A line: Hot on the heels of the former Salmon & Trout Conservation, whose recent auction of angling experiences and the like that raised £103, 082, the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST) have launched their annual fund-raising auction with 99 lots ranging from fishing holidays to a pair of socks. However, it is lot 19 that attracted my attention. This is 3 days fishing for two rods with accommodation on the River Aline on Scotland’s west coast.
Any mention of west coast salmon fishing is of interest because the angling fraternity would have people believe that salmon farming has destroyed wild fish stocks in the area. In his book ‘The Angler’s Complete Guide to Rivers & Lochs of Scotland’, the Late Bruce Sandison wrote of the River Aline that ‘the impact of fish farming has seriously reduced the numbers of salmon and sea trout running this once famous stream. Approximately 20 salmon and 45 sea trout can currently (2014) be taken during a season.
These two graphs of salmon & grilse catches (blue) and sea trout (red) don’t seem to support Mr Sandison’s claims. A farm was established inside Lochaline in 1983. It can be clearly seen that salmon catches increased after that date and although have fallen subsequently, the declines during the 1990s had more to do with reduced fishing effort than fewer fish. More recent declines are in line with declines across all of Scotland and as our new King told the AST 50th Anniversary dinner in 2017, we don’t know why the numbers are in decline and five years on, we still don’t know.
Sea trout catches were in decline across the west coast long before the arrival of salmon farming. In the case of the River Aline, catches increased after the arrival of the farm. Like salmon, we don’t know why they are in decline, because no-one has ever bothered to find out and there has been no need when there is a salmon farming industry to blame.
However, what makes all this to be of more interest is that the River Aline emerges from Lochaline into the Sound of Mull which is one of the highlighted red fish protection zones in the SEPA risk assessment framework. Whilst this protection area is still just a proposal, the reality is that migrating wild salmon smolts are exposed to the same alleged risk now as they have for the last thirty plus years. Despite this risk, the AST deem that the fishing in the River Aline is not only good, but good enough to be offered to their potential charitable fund donors for three days fishing. If the fishing was poor, then the AST might as well offer three days fishing outside the Scottish Government offices by Leith docks for the same chances of catching a salmon. At the time of writing, the highest bid was £700.
It is worth mentioning that another lot is for three days fishing for two rods with accommodation at Garynahine on the Isle of Lewis. The Blackwater river empties into Loch Roag, which is not considered such a high risk to wild fish is the Sound of Mull, yet regular readers of reLAKSation will remember when Garynahine was in the news with wild salmon dying, having been caught in the sea water pool due to a lack of water in the river. At the time, the local salmon farm was blamed for the deaths, but such deaths have not been repeated and now the AST considers the fishing to be good enough to offer as a lot despite the presence of more than one salmon farm in the loch.
How is it that wild salmon are considered to be at such risk from salmon farms, yet the AST who are spending millions tracking wild salmon smolts in the area, consider the fishing to be of sufficient merit to exploit them as a fund raiser. Perhaps, if wild salmon are at such risk on the west coast, then the wild fish sector should be campaigning to stop all human interference and that includes recreational angling. Currently, the Scottish Government plans to impose a strict regime on salmon farming but only to ask (nicely) if anglers, would, in the interests of conservation, be willing not to kill the fish they catch. However, if they still wanted to kill them, then they are free to do so as long as local regulations permit.
Really!: I was travelling last week and saw a reference to a new report and whilst I downloaded a copy of the report, I have misplaced the link from which it was obtained along with the accompanying news story.
The report is titled ‘Harnessing Community-Led Marine Conservation in Scotland’ and it is written by Kerri Whiteside of the environmental NGO Flora and Fauna International. The report is subtitled ‘Fauna and Flora International’s Marine Community Support Project Case Study (2011-2022).
There has been much discussion about the involvement of local communities in the decision-making process for planning etc and in recent years there has been increasing demands from what is now called the Coastal Community Network that their voice should be heard. Yet it seems that this community voice is not all it seems. It would appear that the local community voice has actually been managed by an international environmental NGO. Since 2014, this has included a full-time member of staff to encourage community-led action. This support was also extended to another local organisation – the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust (SIFT) – to which I will refer later.
The full report is 50 pages long, but I did notice that it concludes that ‘It is clear to FFI and our partners that coastal communities now have a stronger voice in the marine conservation sector in Scotland… A grassroots infrastructure, such as that provided by CCN did not exist prior to FFI’s intervention in this space’.
It seems to me that the Coastal Community Network has little to do with local communities and more to do with meeting the aims and aspirations of an international NGO.
FFI say that it was recognised early on that the emerging community groups required seed funding for a range of initiatives. Between 2019 and 2021, a fund established by FFI granted £30,000 to 18 different projects. They say that although it is a difficult figure to calculate, it is estimated that these funds have further leveraged around £300,000 for projects including hosting parliamentary events to sea lice modelling. Regular readers might remember that CCN have offered their expertise on sea lice modelling to SEPA to help establish the risk-based sea lice framework, having commissioned a report on modelling with the express intent of objecting to the Loch Hourn farm planning application.
