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reLAKSation no 1121

HPMA: The Herald newspaper reported that Scotland’s new First Minister has pledged not to impose HPMA’s on communities that don’t want them. He said that he had heard and listened to the concerns of our coastal, island and fishing communities.

No decisions had been made about the criteria or any site selection and the First Minister said that the Government needs to analyse the responses to the consultation, which had just closed.

Humza Yousaf said he had spoken to Mairi McAllen, and she will engage and listen to the views of the communities. He said that a very basic principle that they had always operated by and will continue to do so is that we are not going to impose these policies on communities that don’t want them. Instead, we will work constructively with them.

I very much hope that the First Minister will follow the same approach to the proposed sea lice risk framework and not impose it on an industry that does not want it. In my opinion, the industry doesn’t want it imposed on them primarily because the science clearly shows that such a risk framework is totally unnecessary.

I am sure that the salmon farming industry would be more than happy to work constructively with the First Minister and his Government to address the best way to take industry regulation forward but so far Marine Scotland have shown no willingness to discuss their science in relation to the sea lice risk framework. I am hoping that until there is agreement across all interested parties, the First Minister will not impose this ill-conceived idea on such an important Scottish industry.


Counts: In reLAKSation no 1119, I discussed the omission of wild salmon catch data from this year’s Fisheries management Annual Review. The chairman had written that this was in part due to the timing of the publication of the official statistics and in part due to the increasing availability of real time catch data. As yet, I have not found the limited real time data to be of any use. Now the Tweedbeats website has cast further doubts on its reliability.

This says that the only attempt at running annual totals anywhere is on the Fishpal website under ‘Season so far’. In 2022, this showed the seasons catch to be 3,500 fish, yet the actual total was 6.690 salmon.

Now the Tweed Commission is trying to improve the reliability of these numbers, yet Tweedbeats suggests that there will be many pitfalls to overcome. Currently, to get any estimate, it is necessary to add the Fishpal total to the Tweedbeats total and then deduct those that report on both and then add estimated figures for those beats that don’t report of which Tweedbeats lists over thirteen fisheries.

And this is supposed to provide a reliable alternative source of accurate catch data. Tweedbeats say that this more accurate reporting will only work if it is voluntarily and willingly done. Actually, Tweedbeats is wrong. There is too much stress on the ‘voluntarily’ in the wild fisheries sector ranging from catch and release to reporting catches. Given that wild fish are so threatened, the time for voluntary and goodwill is over and mandatory should be the new mantra.

We are now approaching the end of April and the wild fisheries sector still cannot provide an accurate count of the fish caught during 2022. No wonder that they prefer to blame everything and anything but themselves for the problems of declining fish numbers.


Palmed off: I spent Easter catching up with past Tweedbeats commentaries and was surprised to see the one that appeared on Palm Sunday, a day celebrating the welcome give to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, was actually far from welcoming. In fact and apropos out of nothing, I got a mention. Tweedbeats wrote that Tavish Scott and me, as chief apologists for our what Tweedbeats consides to be a wholly unsustainable industry, had better look out.

So, what had prompted this outburst. It seems that Andrew Douglas Home, author of the book – ‘A River Runs Through Me’ and a River Tweed proprietor, met Rachel Mulrenan, Scottish Director of Wild Fish for lunch. She told Mr Douglas Home about the 2 billion sea lice being produced by one salmon farm in one week and the 43,000 salmon dying every day. He suggests that the protestations of innocence look increasingly hollow and absurd the more ‘Wild Fish’ get under the skin of the fish farming industry.

I’d be more than happy to meet Rachel for lunch so she can tell me about her findings face to face but for some reason she won’t even acknowledge an invite, let alone sit down with me. I will return to lunch later.

The inclusion of my name in the Tweedbeats commentary was I felt, sufficient invitation to reach out to Mr Douglas Home. As a River Tweed man, I thought he might be interested in the analysis of rod catch data following the example detailed in the You Tube video, The History of Tweed Salmon by Dr Ronald Campbell of the River Tweed Foundation. Dr Campbell related how analysis of net catches showed that large salmon and grilse numbers cycled over several decades. The rod catch data showed a similar pattern not only across Scotland but also in the Aquaculture Zone. I asked him how grilse numbers could have increased if sea lice are killing migrating smolts?

He replied immediately. I don’t normally reprint correspondence but simply wonder how wild salmon’s problems can be solved by such an intractable view.

“I really don’t care what figures you chose to selectively produce. I fished on both the Awe and the Lochy last year, formerly both great rivers. They had both had terrible years, the Awe especially and I never saw a salmon jump in either, despite being there in September (and in the Awe below the dam where any fish would be). I don’t think the Awe catch got to 100. These rivers are far worse affected than the east coast rivers and only the most obtuse observer would think this has nothing to do with salmon farms and their various ill effects on the marine environment. I imagine you think it is acceptable for Scotland’s salmon farms to have managed to kill over 43,000 salmon on every day of 2022? However you respond, I will not be replying and will delete before I read.”


Dining across the divide: The Guardian newspaper publishes a weekly feature – Dining across the Divide’. This asks whether breaking bread together can help bridge political differences?  Two readers with polar opposite political views are invited to lunch together to see what they can agree on and on what they can’t.

In much the same way, it would be interesting for someone from the wild fisheries sector to sit down with someone from the salmon farming industry to discuss their differences and what they have in common. I certainly would like to sit down with Rachel Mulrenan, Scottish Director of Wild Fish, to exchange views but Rachel has so far shown no inclination to talk to anyone from the salmon farming industry. I would also be happy to break bread with Charlotte Middleton, Interactions Manager of Fisheries Management Scotland. It would also be a pleasure to sit down with anyone from Marine Scotland Science to talk about the science of sea lice however I have been told they won’t.

I would offer an invitation to Andrew Douglas Home, but it does seem that he might find that a step too far.


 Meanwhile: The Daily Record reported that according to former popstar Feargal Sharkey, enough sewage to fill 14,000 Olympic swimming pools (about 35 billion litres) has been dumped into Scottish rivers. In 2021, there were 10,799 sewage overspill events in Scotland of which 5,219 there was no record. In 2022, the figure rose to more than 12,000 overspills with enough polluted water to fill 19,2000 Olympic swimming pools.

SEPA told the Daily Record that the local water company must continually demonstrate compliance with environmental regulations. Scottish Water has approximately 3,600 combined sewer outflows of which 340 are monitored. This is expected to increase to 1340 by the end of 2024.

Perhaps, SEPA are too busy focused on the sea lice risk framework to adequately police the water companies because clearly the risk to wild salmon is much greater from sewer overspills than the tiny number of sea lice. All the salmon conservation charities claim that the best way to help salmon is to focus on the impacts which they can most control, yet I have not seen one word from any of them about the huge amount of filth entering Scottish rivers and threatening wild salmon. Even Wild Fish, of which Feargal Sharkey is vice president has remained strangely quiet.


And the Spey:  In a separate article, the Daily Record reports that Fergal Sharkey has demanded to know why a popular 20-mile stretch of the world-renowned River Spey has been classified by SEPA as in ‘poor ecological condi0tion’ since 2019.

The stretch of river between Loch Insh through Aviemore (where Fisheries Management Scotland just held their annual conference) up to Grantown-on-Spey is in a poor ecological condition suffering from spoiled banks and declining water levels. Mr Sharkey told the paper that somebody in Scotland has got an awful big question to answer as to how the hell that ever happened.

Despite the damage to riverbeds and banks from farming activities and flows as the river is drained by hydroelectric generators to power Aluminium smelters, SEPA say the water quality remains high. The remainder of the 107-mile-long river is classed as being in good condition or even better.

Mr Sharkey said that the River Spey should be – and it is – one of the finest most pristine rivers in Western Europe. He added that it is one of the last remaining salmon rivers in the whole of Western Europe, certainly one of the most important ones.

Certainly, I am unable to comment on this last statement as neither Fisheries Management Scotland nor Marine Scotland Science appear to be in any rush to publish last year’s catch data so I will just have to take Mr Sharkey’s word on how important it is.


Grey area: The latest issue of the salmon angling magazine Fly-Fishing and Fly Tying (FFFT) includes a very interesting article from ecologist Professor Eric McVicar which begins by asking the question as to why the buyout and closure of coastal salmon netting, which many claimed were taking too many fish, did not lead to bonanza catches of salmon by anglers.  I would argue that the reason was that there has been a steady decline in the number of fish returning to Scottish rivers over many years and this eventually impacted the overall rod catch. Professor McVicar suggests an alternative reason. He writes that the closure of the nets, for whatever reason, meant an end to the shooting of local groups of grey seals by netting proprietors who had previously had the right to shoot seals. Consequently, as a result of no shooting, large breeding colonies have become firmly established on several river estuaries such as the Tay and the Ythan. Professor McVicar argues that these growing seal colonies are now taking more salmon than ever depleting already threatened stocks.

Professor McVicar has a solution. He proposes that the reintroduction of a limited net fishery with a sustainable quota would be a small price for rod anglers to pay in exchange for effective predator control.  He assumes that a reinstated net fishery would have free reign to begin shooting seals again. He does recognise that those who might object would need to be ‘educated’ about the reasons to control these animals (i.e., so rod anglers can pursue their sport) but does he really believe that netsmen would be allowed to freely shoot seals when others who are equally economically impacted by seals cannot?

Professor McVicar asks that politicians stop doing their impression of filleted fish – spinless and gutless – and take the issue of grey seals seriously allowing the reconstruction of inshore fisheries to a sustainable state and thus protect angling and the rural economies whilst helping feed future generations.

The fact that this article appeared in a leading salmon angling magazine simply demonstrates the blinkeredness of the angling sector to all that is currently wrong with wild salmon fisheries.