Laughable: Intrafish reports that the angler’s representative organisation, Norwegian Salmon Rivers (Norske Lakseelver), has suggested that the Norwegian Seafood Federation (Sjømat Norge) should mind its own business and not interfere in issues relating to wild salmon management. This follows comments from the Norwegian Environment Agency, part of the Ministry of Climate and the Environment, who have said that there is a connection between the number of salmon lice in the sea and impact on wild salmon. This explanation as to why fewer salmon are coming back from the sea** makes up part of a five-year plan for wild salmon fisheries in the sea and rivers in Norway.

The Norwegian Seafood Federation say that they have responded because there is a need to find a good balance between fisheries management and business development. However, they also point out that the Norwegian Environment Agency is trying to apply the concept of the precautionary principle in a completely wrong way and that any connection between the amount of lice and the degree of impact is unknown.

Norwegian Salmon Rivers’ criticism of the Norwegian Seafood Federation that they should focus on its own activities rather than delve into issues relating to wild fisheries management is also rebuked saying that they have only challenged the Environment Agency report which they believe is incorrect. By comparison, Norwegian Salmon Rivers have repeatedly highlighted practices within the salmon farming industry, which have nothing to do with them. Lately, they have complained about issues of fish welfare despite failing to acknowledge the welfare issues of their own sector. For example, Norwegian Salmon Rivers  have called (somewhat belatedly) for increased catch and release of wild salmon yet ignore the reality that catch and release angling involves dragging fish around the river with a metal hook in their mouths until they are  completely exhausted before being released back into the river simply for the fun of the angler. The Norwegian Seafood Federation fail to understand how that is not a major welfare concern.

They also say that the only reason why Norwegian Salmon Rivers highlight fish welfare is because they blame salmon farming for fewer wild fish returning to the rivers and simply want to use any excuse to undermine the salmon industry.

This is a common theme that I have heard repeatedly. The angling sector believe it is their right to criticise the salmon farming industry but are outraged if the farming industry makes any comments back. In Scotland, wild fish groups sit on every committee relating to salmon farming, but not one representative of the salmon farming industry has any involvement in discussions about the wild fish sector. In my opinion, if the wild fish sector wants to be involved in discussions and decisions about salmon farming, then they should expect to extend the same courtesy in return. How many times have I been told only anglers know what is best for rivers and wild fish? If that was the case, then why have stocks plummeted so much? In their attempt  to blame salmon farming, anglers seem to have forgotten the words of Prince Charles, who told a celebratory event that during the 1980s, twenty per cent of wild salmon returned to the rivers to breed but now the figure is five percent (probably now less). This decline has affected all salmon rivers, not just those around the salmon farming areas. If the wild fish sector knows best, then they should be sorting out their problems themselves. However, as we know it is never the wild fish sector’s fault.

 

**The Norwegian Environment Agency, part of the Ministry of Climate and the Environment, have said that there is a connection between the number of salmon lice in the sea and impact on wild salmon which is why fewer salmon are coming back from the sea. Certainly, as Prince Charles pointed out return rates have fallen since the 1980’s. In their latest status report for Norwegian salmon, the Expert Committee on Wild Salmon Management (VFL – Vitenskapelig Råd For Laskeforvaltning) say that Pre-Fishery Abundance (PFA) has more than halved from 1983-1986 to 2016-2019. However, what they fail to mention is that for the last twelve years, the overall trend of PFA has been increasing. There is some annual variation as might be expected but the trend is very much upwards as can be seen from the following graph.

Given the overall decline in marine mortality, this slight increase might be considered to be encouraging but as with all aspects of wild salmon management, all is not quite as it seems. In fact, fishing pressure has been significantly reduced in recent years. This year 110 rivers were closed to fishing due to low numbers and other rivers have been subject to restrictions on the fishing. As already mentioned, Norwegian Salmon Rivers want to see more fish released, rather than being taken home for the pot. Given the increased restrictions for catching wild salmon in rivers and at sea, it is not surprising that VFL do not consider over-exploitation to be a threat to wild fish. Of course, this is so misleading because the only reason for all the restrictions is to stop salmon from being over-exploited.

By comparison, VFL cite lice and escapes from salmon farming to be the greatest threats to wild fish. This is not surprising. Last week, another anti- salmon farming paper was published which supposedly showed that sea trout had reduced marine growth and spent increased time in estuaries and freshwater when active salmon farms were nearby. One of the authors is also joint leader of VFL and thus it is impossible to see how VFL can be impartial in their judgement of the threats to wild salmon! Interestingly, the members of VFL were appointed by the Norwegian Environment Agency which is probably why the Agency believes that there is such an impact between sea lice and wild salmon returns.

 

Green for go: iLAKS recently reported that a group of 25 salmon farming companies are drawing up plans to initiate a legal action against the Norwegian Government. The intention is to challenge the Norwegian Government’s decision to cut production in area 4 by 6% as determined by the Traffic Light system. The challenge questions whether the science on which the findings of the Traffic Light system is based is fit for purpose.

Even Søfteland, the spokesman for the farming companies, has said that whilst predictability and scientific anchoring were a prerequisite for the introduction of the Traffic Light system, large gaps in the knowledge have been subsequently uncovered. He said that when intervention is implemented against the way the farming companies operate, it must be expected that the professional and legal assessments are rock solid. This is not the case here, which is why the case is being instigated.

In another article iLAKS interviewed Elin Tveit Sween of Marø Havbruk and E. Karstensen Fish Farming, who have been subject to the six percent cut. During the interview, a whole range of measures are described that are used to control sea lice.