Whilst CCN make out that they are a local community group, FFI’s website expresses their gratitude for the support of Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, John Ellerman Foundation, Arcadia, Millichope Foundation, Hugh Fraser Foundation and William Grant Foundation for this project. Such Foundations and Trusts as these provide FFI with around £9 million annually.
FFI also express their gratitude to other organisations that have provided strategic knowledge, expertise and resources. These include organisations that have in the past taken a negative stance against the salmon farming industry such as Open Seas, the Marine Conservation Society, Scottish Environmental Link, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the RSPB along with NatureScot and the Scottish Government’s Marine Scotland.
It seems that these local communities actually stretch far beyond their local community.
Synthesis: During the first week of October, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) and the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) hosted what they described as the International Year of the Salmon (IYS) Synthesis Symposium in Vancouver.
The goal of the symposium was to develop a road map for the resilience of salmon and people through to 2030. Presentations were organised under five IYS themes: Status of Salmon, Information Systems, Salmon in a Changing Salmosphere, New Frontiers and Human Dimensions. The summary of abstracts of these presentations runs to 138 pages which indicates the range of issues discussed.
The theme of the changing Salmosphere included a sub theme looking at the future of salmon aquaculture, however, I could only find one paper which was a review of existing knowledge on escapes. Given the clamour about salmon farming and wild salmon interactions, it is surprising that there was so little mention of this supposed major issue.
I suppose that there is only so much that can be discussed without producing some real evidence rather than the usual conjecture and correlations.
Given that this scientific symposium was taking place in British Columbia, it was also surprising that a certain biologist did not attend nor use the occasion to promote her blinkered views. It is so much easier making your case to journalists and to media than actually attending a scientific meeting to promote your views.
I don’t have the resources to justify a trip to Vancouver, otherwise I would have willingly attended this meeting but then again, in my experience NASCO have always been reluctant to invite scientists from the salmon farming sector to their meetings. The group established by NASCO to review their latest thoughts about the impacts of salmon farming does not include anyone from the salmon farming industry.
Finally, and by coincidence, British Columbia featured in the British media last week. The Guardian reported that tens of thousands of wild salmon died in a creek at Neekas in the Heiltsuk Territory. The creek had dried up due to a lack of rain and the fish were left stranded. According to the local conservation manager, the drought is coast wide and whilst there is always some pre-spawn mortality, the scale of the deaths now has never been seen before. The estimate in this one creek is about 65,000 fish.
The deaths were brought to public attention by a German biologist who was monitoring returning stocks. I would imagine that local biologists such as Ms Morton whose Twitter account states that she is a ‘Biologist fighting to protect wild salmon.’
Whilst these salmon deaths have been reported in the UK in the Guardian newspaper and on the BBC, they don’t get a mention on Ms Morton’s media accounts. She is far too busy blaming salmon framing for the plight of wild salmon when clearly there are other factors at play. Its just a shame her interest in helping wild salmon doesn’t extend beyond trying to persuade the Canadian Government to remove salmon farms.
Edit issue 4: The latest newsletter from the newly named Wild Fish Conservation begins ‘our thoughts this month turn to open-net salmon farming’. In all the years I have been working on salmon interactions, the S&TA/S&TC/WFC have thought of nothing else in Scotland except salmon farming. They did for a while campaign to close down commercial netting, which they see as their success. The aim of the closure was to maximise the number of salmon entering Scotland’s rivers so anglers would have more fish to catch. After many years WFC still believe that if they can regulate or close down salmon farming, there will be more fish returning to Scotland’s rivers for anglers to catch. WFC are just so blinkered in their views that they cannot see that the reason that wild fish are in decline is not due to salmon farming. Perhaps, if they were so confident in their views, they would be willing to enter into face-to- face debate with representatives of the salmon farming industry but sadly not. I would be more than happy to have an open debate with Andrew Graham Stewart of WFC but it seems that he prefers to only talk to people who know less than he does about the issues.
THE WFC newsletter states that: ‘The fight to save wild fish continues. Together we will rise to the challenge. To do so, we need to be as well informed as possible’. Sadly, they are not, which is why they channel all their resources into an issue that will not save wild fish.
Their latest campaign has just kicked off. The has begun with a new ten-minute video entitled Salmon Shame. It is mostly a rehash of old footage seen many times before supported by uninformed and unsubstantiated statements and selective images of unrepresentative numbers of fish. We can expect nothing less from WFC who demonstrate that wild fish are never to be safeguarded if they continue to peddle such misleading videos and messages.
However, it is not just Wild Fish involved. The credits include the following, who were mentioned earlier in this issue of reLAKSation:
The campaign continues later this month with Wild Fish Conservation trying to persuade restaurants not to serve farmed salmon. I suspect that this campaign will be just as successful as their attempt to persuade consumers to stop eating farmed salmon. What this has to do with saving wild salmon is unclear. If Wild Fish Conservation really want to save wild fish then they need to put the interests of wild salmon first, rather than the interests of the angling fraternity.