reLAKSation no 1067

Community: According to the West Highland Free Press, a poll of people living within ten miles of a salmon farm has revealed significant support for the salmon farming industry. Much of the support is because salmon farming brings jobs to the area and helps improve the local economy.

By comparison, a disparate group, calling themselves the Coastal Communities Network (CCN) are not interested in jobs nor about local economic development. Clearly, given the results of the recent poll, their views don’t represent those of the community at all. This is not surprising because a trawl of the little information about them that is available would suggest that they are not reflective of the people of local communities.

The Coastal Communities Network bring together 23 local groups. According to the Ferret, their spokesman is John Aitchison. However, the group’s website does not list anyone by name or give any contact details except via Flora and Fauna International who are based in Edinburgh and who appear to facilitate the networks activities.

CCN are featured by the campaigning Ferret who have written about claims that salmon farming activities are damaging valuable protected reefs, specifically in Loch Creran. CCN have produce a video that argues that the combined impact of pesticides from a salmon farm and waste from a hatchery could have contributed to the reef’s decline. I note that the Ferret uses the word ‘could’ because CCN simply have no idea at all as to the real reasons for changes to this reef. Like most critics of salmon farming, the presence of a salmon fam is enough for it to be blamed for anything and everything. The specific motivations of why this video was produced are well-known and I won’t repeat them here.

The video includes ‘evidence’ from a dive in 2021 that one reef has disappeared in the last ten years and warns that this is the last chance to save the reefs. The reefs are built by organ-pipe or serpulid worms and form structures like bushes on the seabed. The worms live in hundreds of small, white tubes and when they feed, they put out feathery pink and orange tentacles. Following research in 2020, NatureScot upgraded the status of the reef to ‘unfavourable declining’ with a 20% loss between 2005 and 2014/19. The farm has been in the loch since 1988 and has had no discernible impact.

Unfortunately, it seems that before they pointed the finger at the salmon farm, they didn’t bother to read NatureScot’s website. The fact that a salmon farm is in the loch is sufficient evidence for them.

The NatureScot webite has a page devoted to serpulid reefs that is extremely informative. The main point of interest is that serpulid reefs have a natural lifecycle of growth and collapse.   This is mentioned in the Ferret article, but the author of the article didn’t appear to ask CCN to comment on this natural phenomenon.

The NatureScot website mentions a couple of other sites where serpuild reefs have been identified. The first is in Linne Mhuirich, a large inlet from Loch Sween. These died out in the 1990s and NatureScot say that the reasons why are not understood. There used to be a salmon farm in Port Lunna in Loch Sween but the geography would suggest that the reef was well insulated from any interaction with the farm.

The website also states that small groups of worms were found in Loch Teacuis in 2006 and it was hoped that these would grow into a full reef, but recent reports suggest that the growth has died back. There are no salmon farms in Loch Teacuis although there is one nearby in Loch Sunart. This is another farm that has been in the loch for over thirty years.

The problem for of serpulid reefs, as stated by NatureScot, is that as the structures get so large, they can no longer support themselves and they collapse and die. However, the dead tubes can them form a new habitat for the settlement of worm larvae and the reef can then regenerate.

With specific reference to Loch Creran, NatureScot suggest that this declining phase of the reef has been made worse by an increase in storm events such as in 2015, when a greater amount of collapse was reported.

NatureScot list the threats to these reefs including mobile and static fishing gear, the use of both of these is banned in Loch Creran. Anchors are seen as a threat. as are the fins used by divers, so it is possible that in making this video, CCN have caused more damage to the reef than any farm. The film maker certainly has a boat and they brought in a diver to film the reef.

The Ferret says that SEPA are concerned about the loss of the reef, but they could probably benefit from reading the NatureScot website given their poor use and appreciation of the science in their recent consultation on sea lice. In addition, SEPA should be aware that serpulid reefs only grow at depths of less than 13 m. By comparison, historic samples have shown that any issues with areas of deposition occur at depths below 24mand therefore this is not an issue.

Yet SEPA are planning to meet with representatives of CCN to discuss their concerns. Given that CCN blame salmon farming for declines in wild salmon, who SEPA say are not responsible, SEPA should not give too much credence to what CCN have to say, at least until they are more open about who they are and who they represent because what is clear they don’t appear to represent the views of local communities along the west coast.

 

Resistant:? Released probably to coincide with the decision about the future of salmon farming in British Columbia, a new scientific report in Nature suggests that sea lice are growing resistant to an in-feed parasiticide. The authors conclude that sea lice outbreaks will be more difficult to control in future (and therefore it would be best if the Government got rid of salmon farms altogether).

The report has created a buzz amongst salmon farm critics as they see this as yet more proof of the negative impacts of salmon farming, yet resistance to treatments is nothing new, not just in salmon farming but in all aspects of animal and human health. This is why the salmon farming sector has developed a range of different approaches that can be used alternately to ensure maximum efficacy.

As well as using bioassays, the report’s authors also analysed the data using five different generalised linear mixed models with logic linked functions. I am always concerned when models are used to assess data because models are built on various preconceptions. However, in this case, it is likely that some resistance has developed which is why in-feed treatments are no longer the treatment of choice. This paper is therefore hardly worth any discussion.

Why this merits inclusion in this weeks reLAKSation is not because of what the scientific report actually said but rather what has been said in response to its publication. The Narwhal says that independent biologist Alexandra Morton who has been sounding the alarm about sea lice spreading to wild salmon since 2001 has expressed concern about freshwater power washing as a way of sea lice removal. She said that ‘the incredibly dangerous thing is if lice become resistant to freshwater – and they have become resistant to absolutely everything we have tried on them – they can go onto the lakes and rivers and infect the young salmon and trout trying to rear (sic) in those rivers.’