More importantly, Tveit Sween points to a report in the local newspaper Firda in which anglers say that local conditions for fishing are very good with few signs of lice. There are also good numbers of sea trout being caught.

Tveit Sween has also been watching the local smolt migrations and research has shown that the smolts are leaving several rivers earlier than claimed in the Traffic Light study and in much greater numbers. Sea trout are also doing well.

My view is that the Traffic Light System is inherently flawed. It assumes that salmon farms are damaging to wild fish stocks because this is the narrative that has dominated the wild fish sector for decades.

I recently came across a tweet about PACE – a new Norwegian research project. The tweet said the project will investigate the impacts of wild salmonids from climate change. This has the potential to be a really great project. Climate change undoubtedly has major impacts on wild fish and there is much to consider far beyond the limitations of this project. However, I mention this project because the remit of the study goes beyond climate change. The tweet actually described the project as looking at the impacts of climate change and aquaculture! Is climate change not a big enough subject that it is necessary to include aquaculture as well? It seems that there is a lot of research funding available for those who wish to prove that salmon farming has a negative impact on the environment but very little funding to show that it isn’t.

Salmon farmers in Scotland should look to these developing events in Norway, because the word is that the various regulators are looking to produce a Traffic Light System for use in Scotland. Of course, those who are trying to model this system have not yet recognised that even the tightest regulation will not reverse the fortunes of wild salmon and sea trout along the west coast. Unfortunately, some of those involved in this modelling are also keen to put a stop to all restocking unless it is for conservation reasons. They would rather try to develop a complex model limiting salmon farm growth instead of investigating how the River Carron comes to have such a healthy stock of fish despite being in the heart of the aquaculture zone.

It could well be that in future, there won’t be many salmon farms, nor will there be any wild fish but by then, the traffic light modellers will probably have all retired and will no longer have to justify their decisions.

 

Liced: There has been much written about the fish freed from a salmon farm during Storm Ellen. Fisheries Management Scotland has issued anglers with detailed descriptions of how to identify a salmon of farmed origin and what they should do if they should catch one. These messages have been accompanied by dire warnings about the negative impact on wild salmon should these fish manage to breed and taint the wild stocks with their inferior genes.

When the first of these salmon was captured by anglers, the critics commented as to the speed at which the fish had ‘healed’ since being freed. Alternatively, it could be suggested that the fish were in such good condition, that the critics didn’t even recognise them as being of farmed origin.

Of course, most of the critics would have everyone believe that farmed salmon are riddled with sea lice eve to the point saying that they are now sold skinless supposedly because of the amount of damage to the skin.

The interesting aspect to this ‘event’ is that no-one including Fisheries Management Scotland has mentioned anything about any of these fish carrying any lice. I tweeted this earlier in the week and received an immediate reply from one of the helpful keyboard warriors.

“They were caught in fresh water. Try again. You’re meant to be some kind of ‘scientist’”

However, you don’t need to be a scientist to know that sea lice are often present on fish caught from freshwater. Lice don’t immediately drop off the fish when entering the river. In fact, many an angler likes to see sea lice on the fish they catch as it shows a freshly run fish. Director of Salmon & Trout Conservation, Andrew Graham Stewart refers to liced fish in his fishing reports in Trout & Salmon magazine. In the latest issue, Mr Graham Stewart writes about the Rover Halladale saying that Charlie landed two liced fish on the Saturday.

In the Tay, Ben Liu writes that David had a thumping 24lb 8 oz sea liced fish and on the Connon, the best fish was a 13lb liced salmon for Alastair.

Unfortunately, the keyboard warriors are not interested in anything but finding an excuse to attack the salmon farming industry whether they are factually correct or not but as they prefer to remain hidden behind their anonymous identities they say what they like without any recourse.

 

Diseased: Hidden away in the fishing reports in Trout and Salmon, Mr Graham Stewart has described the fishing in the River Wick in the north east corner of Scotland. He mentions that one day, sixty fish were landed and a further twenty the next day. He then writes: “Fortunately, the Wick has managed to stay largely clear of the disease that is seriously affecting some of the north rivers especially the smaller Caithness rivers.”

However, Mr Graham Stewart, also reports from the river Alness where diseased fish were seen and as the weather was hot, there were some losses. One diseased fish displaying signs of saprolegnia and a red rash was taken alive and sent to the Marine Scotland lab in Aberdeen with samples being forwarded to Norway for analysis.

Given his awareness of this disease, it is rather surprising that Salmon & Trout Conservation do not appear to mention anything about it on their website. Equally, Fisheries Management Scotland, who have six news items about escaped salmon  have none about this disease, although a link from the Ness Fishery Board last June leads to an undated request for details of infected fish on the FMS website.

The main source of information comes from a solitary article in the Herald from August 20th in which it is revealed that the disease shows up as a rash with bleeding and ulceration on the underbelly and near the mouth of the affected fish. It leads to a fungal infection, which eventually causes the fish to die.

Professor Ken Whelan of the Atlantic Salmon Trust told the paper that it is very concerning because we don’t know what is happening. Last year the disease appeared in rivers such as the Helmsdale which reported quite a number of infected fish, yet other rivers reported none. Last year a great deal of effort was put into finding out more about the disease but there is no smoking gun, and no-one was able to explain what was causing the disease. Professor Whelan added that given the current size of salmon stocks, it was not a good time to have any extra problems. The disease raises concerns over its potential impact on salmon stocks which are already dwindling at an alarming rate.

Given the seriousness of this disease, it seems incredible that there has not been much greater publicity around the wild fish sector. It is hardly mentioned at all. I would have thought it would be a priority but seemingly not. After all, some in the wild fish sector wouldn’t want anything to distract attention away from their farm fish narrative.