a fish of 15lb.

An angler who landed four salmon of which the best was 18lb. The following week, the same angler landed one of 12lb.

A party of anglers who landed 19 fish. One member of the party caught four with the best of 10lb. Another member also caught four, the best of which was 16lb whilst another landed three with the best of 20lb. A first time Ewe angler also caught three in three days with the best being 15lb.

The last week of June produced eleven fish for a different party with one of the best at 11lb.

It seems that large salmon caught from this Category 1 river were not in short supply during June as detailed in this report by Andrew Graham Stewart of S&TCS. As well as writing fishing reports for a number of different rivers for Trout & Salmon magazine, Mr Graham Stewart uses his position in S&TCS to spearhead a long-time campaign against salmon farming and especially the impacts of the salmon farm in Loch Ewe. Mr Graham Stewart will doubtless point out that the real problem in Loch Ewe is not about salmon, but rather the decline of the sea trout fishery.

We have discussed the declines of sea trout catches in Loch Maree many times previously. The view that the decline is linked directly to the arrival of salmon farming in Loch Ewe is in our opinion extremely flawed. We have repeatedly tried to discuss this with Andrew Graham Stewart and other representatives of the wild fish sector, but they are uninterested in any discussion that undermines their view that the decline of sea trout catches in Loch Maree is due to the impacts of salmon farming.

The Scottish Parliament’s information service, SPICe, has recently published a research briefing on wild salmon, which we will discuss in another issue of reLAKSation. The document also includes a review of sea trout stocks. They say that the rod catch for sea trout ‘shows an overall decline for most of the record after peaking in 1966’. This is of course long before salmon farming arrived in Scotland. Equally, the decline is for all of Scotland not just the west coast and the areas around Loch Maree.

The publication of this graph has prompted us to revisit the original Scottish Government catch data. We have previously compared catches from the Aquaculture Zone with catches from elsewhere but only over a short time period. We have now run the same data for the whole available time period from 1952 to 2018. The resulting graph together with trend lines is shown below. The blue line is of catches from the Aquaculture Zone whilst the orange is from elsewhere,

We ask anyone who looks at this graph, can they hand on heart say that salmon farming is the only issue affecting sea trout catches in Scotland? Catches from Loch Maree show a similar overall trend but because the wild fish sector selectively looks at just part of the time period, they equate what they see with the decline of sea trout catches from Loch Maree.

Whether the salmon farm in Loch Ewe remains or goes will make no difference to sea trout stocks in Loch Maree. This is because sea trout stocks across all of Scotland are suffering from some other influences that have nothing to do with salmon farming. After all it is Scottish Parliamentary researchers that have said ‘Rod catch also shows an overall decline for most of the record after peaking in 1966’, not us.

Finally, we think that this graph is so powerful that we prefer not to deflect attention away from it by including commentaries on other subjects. In the next issue of reLAKSation we will focus more on the markets.