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reLAKSation no 1102

Scepticism: Anti-salmon farm activists are sceptics according to the Campbell River Mirror (CRM). In this instance, their scepticism comes from the fact that the CRM has reported new data that shows sea lice numbers are not necessarily influenced by the presence or absence of salmon farms. It is not surprising that activists remain sceptical because these findings undermine their long-established narrative that sea lice from salmon farms are responsible for the declines of Fraser River salmon and other areas where salmon farms are located.

The latest examination of sea lice infestation at a range of sites across the Broughton Archipelago and the Discovery Islands has shown that no farms doesn’t equal no lice. The surveys conducted by Mainstream Biologicals, Pacifius Biological Service and the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation are freely available to anyone who can then reach their own conclusions.

Alexandra Morton, whose ‘research’, the CRM say was key to the decision by the Federal authorities to shut down all open net salmon farms has said that numbers in the study are a bit skewed. I wonder that as they are only a bit skewed, does that means that Ms Morton is only a bit sceptical?

The skew to which Ms Morton refers is that according to her, 708 of the fish that were tested, nearly half were caught before fish farms while only 68 were caught besides a fish farm. Now I don’t know to which fish she refers so I can’t comment on this data. She also discusses data from the Discovery Islands claiming some of the data is not valid. Again, I can’t comment on the data as it applies to her views.

What she does say is that it will be interesting to go back to the data when more farms in the Broughton Archipelago are removed as this will show the impact of these farms. I am left wondering what will happen if any subsequent data supports the latest findings rather than Ms Morton’s narrative. How will she be able to justify the removal of these farms if lice are still present in areas where farming is just a memory. Ms Morton published a video in April 2020 in which she made it clear that when salmon farms are removed, sea lice disappear.

Later in this issue of reLAKSation I mention a fishing beat on Scotland’s east coast that promotes the fact that the fish carry sea lice. These fish have been nowhere near a salmon farm as neither did their predecessors over tens and hundreds of years. Sea lice are natural parasites that have infested fish for millennia.

In BC, sockeye caught in the Fraser River were only lightly infested with sea lice during July and August 1971. However, during September and October of the same year sockeye were seen with extensive parasitism including large, abraded areas and open wounds especially behind the dorsal fin and the peri-anal region. This was before salmon farming arrived in Canada. How does Ms Morton explain such observations which were reported in a scientific paper (which I am attempting to obtain in full). This is not an isolated case. Salmon and salmon lice go hand in hand.

Finally, critics such as Ms Morton will always question data that has been commissioned by the salmon farming industry, however independent.  Instead, I prefer to look at Ms Morton’s data as conducted by the Salmon Coast and Cedar Coast research stations.

Nearly 60% of the 46,884 fish sampled had no lice. Twenty per cent had just one louse, A further ten percent had two and five more percent had three lice.  This means that about 5% of the fish had lice levels of 4 and above. Ms Morton’s surveys clearly show that sea lice pose little risk to wild salmon populations in Canada.

I would be very interested to know how sceptical she is about her own results.


Wild Fish again: In the last issue of reLAKSation, I wrote that Matt, the former vet that Wild Fish Conservation (WFC) had employed as ‘Farmed Salmon Campaign Manager’ had been remarkedly silent since the launch of their ‘Off the Table’ campaign on October 17th. I now wonder if I had struck a chord as 42 days since his last appearance, Matt has posted a new blog on the WFC website. Unfortunately, he has not written about the ‘Off the Table’ campaign, presumably because there is nothing much to write. It seems to me that there is still plenty of salmon on many restaurant menus. I am not sure many chefs would be persuaded to take the fish off the menu just in the hope that the WFC membership can continue to catch and kill them for sport.

Instead, Matt has written of his concern that salmon farming has continued to expand despite failing to address key environmental and mortality issues. His blog is titled ‘Record production of Scottish farmed salmon escalates risk for wild fish’ This poses the question whether Matt and WFC would be concerned about alleged environmental and mortality issues IF there was no risk for wild fish?

Matt presents his blog as a scientific work with 11 references, the first of which cites the Scottish Parliamentary Environment Committee report of 2018 which he says concluded that there had a been a lack of progress in tackling key issues previously identified in 2002 and that unacceptably high levels of mortalities persist. In my opinion, if the Committee had taken evidence from more than just the one representative of the salmon farming industry out of the 12 witnesses called, it might have heard more about the progress that had been made and continues to be made.

In terms of mortalities, it is unclear what that level of mortality of this cold-blooded animal (which can’t really be directly compared to mortality of terrestrial warm-blooded animals) would be acceptable? Of course, nobody including salmon farmers want to see any mortality, but it is a biological reality. We humans get sick and die all the time and whilst we may not like it, we accept it.

On farm mortalities were not an issue outside salmon farming until WFC made it the subject of a campaign. It is WFC that really consider the current levels of mortality to be unacceptable because they (wrongly) blame salmon farming for the decline in wild fish numbers. At which point I could ask whether killing approximately 85,000 wild fish for sport every year for the last seventy years is acceptable. I suspect that a significant number of the public would think not.

WFC continue to hark on about the 2018 Scottish Parliamentary Committee inquiries, not least because it was their very flawed petition that prompted the Rural Economy and the Environment Committees to consider the impacts of salmon farming in the hope of protecting wild fish (so anglers can catch them for sport).

What Matt, WFC, as well as the wider wild fish sector conveniently chose to ignore is that the REC Committee also met in November 2020 to consider their findings. It was at this session of Committee that SEPA’s Peter Pollard told MSPs that salmon farming, and especially sea lice, are not responsible for the decline of wild fish.

Given the clarity of this statement, it remains a complete mystery why WFC persist with their claims against the salmon farming industry. Matt writes:

Sea lice are external parasites which graze on the skin and mucous of fish. In high numbers these can cause pain and life-threatening ulcerations. As these lice build up in high numbers on farms, they disperse into the surrounding water, risking fatal infection of migrating wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout. ⁴ ⁵ ⁶

As the volumes of salmon being farmed along the west coast and islands of Scotland grows, so to does potential for increased sea lice loads within these waters. The farms become a breeding ground for sea lice, producing large volumes of young lice which float freely in the water until they come in contact with a host – farmed or wild.

Put simply, increasing the volume of farmed salmon in the water, provides more food for parasitic sea lice, in turn increasing their numbers and the risk to wild salmon and sea trout.

Matt helpfully cites three papers however I do not believe that these papers support his narrative. Certainly, there is insufficient evidence that large volumes of young lice float freely in the water until they come into contact with a host fish. I would argue that the science Matt cites offers a lot of conjecture but very few lice.

Fortunately, the SPILLS project is about to report at any time. This specifically included a work package to monitor infective planktonic sea lice stages. The purpose of this work is to validate the models on sea lice dispersal.

I have already written that a presentation given at Sea Lice 2002 indicated that the models did not perform well with SAMS and MSS having a ‘r’ value of 0.25 and less. This means that the larval sea lice that were predicted to be in the water column were simply not there.  It would be helpful if MSS would simply publish this report asap, but I imagine that they are busy rewriting it to make it sound better than it is.

Perhaps if the larval lice are not present in the water column as predicted by the established narrative, then could it be that wild fish are not at risk of widespread lice infestation as Matt and others contend? Perhaps, SEPA’s Peter Pollard is correct and that sea lice from salmon farms are not to blame for the decline in wild fish numbers.

Sadly, WFC are too entrenched in their narrative that they will never admit that they are wrong. Instead of considering that option, WFC appear to be investing more and more money into their salmon farming campaigns. They now have four members of staff appearing to focus on salmon farming. However, four wrongs don’t make it right.


Vitenskapelig: Dr Eva Thorstad, who is leader of Vitenskapelig rad for Lakseforvalting (The Scientific Council for Salmon Management) has tweeted that the number of salmon returning to Norwegian rivers to spawn is the lowest ever recorded. She also tweeted impacts from salmon farming are the greatest anthropogenic threats.

Sadly for Norwegian salmon, Dr Thorstad, and presumably the rest of the Scientific Council for Salmon Management, have closed their minds to any other factor being the cause of the decline of salmon in Norway.

What is it with scientists, not just in Norway, who refuse to consider any possible impacts other than salmon farming? I should just clarify that Dr Thorstad blocked me a long time ago when I questioned VRL’s claims.


Can’t see food!! Fish Farmer magazine reports that the Scottish Government has announced grants of £13 million to the seafood industry from Marine Fund Scotland. These grants go to a range of different companies to mainly help improve the processing of fish and seafood, but money is also awarded to fishing boats, ports and cold storage facilities too.