I am not sure what sort of biology Ms Morton has studied but sea lice can never be resistant to freshwater. It is a totally different process. Sea lice are already tolerant of freshwater, and this is well known. In fact, anglers mention it all the time. For example, this week Meikleour Fishings on the River Tay tweeted that within ten minutes of each other, an 8lb and a 15lb salmon were landed, both carrying sea lice. This is about 20 km from the end of the tidal range.  I am sure that salmon have been caught higher up the river than that and still carrying sea lice. These lice are not resistant to freshwater, they were adults that were much more tolerant than other life stages and hung on for as long as possible. What is certain is that had the salmon remained in the water, the lice will have eventually dropped off.

It’s not clear whether Ms Morton really understands the notion of resistance. When bacteria which are the main issue with resistance, reproduce, continual mutations will result in forms resistant to all sorts of chemicals. Normally, this confers no advantage but with use of a specific treatment that kills the majority of the bacteria, these mutations can reproduce successfully and eventually become the normal against which the treatment is ineffective. It is mutation that breeds resistance. How this would work with freshwater is unclear. Marine and freshwater species osmoregulate differently and it is only a few species, such as salmon that can cross the divide from sea to freshwater. Sea lice will never become freshwater lice, no matter how much freshwater the lice are exposed to during treatment.

However, it is possible that sea lice could become more tolerant to freshwater but that doesn’t mean that they will be able to progress their lifecycle in freshwater. More likely they will just hang onto their host for longer than normal. It reminds me of the critics that hang onto their ant-salmon narratives long after the real science has shown them to be wrong.

 

Out of Love: Seafish have recently undertaken a strategic review in which they consulted with the government and industry about the future shape of the organisation. The industry responded with six areas they want Seafish to support. These are workforce issues, reputation, climate change, international trade, insight and innovation and fisheries management.

As a result of demand for more focus on these issues, Seafish are making immediate changes to some of their existing activities.  The most significant of these is to stop consumer marketing activity through Love Seafood. This is because the industry has told Seafish that they can’t have the desired impact with their current resources and therefore the Seafish Board has decided to withdraw from consumer marketing and immediately stop the Love Seafood campaign.

I think that this is a major mistake.

I acknowledge that I have been a major critic of the Love Seafood campaign which I would argue was a total waste of time and money and should have been pulled before it even started. However, just because I criticised the Love Seafood campaign doesn’t mean that I believe that the industry should not invest in any consumer marketing. The problem has been that we need specially targeted campaigns that can change the pattern of fish consumption. This would require a different type of thinking, and this has been a step too far for Seafish to accept.

If we don’t promote fish and seafood consumption at all, then the downward trend of consumption will only gather pace. If we don’t have healthy consumption, then there will be no need for a fishing industry and then the six issues that Seafish plan to target will become totally irrelevant.

Consumers are already falling out of love with fish and seafood. Doing nothing is not an option.

 

Chips: in the last issue of reLAKSation, I discussed the possibility of using alternative lower cost UK landed species in fish and chips. The following week a similar thought was expressed in an article in Intrafish. According to Andrew Crook, president of the National Fish Fryers Federation one chain of fish and chip shops has taken delivery of a container of saithe to try out. Whether this is locally caught fish is unclear.

Mr Crook also said that whilst it is not against the law to display the words Fish and Chips, NFFF encourages its members to inform their customers the species of fish used. He said this is especially important when serving freshwater fish instead of marine species. This is a reference to the use of tilapia, which is also imported. The article also refers to pangasius or basa.

It’s a puzzle why fish and chip shops would want to use species like tilapia instead of ling, whiting or pollock but it is an indication of the thinking that has prompted Seafish to pull out of consumer marketing. There is seemingly a lack of initiative.

Mr Crook says that the biggest challenge will be to convince consumers to switch to other species and this is something NFFF are working on with DEFRA. I think he is wrong. Most consumers heading to their favourite fish and chip shop will simply buy what is available, providing it is the right price. My view is that the greatest resistance will come from the fish and chip shops themselves who are used to one way of working and will be reluctant to change.

As someone who is a major proponent of aquaculture, I will not have a problem with tilapia or basa and chips, but it seems the easy option nor the most logical at this time of crisis.

 

Basa:   Basa is being increasingly used in value added fish dishes. This is simply because it is cheap and allows the cost of the finished dish to be at an affordable price. One product in which basa has recently appeared is Young’s Gastro Mediterranean tomato fish bake. This is described as a restaurant quality fish that is the best way to create your own restaurant experience at home.

The product came to my attention due to the customer reviews on the Tesco website. The product received an average one and a half stars out of five from 26 reviewers. Despite the new improved recipe tag on the pack, Tesco customers did not like the product at all, especially those who previously bought the product before it was improved. The improvement was to change the fish from Alaska pollock to basa.  One customer just wrote Yukk!

The reviews were so bad, I though it worth tasting the product for myself. I bought it in Morrisons because it is priced there at £2 with a saving of 50p.

For the money, I don’t think it is that bad. It’s a relatively bland bit of fish with a tomato and pepper sauce topped with breadcrumbs. The problem for me is describing this as restaurant quality. It certainly is not of the quality of any restaurant I visit. Equally, no restaurant I know serves fish in an exact rectangular block.

I think the problem here is not the product, but the customer expectation.