Mortality: The Herald newspaper reports that campaign group(?) ISSF have called for a moratorium on new salmon farms after the group revealed the scale of mortality in the industry. Figures compiled by the group show that mortality rates on individual farms reached as high as 78 per cent last year. According to the list, the second highest mortality was 51.3%, with other farms at 41.5%, 41.2% and 40.1%.
Although ISSF imply they have revealed these figures, the mortality data is openly available on the Scottish Aquaculture website. This data is not news. What seems to be news is the way that ISSF have interpreted the data. It is certainly news to me because no matter how I have treated the raw data, I cannot replicate the annual percentage rates that appear on ISSF’s list. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I use the monthly data for 2020 or that of the most recent full production cycle for each farm. ISSF head their list as ‘Full cycle mortality rate on salmon farms in Scotland 2020*’. Although there is no explanation as to what the asterisk refers.
The second named farm, for example, experienced one monthly event of just under 20%, one with 4% and another with 5%, so how it emerges with an annual mortality of more than 50% is a complete mystery.
I do not claim to be a skilled mathematician compared to ISSF’s lead investigator who states that in a previous life he was a world leading data scientist for a number of FTSE and NASDAQ listed companies, however even data from a world leading analyst is rather meaningless if there is no explanation as to how the final figures were derived from published raw data.
The fundamental problem is that the data published on the Scottish Aquaculture website by SEPA is linked to biomass. Every month, the mortality is published as the weight in kg alongside the then biomass expressed in tonnes. The biomass is constantly changing because the fish gain weight during the production cycle. It also changes because biomass is lost due to mortality and also because in many cases, fish are harvested during the cycle. I believe that is therefore realistic to measure the mortality as a percentage monthly, but not annually.
I have sought advice about making this calculation and one suggestion was to use the maximum biomass attained during the cycle, but this is also misleading as in the case of the farm with the highest mortality, the significant mortality event occurred seven months after the maximum biomass was attained so at the time, the biomass was much lower than the farm’s maximum.
Clearly, there is a lot of confusion about the use of mortality because when revealing the mortality figures on their website, ISSF state that “Imagine a sheep farmer has 100 lambs and puts them into a field to fatten them up for market. The numbers shown in the tables represent the percentage of that stocks that die on salmon farms before the survivors have grown enough to be taken to market”. Actually, that is incorrect because the example relates to the number of lambs not their weight (biomass). Equating lambs to the salmon farm data means that the above statement should read ‘Image a sheep farmer has 2 tonnes of lambs’ etc.
There is so much misleading information published about mortality in the salmon farming industry that if ISSF’s interpretation of the data is truly accurate then I would request that ISSF reveal how their data is calculated so it can be replicated by the industry. Yet somehow, I doubt that this information will be forthcoming.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that ISSF was established by those from the angling sector who blame salmon farming for the decline in wild fish numbers. They mistakenly believe that if salmon farming is removed, wild fish stocks will recover. Pressure from the angling sector on Scottish Government has resulted in a lower treatment level for lice on farms. This in turn has meant more treatments leading to more stress on the fish and increased susceptibility to secondary infections as higher mortality. It is already established by SEPA that sea lice from salmon farms are not responsible for the decline of wild fish. Acceptance that there is no link is one way to bring down farm mortality but sadly, the angling sector has convinced themselves over the last forty years that salmon farming is the problem and that they are unwilling to even consider any different.
Sewage: Salmon farm critics seem to like sewage since they mention it often enough. The latest comments appeared in British Wildlife magazine in an article written by John Aitchison. He writes that fish farming now contributes more pollution to Scotland’s seas than any other industry. The mainly fish faeces, he says is currently equivalent to the sewage from about 2.5 million people.
Sadly, critics like Mr Aitchison prefer to ignore the reality that fish waste is nothing like human waste and that in the wild, fish waste is an essential part of the marine ecosystem. Over 3.5 trillion fish poop in the world’s seas and oceans. Farmed salmon waste makes a miniscule contribution to the total.
Whilst industry critics continue the sewage theme, they seem to have ignored two major stories that appeared recently in the Scottish press. The first, appeared on the BBC News and reported that Scotland is suffering from a growing sewage spill problem with a 40% increase in spills over the last five years. In total the equivalent of 47,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of waste have been discharged into Scottish rivers since 2016.
This waste is released into 3,697 Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) to stop sewage backing up into homes at times when there is too much rainwater. Many of these overflows are close to popular beaches and wildlife habitats yet only 3% of them are monitored so the true scale of the problem is unknown. The most spills at a single location occur at Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde with an average of two spills every day for the last four years.
Meanwhile the Ferret reported that at least 25 Scottish beaches have been found to be contaminated by human faeces in breach of safety limits during June and July. The worst case of pollution occurred at Saltcoats and Ardrossan in North Ayrshire. Whilst Ayrshire is on the west coast, most incidences of pollution occur on the east coast where there is a higher population. However, one of the polluted beaches on the Isle of Bute, which is only about 5 km from the nearest salmon farms. Samples from Ettrick Bay have been nine times over the limit during June. Perhaps it is salmon farmers who should be the ones complaining about pollution?