Hidden away in the middle of the list of awards is £622,563.50 to the Atlantic Salmon Trust. This is to improve information on the migration pathways of salmon smolts from nine west coast rivers to the open ocean. The project aims to inform the regulatory system for offshore development such as aquaculture and renewable energy.

The Atlantic Salmon Trust are a charity not a business so why are they in receipt of funds intended to strategically deliver wider benefit for Scotland including positive outcomes for communities? Instead, the intention of this project is to limit the development of the salmon farming industry and all the benefits that brings to west coast communities and Scotland as a whole.

The Atlantic Salmon Trust have already been given £1,115,093 from this fund for this project, the results of which show that it is somewhat a pointless exercise that is only of academic interest. We know salmon smolts swim out of west coast rivers and ride the currents north towards their marine feeding grounds. Which route they swim is totally irrelevant. The fundamental question that the Atlantic Salmon trust is trying to prove is do sea lice from west coast salmon farms impact the wild salmon populations. SEPA have already provided an answer which is they do not.

In a Tweet this week, the AST say that the purpose of the West Cost Tracking project is to achieve regulatory reform but why is regulatory reform needed if sea lice from salmon farms are not responsible for the decline of wild fish? The AST also say that the project will address some common misconceptions, yet they are not prepared to discuss the science that will demonstrate that it is they, amongst others, who are responsible for such common misconceptions.

It is also necessary to ask why the Scottish Government are wasting more money exploring this question. The answer is simple. Scientists working for Marine Scotland Science are not willing to admit they have got the narrative wrong and that sea lice from salmon farms are not responsible for the declines in wild salmon stocks. For exactly, the same reason, SEPA are not listening to their own staff members and are spending a fortune on developing a risk assessed framework, the implementation of which is totally unnecessary. Yet, this will be imposed on the industry because advisors to the Government will not admit they have got it wrong.

As yet, SEPA’s Peter Pollard has not yet explained the scientific rationale for his statement to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy Committee but perhaps he now should so Marine Scotland scientists, SEPA and the salmon farming industry can all understand why the AST project and the risk assessment framework are both necessary.

We should remember that Peter Pollard also participated in the Salmon Interactions Working Group.

Did he make the same statement to the working group as he did to the Rec Committee because had he done so perhaps the Risk Assessed Framework would have been put in the bin where it belongs or did the anti-salmon farming section of the working group drown out his voice as they usually do.

I have previously discussed the Atlantic Salmon Trust’s statement on salmon farming in which they say it is beyond doubt that salmon and sea trout suffer from the presence of open pen salmon farms. They also say it is their role to collect scientific evidence and use it to inform implementation of regulation. I have written to the AST requesting what scientific evidence they have collected to support their claims but have not received a reply. Their former science advisor also conducted some of the earlier research into wild farmed salmon interactions and I wouldn’t be surprised if his research dominated the AST’s science.

The AST’s policy statement on aquaculture ends by saying that populations of wild salmon and sea trout are in crisis and the Atlantic Salmon trust will always put their well-being above all other considerations. Odd isn’t it that I have yet to hear the Atlantic Salmon Trust call for a halt to salmon angling in Scotland in order to protect the species. Perhaps, they mean that they put anglers’ well-being above all other considerations. If there is any doubt that I might be wrong, the AST tweeted this week about being part of an organisation (Missing Salmon Alliance) that can produce science and be a voice for anglers. And I thought it was all about protecting wild salmon.

The West Coast Tracking Project has only one aim and that is to get rid of salmon farms in the hope that wild salmon will recover, so anglers can continue their sport. Is this the benefit these funds will bring to Scotland?

Finally, I was interested to read in Trout & Salmon magazine a different perspective on the West Coast Tracking Project from the angling sector. According to Trout and Salmon, ‘Jim Coats fishes on the Dee, Spey, Tay, and Tweed. He takes a keen interest in conservation and fundraising.’ Jim also writes for the magazine and in the latest issue he interviews Bob Kindness.

After being told by Bob that the lice loading in the Carron is very low and in many cases, lice are completely absent. In response, Jim Coats states:

“I’m very concerned about aquaculture. I feel incredibly let down by the Atlantic Salmon Trust. They have taken money from aquaculture to fund research that I honestly believe is only serving to help identify ways to expand the industry. I don’t see that as working together, so much as being played. I just can’t see how on earth it helps wild fish.”

Make of this what you will!!