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reLAKSation no 1012

Ferreting around: The Ferret website has featured a week-long campaign about aquaculture, rather than just salmon farming. Their second story of the week exposed that Scottish Government research into pesticides used to control lice deliberately excluded impacts on the ‘wider marine environment’. This is according to emails released under a FOI request.

The Ferret has published the 86 pages of emails in non-dated order, so it is difficult to follow the email chain but primarily it concerns discussion of a questionnaire which the researchers planned to send out to farming companies. The whole thrust of the article relates to comments made in one email dated 29th October 2019. The email discusses a variety of issues but does say that it was discussed that information on key environmental impacts is crucial but that in order to keep the research fairly focused, interactions with the wider marine and environmental environment might not be included. It is this couple of lines, from 86 pages of emails, that, according to the Ferret, has angered campaigners ‘who have accused the government of ignoring the damage done by salmon farm pollution because it was “inconvenient”.’

The FOI concerned a project about the cost effectiveness of various sea lice treatments and not about allegedly using the sea as a dustbin. Seemingly, the resulting report found that in terms of cost effectiveness, one of the better options was the addition of the lice treatment emamectin in feed.

The Coastal Communities Network (CCN) have demanded a halt to ‘pesticide pollution’. They say that they are fed up with the sea being used as a dustbin. They claim that the pesticides are dumped into the sea with the hope that the concentrations will be diluted before they can do any harm. CCN argue that treatments like emamectin are really toxic to crabs’ lobsters and prawns, much to the concern of fishermen who depend on catching them.

However, it would seem that fishermen are only concerned about the impacts of salmon farming because groups such as CCN continue to spread such unfounded allegations as covered by the Ferret. These allegations are repeated regularly and often, but are not supported by any evidence. The Ferret can only report that in 2017, a SEPA survey detected emamectin in nearly all 302 samples taken in the vicinity of eight farms in Shetland. This particular survey was highlighted at the time because it used a more sensitive measure then previous. However, the concentrations detected were extremely low. Certainly, there was no evidence that the local marine life had been negatively impacted by these low samples.

In 2019, Sea West News highlighted a study by scientists from Dalhousie University, Southern Cross University and Sweeney International Marine Corp which was published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences. The paper studied lobster stocks around salmon farms over a period of eight years. The researchers found that there was no difference between the number of lobsters encountered near the farm and in a farm free reference site. However, because the study was funded by a local salmon farming company, it has been dismissed by John Aitchison of the CCN on Twitter.

CCN and others seem ready to spread fear about the marine life that is eaten by consumers in their campaign against salmon farming but lack any proof of their claims. I would therefore like to help them with some research that they can use to explain their concerns. No doubt it will also be dismissed because it is research that I have undertaken however I have simply used the official landing data from around the Scotland coast, which is open to anyone to consult, to show the catch trends for the species highlighted by CCN. These are lobsters, prawns, and crabs. The first graph is for lobsters. The grey line is for lobster catches in the salmon farming areas. The blue line is the east coast and the orange, the southwest.

Catches from the southwest have remained stable whilst east coast catches have shown a rise. However, the greatest increase has been from within the salmon farming areas. Far from being damaged by salmon farms, lobsters appear to have thrived.

Although catches of crabs have tailed off in the last couple of years, catches from the salmon farming areas have grown much more than elsewhere. East coast catches have also tailed off in the recent couple of years.

Finally, landings of prawns at the east coast ports far outweigh those landed elsewhere’ However, landings collapsed around 2010, but have more recently recovered. Catches from around the salmon farming areas have shown a slight decline over the last twenty years but this is more likely to do with changes to fishing pressure than any impacts from salmon farms. A similar trend has occurred in the southwest where there are no salmon farms.

It does seem that whilst salmon farm critics are quick to claim that the salmon farming industry has destroyed west coast marine life, the reported landings of key shellfish species over the last twenty years tell a very different story.


Still Ferreting: The Ferret have also published another scaremongering article which reveals the 16 toxic chemicals fish farmers are allowed to use. They seem increasingly desperate to grab at the smallest straw in order to demonise the salmon farming industry. Although their headline states 16 chemicals they later admit that one is no longer available to use so actually it is 15 toxic chemicals not 16.

The use of the word chemicals is also misleading since the majority of the list are fully licensed veterinary medicines that are not available to buy without a prescription and must be used under veterinary supervision.

Some of these licenses go back many years and just because the licence still is valid does not mean that the products are actually used. They remain available if needed.

Of course, all medicines are toxic if used in sufficient quantity or are abused. One of the toxic chemicals on the list is the anaesthetic Ethyl-amino benzoate otherwise known as benzocaine, a toxic chemical that is widely used in sore throat lozenges such as Tyrozets. The recommended dose is one lozenge every three hours with no more than eight in 24 hours. The pack warns do not exceed the stated dose in which case contact the nearest A&E department. Tyrozets are so toxic that they can be bought over the counter.

I could go through the whole list, but it seems to me that the most toxic aspect of this story is the Ferret itself.


Mental well-being: The Daily Mail reports that the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, a group backed by the Prime Minister’s partner Carrie Symonds, as well as the Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith, is calling for action to tackle fish suffering including efforts to protect their mental well-being. They have published a new report that is calling for major reform of the fishing industry. It also warns of the ‘need for safeguards around a booming industry of land-based fish farming where a wide range of fish are reared in large concrete tanks. The report warns that high stocking densities can have serious negative effects on fishes’ mental wellbeing as well as physical health. For example, high stocking densities result in lesions both through aggression and due to fish constantly rubbing against each other.’

The report is not confined to commenting on the food fish sector.  The Daily Mail says that the report threatens to upset Britain’s millions of anglers. It says in recreational fishing, fish suffer from hook injures, stress, crowding when stored in buckets.  It also says that it is unlikely that every angler properly stuns the fish they catch to eat meaning that fish may still be conscious while asphyxiating or being gutted.

Whilst the Daily Mail says that the report will upset millions of anglers, only one page is devoted to recreational fisheries including angling and hobby fish keeping. It doesn’t say more than already reported in the Daily Mail, except it also includes a short comment on catch and release and this is the part of the report I would like to consider further.

In my opinion, the authors of this report are not well-versed in fish welfare. I wouldn’t be surprised if the content of the report was simply obtained from Google searches and compiled into a finished document. I say this because of their research about catch and release. The report states:

‘Catch and release activities are also stressful for the fish and even when released back into the wild, survival rates can be dramatically low. Some researchers suggest a survival of only 1-2% for released fish and up to 50% for crustaceans, while others suggest a mean survival of 18%.’

The reference to crustaceans is a bit of a give away since sports fishing for crustaceans is not a big hobby. The reference cited is also a bit of a clue – The Magnitude and Impact of by-catch Mortality by Fishing Gear. The survival rate of 1-2% actually refers to fish caught by commercial fishermen in nets and then thrown back in the sea. It has nothing to do with recreational angling at all, yet the authors fail to recognise the difference between catch and release and discards. If they can’t identify this simple difference, what hope is there for the range of more complex issues covered?

The problem for the fish sector, irrespective of the type of activity, is that no-one reads these reports. It is the press release that is important to get the message across. By comparison, the content is largely irrelevant and as has been highlighted with other critical reports, the authors can write what they like.


Closed: Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment Sveinung Rotevatn wrote a commentary for in which he announced that concerns over the future of wild salmon in Norway have led him to introduce a ban on commercial netting in the sea in order to protect some of the smallest most vulnerable river stocks. This also means that river fishing will only be available in 440 of the 1,284 watercourses monitored. Previously, 1.031 fisheries were open to anglers. Now a further 591 will be closed to fishing.

According to the Minister, the Scientific Council for Salmon Management estimated that there is a 97-100 percent risk of over-exploitation of small and vulnerable stocks in coastal areas. This is something of an about turn because they have previously indicated that their management of rivers means that exploitation, whether at sea or in rivers was not a threat to wild salmon stocks.

It will be interesting to see how future assessments of Norwegian stocks develop. In Scotland, angler’s organisations campaigned long and hard against commercial netting in the sea and this eventually led to the closure of all netting stations around Scotland. Yet, stocks continue to decline. The ban on netting has done little to aid recovery, which is why angler’s groups continue to campaign against salmon farming. They have to have someone to blame even when there is no salmon farming in the vicinity of the most important salmon fishing rivers.

In Norway, the Scientific Council for Salmon Management have long claimed salmon farming is the greatest threat to wild fish stocks, even though they do not have a shred of hard evidence to back up their claims. I suspect that the Norwegian salmon farming industry will be increasingly blamed for the lack of wild fish because as in Scotland, reducing the exploitation will not produce the desired effect. The inevitable consequence for a salmon farming industry that has failed to stand up and adequately defend itself will be increased controls to limit production even though salmon production is the probably the one thing that is not causing a decline in wild fish.


Lockdown reading: Salmon farming campaigner Alexandra Morton has announced the publication of her new book titled ‘Not on my watch’ next week. Her new website describes how she moved to British Columbia from California during the early 1980s where ‘she was lucky enough to get there just in time to witness a place of true natural abundance.  Then, in 1989, industrial aquaculture moved into the region. Alex shifted her scientific focus to documenting the infectious diseases and parasites that pour from ocean farm pens of Atlantic salmon into the migration routes of wild Pacific salmon, and then to proving the disastrous impact on wild salmon and the entire ecosystem of the coast.’

If I understand Alex Morton’s account correctly, salmon farming began in BC in 1989 and this heralded the start of a disastrous impact on wild stocks, which led to a decline in wild salmon numbers across the whole of British Columbia.

This account reminds me very much of the story of Loch Maree in Scotland. A salmon farm was established nearby in 1989 and within a couple of years a world-renowned sea trout fishery had collapsed.

This comparable collapse in BC must have been what prompted the publication of another book in Canada in 1991, a couple of years after the arrival of salmon farming.

I have recently obtained a copy of this book written by Geoff Meggs, the editor of ‘The Fisherman’ newspaper from 1978 to 1990. The book is titled ‘Salmon – The Decline of the BC Fishery.’  I have a 1995 paperback edition which includes an afterword which does not mention salmon farming. The 1991 original text of 253 pages includes about four pages on the arrival of salmon farming but the other 249 pages are devoted to a range of other explanations for the decline of the BC salmon fishery.

Its probably best to leave an explanation of the book to Terry Glavin from the Vancouver Sun who wrote:

“This book should howl like an air-raid siren in the ears of every British Columbian who claims to care about the environment. …Meggs provides a clear precise fully documented and brilliantly written account of the policies that have pushed the wild salmon of Canada’s west coast to the point where extinction is a clear possibility.”

Far from helping wild salmon, Alexandra Morton, like other anti-fish farming activists in other salmon farming countries has simply diverted attention away from the real issues affecting wild salmon so they are never addressed as the focus is centred wrongly on the issue of salmon farming. As the real issues are not resolved, stocks continue to decline, confirming to these activists that it must be salmon farming that is to blame. As salmon stocks continue to head towards extinction, they still fail to understand the true implications of their activism, despite the broken communities and lost jobs that are littered along the way.