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reLAKSation no 1115

Losing pressure: One key question comes to mind following the publication of the Marine Scotland Science assessment of the pressures affecting wild salmon which I discussed in the last issue of reLAKSation. This is that given that both sea lice and farm escapes are not the most prominent pressures affecting wild salmon in Scotland, then why is Marine Scotland paying for fisheries Management Scotland, their partner in the pressures assessment, to employ an ‘Aquaculture Interactions Manager’? Surely, as river managers have decided that bird predation is the biggest threat to wild salmon across Scotland, if Marine Scotland wanted to fund the fisheries sector, they should surely be employing a ‘Bird Interactions Manager’ to work with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Scottish Wildlife Trusts and other bird-oriented organisations to work out how these predators can be controlled without resorting to shooting them. The RSPB have over a million members including 195,000 youth members, who presumably will need to be convinced that avian predators need to be controlled. This number far outweighs the vocal minority who oppose aquaculture. The impression at the moment is that avian predators are such a vexed issue that it is easier to divert fisheries’ ire at salmon farming, even though river managers now appear to agree with the salmon farming industry that the impact on wild fish is minimal.

FMS say that the role of Aquaculture Interactions Manager is to make meaningful changes to aquaculture regulation by engaging with regulators and supporting members. Yet, why is there a need to change regulation if salmon farming represents such a minimal threat to wild salmon?  Finally, FMS say that the Aquaculture Interactions Manager will help improve understanding and relationships between wild fish and aquaculture industries. It is my experience that both the former and current postholders have refused to accept any invitation to talk, so I am unsure how this helps either understanding or relationships.


Science: Regular readers of reLAKSation will know that I am continually frustrated by the unwillingness of Scottish Government scientists to discuss the science relevant to salmon farming and especially to the issue of sea lice. It has been suggested to me that if I want to challenge the science then I can do so through the route of peer-reviewed publication. However, there is little point in taking this approach if those who I wish to challenge don’t even bother to acknowledge the existence of the paper. A case in point is my last paper which showed that salmon stocks across the west coast have mirrored those across all of Scotland and of the River Tweed going back to the 1700s. During the second half of the last century, numbers of returning large MSW salmon have been in decline, whilst numbers of grilse have increased. The obvious question is if grilse numbers in west coast rivers have been increasing, how can they be in decline due to sea lice? Sadly, no-one has been willing to provide an answer because the paper contradicts the existing narrative.

At the same time, why should I invest a lot of time and money in writing a paper about sea lice, when the supposed science that I would like to challenge is not even published as peer-reviewed papers. For example, the pressures report mentioned previously is published as part of the ‘Scottish Marine & Freshwater Science’ series (Vol 4. No 4). The preamble states:

“Marine Scotland is the directorate of the Scottish Government responsible for the integrated management of Scotland’s seas. Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science is a series of reports that publishes the results of scientific research and monitoring carried out by Marine Scotland. It also publishes the results of marine and freshwater scientific work that has been carried out for Marine Scotland under external commission. These reports are not subject to formal external peer-review.”

So, it is clear that these reports are not peer-reviewed. These reports cover a wide range of subjects not just aquaculture

However, MSS have published other reports such as ‘Using catch data to examine the potential impact of aquaculture on salmon and sea lice’, which was published in 2016. It is interesting that MSS didn’t produce this report when the Rivers & Fisheries Trusts of Scotland used the same data in 2011 to demonstrate an impact on wild fish from salmon farming but did shortly after I was using such data to show that there wasn’t an impact from salmon farming on wild fish. This report does not belong to any series, does not have a report number or any explanatory preamble. Why wasn’t it published as a proper scientific report. Could it be because it is more opinion than science.

Which brings me to the recent SPILLS report. This also was not published as part of the scientific series and doesn’t seem to warrant the MSS science report cover, but is plain other than the Scottish Government logo. Is this a science report or not?

It certainly has not been peer-reviewed but was reviewed instead by the Steering Group consisting of a member from Fisheries Management Scotland, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Crown Estate and Marine Scotland Science, a group who I would not describe as impartial. It would be interesting to know what criteria were used to select the members of the group and who made the decision to appoint them?

Is this science if it has to be published under a plain cover? Why does it not merit publication in the Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science series?


Models: The Fishsite recently published an article titled ‘Why sea lice researchers need standardised study models’. The aim is apparently to allow researchers to directly compare results and work towards implementing best management practices.

Researchers from Marine Scotland Science, Inland Fisheries Ireland, Scottish Association of Marine Science , National University of Ireland, Institute of Marine Research, Norway and  Fisheries & Oceans Canada are proposing a standardised model for studying sea lice biology that accounts for particle hydrodynamics. This allows researchers to use particles that behave like lice eggs and larvae when suspended in the water and to track these simulated on ocean currents and see how they behave.

The standard models can then be used to compare sea lice infections in different systems with different environments, different production levels and different farm layouts. This would allow them to assess the impact of new and existing farms.

Another reason given for the standardised approach is that an accepted standard would mean that there is less need for specific validation for every farm.

The problem with this whole concept is that we have yet to see any validation of models that relates to how sea lice behave. These researchers say that validation is expensive and time consuming, which seems to be more of an excuse not to have to validate these models. Yet validation is the most important aspect of these sea lice dispersal models. After all, if they don’t reflect what actually happens in the sea, they have no value. As yet, such validation is far from convincing.

The article does not refer to any specific researchers or organisations promoting this approach to modelling but it seems that it comes from a chapter in a new book about sea lice. The lead author of the chapter comes from Marine Scotland Science, and it seems to me rather than focusing on a standardised model, they should concentrate on validating the existing models. The sea lice dispersal models form the basis of the sea lice risk framework, and these must be properly validated before being imposed on the salmon farming industry.

My own view is that sea lice do not seek host as the model predicts and this is why validation has so far proved so elusive. It has always been something of a puzzle to me why there is such a reluctance to discuss these models as they relate to finding hosts, but eventually they must be discussed.


Just wrong: The history of salmon farming in Scotland is being rewritten by anti-salmon farm campaigners to suit their own narrative. The latest example is from Ewan Kennedy, who provides a history of salmon farming in Bylines Scotland, a website for citizen journalism.

Mr Kennedy writes that the first fish farm in Scotland can be dated to 1965. Actually, Howietoun fish farm was producing trout in 1875 but I’m guessing that he meant the first salmon farm. The article implies that this farm was established by a local crofter because Mr Kennedy later writes that problems soon started to arise because the capital costs to a crofter was always going to be high. He also said that nobody had any veterinary experience to deal with issues of fish health. From the start the impacts of crowding large numbers of migratory fish in cages became obvious with the constant presence of sea lice and occasional outbreaks of viruses. Mr Kennedy also said that how to feed a captive population of fish was a totally unknown factor.

It would seem from Mr Kennedy’s narrative that there is a lot of unknowns,  but these are mainly unknown by him and the anti-salmon farming lobby.

The farm in Loch Ailort to which Mr Kennedy refers was actually run by the multi-national Unilever Research, who eventually established a salmon farming company called Marine Harvest. The first smolts were put in the sea by Robin Bradley who went on to found his own farm. I have had several conversations with Mr Bradley, and he is clear that sea lice were never an issue for salmon farmers in his experience until at least 1985. This was the year after the three mile limit had been removed and stocks of local marine fish had been wiped out, the young of which were avid consumers of marine zooplankton including larval sea lice.

In the late 1980s, I was working for a pharmaceutical company in fish health, and I wasn’t approached about sea lice until at least 1989. The main issue was not viruses as Mr Kennedy suggests but bacterial infections.  Working for a multi-species health company, it was soon apparent to me that all forms of animal production encounter health problems as do we as humans.

Mr Kennedy seems to be oblivious to the fact that whilst salmon farming was new in the late 1960s, trout were already being farmed and the feed and feed administration are not that different between the species.

As the industry developed, Mr Kennedy says that ‘companies started to move in to take advantage of a lucrative opportunity’. He says one or two were locally owned but mostly they were multinational such as Unilever or Norwegian (?) The truth is that in 1987, there were actually 126 different farming companies operating out of Scotland, almost all of which were locally owned.

Referring to salmon farm leases, Mr Kennedy says the original leases were kept short after which farms would be required to be moved to a new location, but he suggests this never happened and that he is not aware of any site having closed and moved elsewhere. Yet according to Scotland Aquaculture, 76 salmon farming sites are no longer active.

The big question for me is that if those opposing salmon farming rewrite established facts, then how can anything they say now be trusted as being correct. This is one of the reasons why such critics are so reluctant to engage in face-to-face debate because their lack of knowledge would be quickly exposed.



Twitter: I have decided to withdraw from Twitter. This is not a place for serious debate about the issues facing wild salmon. Instead, it is where bullying and abuse dominate. Those who are unable to engage in a proper discussion because they remain ignorant of the facts prefer to focus on the messenger rather than address the message.

One recent tweet refers to me as a ‘nasty, discredited narcissist’ whilst another said that ‘This man is a bigger threat to wild fish than anglers will ever be. A mercenary heretic obsessed with denial.

It’s no wonder wild salmon are in trouble when they must rely on those who spout such views to safeguard their future.