Meanwhile, three of the cleanest beaches are in the salmon farming zone. Achmelvich beach is sandwiched between two groups of farms, whilst Sand Beach and Gairloch Beach are located north of another group of salmon farms.
Perhaps, the salmon farm critics, especially those of an angling persuasion should be more worried about actual human sewage entering Scotland’s rivers and seas rather than complaining about something that occurs naturally. Three and a half trillion fish seem to manage to swim around in fish poop without any issues unlike those fish that have to fight against oxygen depleting toxic human waste. Yet again, the critics are fighting the wrong battle.
Protest: In a letter to Marks & Spencer, Matt Mellon for Ecohustler wrote that “I, and the nearly 100,000 petition signatories feel strongly there is something profoundly wrong with the factory farming of salmon.” However, this petition was created through ‘38 degrees’, an online campaigning organisation that claims to have over 2 million members. 38 degrees is currently home to 16,769 campaigns of which Mr Mellon’s campaign is just one. Members can scroll through the current campaigns and click their support on whichever they find of interest. Currently 98,048 people have signed his petition or just 5% of the membership.
In his letter to M&S Mr Mellon writes that ‘Ecohustler has drawn on a global network of experts with whom we are collaborating to dismantle the claim that M&S salmon is responsibly sourced’. I have not heard of this network so wrote to Mr Mellon to ask the identity of these experts. He replied ‘I am afraid that isn’t possible. They have asked to remain anonymous at this point’.
I suspect that the reason for the anonymity is that these experts are the usual vocal critics that we hear from day in and day out. Much of the evidence presented in his letter comes from the usual sources whose expertise is more of an opinion than scientific evidence.
Having obtained 98,000 signatures, Mr Mellon is planning to hand in the petition this week. He will be joined by a crowd (some volunteer participants and some paid performers) who will gather outside M&S HQ in London. According to Mr Mellon, the crowd will form three concentric circles with the outer one formed by a crowd of observers, whose role is to encourage other pedestrians to come and watch.
The second circle is to be made up of zombie farmed salmon made up of volunteers from the 38 degrees community wearing costumes and props who will dance together in the circle.
In the middle will be a troupe of professional dancers – the wild salmon dance off – who will ‘help free the zombie salmon’ whilst the zombie salmon toss paper-mâché sea lice over the wild fish. Mr Mellon hopes that this will create a stunning visual spectacle that will give the petition hand over some serious gusto whilst creating fantastic images for media photographers to capture.
They probably hope that if just one image from the event is published widely then it will have more impact than hundreds of words. That is certainly the main tactic currently used by opponents of the salmon farming industry to try to influence the changes they want. I suspect that they will be disappointed because most of the public are unlikely to be impressed by some dancing salmon!
The message: All those parts of the media that seem to give unlimited space to the usual salmon industry critics should have been in London on Friday to watch the protest by Ecohustler and 38 Degrees outside Marks & Spencer’s head office in Paddington. I happened to be in the city on Friday and thought the opportunity to see a protest in action was far too good to miss. It wouldn’t be the first I have witnessed as I had the misfortune to watch the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture demonstrate outside the side entrance to M&S’s Oxford Street store. Not one member of the public was interested, and the five demonstrators spent most of the time talking to themselves.
With over 100,000 people supporting Ecohustler’s petition, part of me was hoping to see what an organisation like 38 Degrees could do, but the other part knew that I was going to be disappointed. This was because 38 Degrees had sent out an invitation mail with the option to accept the invite and on Friday morning the total number saying they would attend was 20.
Yet, even if the two babies were included in the head count, the total number there didn’t reach 20. I totted up only 17 including a video recordist, a cameraman and a sound engineer. Others there were clearly family members leaving about six or` seven who may have just turned up to support the cause.
The event was scheduled to run from 2pm to 4pm but lasted just over 5 minutes. The organisers spent about three quarters of an hour in discussion with local security about whether they would be allowed to protest on private property.
The eventual protest consisted of eight people, three of them wearing so-called fish masks – but only as hats – standing in a line holding banners outside the M&S food store that is on the ground floor of the M&S HQ. Music was then turned on and a troupe of young people performed a dance. There were no circles, zombie salmon or paper-mâché sea lice, just some dancers and a short line of silent protestors.
After the dancing ended, they all gathered for a photo and that was it. Any of the few watching passers-by probably had no idea what was going on.
The most active participants were the video and camera men who will probably put together a very professional record of the afternoon but no doubt missing out the obvious lack of supporters.
The real message from the event is that there are a handful of very loud active opponents to the salmon farming that have very little public support. The 100,000 and more who signed the petition, are just invisible supporters. They just signed this petition, probably along with many others.
Where were all the usual vocal critics, who moan incessantly about the industry but seemingly don’t feel strongly enough to actually protest in person. Did any of these critics bother to turn up? Of course not. Their fingers are stuck too firmly to their keyboards.
Perhaps if the media really saw how little support the cause against salmon farming really generates, they might not be so willing to devote so much space to these few industry critics.
Short videos of the event can be seen at: