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reLAKSation no 1134

Wild Fish: Wild Fish Canada have put out a video of sampling young fish around the discovery islands. Against a background soundtrack of mood music, they say that after thirty years of operation, the salmon farms around the Discovery Islands were closed in the spring of 2021. They say that there has been an immediate change in what they have seen. After twenty years of sampling fish, they have now found fish that are no longer ragged from sea lice infestation. Pink salmon have returned in numbers not seen by the narrator. He said it is remarkable. This year they say they have seen way more pink, chum, and sockeye giving hope that there may be enough fish for everybody. The video ends with a sticker being attached to a glass tank of young fish saying ‘removing salmon farms works.

This is not surprising since the video is credited in part to Alexandra Morton. It ends with a statement saying that Farlyn and Jody have been sampling for Alexandra Morton, amongst other researchers since 2005. Results of this research are available at:

The only reference I can see about sea lice around the Discovery Islands is a paper from 2008 which I believe includes sampling from 2005 and 2006. The last scientific paper to be added to this list was from 2017. This is hardly recent science and certainly offers no proof of anything.

In fact, sampling in other salmon farming areas has also revealed low lice levels across the coast including where salmon farms have reported 6% infestation. Ms Morton and her colleagues don’t want others to know that over 80% of young migrating salmon are lice free or just carry one small louse, Instead, her message is that migrating salmon found near salmon farms are covered with lice and puts out images of young salmon with numerous older stages of lice. When I tried to find a record of such infested fish in her Broughton data, there wasn’t any.

Ms Morton appears to come from the school of thought that when a few young fish are caught with sea lice infestation, the assumption is that all fish must be infested in a similar way and as farmed salmon have sea lice, the obvious source of infestation must be those farms. Ms Morton claims to be a scientist but the science does not support her narrative. If Ms Morton thinks I’m wrong, I’d be more than happy to have that debate with her face to face. However, like most of the salmon farming critics, I’m sure she’d run a mile if she had to speak to anyone with a view that is opposite to hers.


Lost the plot: As mentioned above, Alexandra Morton claims to be a scientist yet her latest Tweet exposes her in the true light of day. A story that appeared last week in the mainstream press revealed that passengers on a cruise ship encountered the slaughter of 78 dolphins in the Faroe Islands.  Ms Morton responded to a tweet that said that this was part of a century’s old tradition in the islands. She wrote: “Are they feeding these whales to their farm salmon?”

Clearly when science doesn’t work, Ms Morton has resorted to sensationalism implying that such barbaric practices are linked to the barbaric salmon farming industry. This is an approach taken by other who share similar views such as when they made a massive fuss over use of ADD’s by salmon farms but make no comment when such devices are used by other marine users.

Ms Morton’s comment is outrageous and shows her complete lack of understanding about salmon farming but then this is not surprising given her view that salmon farming is the sole cause of wild salmon’s demise and once farms are gone then the rivers will be awash with unlimited shoals of wild salmon again.

Lost the plot 2: Wild Fish – formerly the Salmon & Trout Association – who claim on their website to be working to protect wild fish and their waters, have published a directory of restaurants who are refusing to serve farmed salmon. As even SEPA have acknowledged, salmon farming is not responsible for the decline of wild fish so how a campaign against salmon farming is going to safeguard the future of wild salmon is unclear, especially as the majority of threatened fish can be found in rivers many, even hundreds of miles from any salmon farm.

The new directory is the result of months of campaigning by Wild Fish but rather than showing a concerted campaign against farmed salmon, it appears to illustrate what a pointless campaign it is proving to be.

Although there is a long list of entries in the directory, the number of UK restaurants listed amounts to just 25. There are a number of institutions such as the Tate, but these had dropped salmon, if they ever served it, from their cafes long before this campaign. Of the 25 restaurants, most would be unlikely to serve salmon anyway. Some of them are associated with sports salmon fishing, whilst others offer special tasting menus and I’ve eaten at enough of such establishments to know that their menus offer more unusual ingredients as a point of differentiation. I was interested to see that Wild Fish didn’t seem that bothered by the fact that one of these restaurants has threatened eel on the menu, but then Wild Fish members don’t go fishing for eel. I would also not expect fish and chip restaurants or cafes to include salmon on their menus whilst there are others that operate to an ethos which is unlikely to include salmon. This leaves just a handful who might have put salmon on the menu who now say they won’t. Perhaps their chefs are keen anglers?

The directory has a list of international restaurants, many of them in Iceland, a country that has been influenced by the North Atlantic Salmon Fund. However, it has been interesting to see how many of the sushi type restaurants own websites that show illustrations of salmon sushi.

On Twitter, Wild Fish say that the publication of this directory is exciting news which will help protect wild salmon. The reality is that it will do nothing except limit the choice of ingredients that a handful of chefs can use. If Wild Fish really want to safeguard wild salmon and sea trout for the future, perhaps they should call for an end to killing wild fish for sport or even better to bring an end to salmon fishing totally, until stocks show signs of recovery.

There is much more that Wild Fish could do to protect wild salmon, but they do very little else except continue a long-standing, but very misguided campaign against farmed salmon. Sadly, they have never been willing to discuss the issues.


Advance warning: BBC News has reported that there is increasing concern over the low numbers of Atlantic salmon returning to spawning grounds on Exmoor. An experienced local angler told the BBC that salmon numbers were in catastrophic decline on the River Exe. The UK Government has said it was greatly concerned and it is imperative that this decline is halted. The Environment Agency said that salmon stocks are at their lowest level on record and that the decline had occurred over the past three decades.             One of their fish surveyors has said when he started his career, everywhere you looked you would see salmon but now you are lucky to see a spawning fish anymore. The local anglers said that it was no longer possible to be guaranteed a sighting of a salmon on the Exe.

It doesn’t seem to matter to whose views are sought from Government to the angler, the view is the same, yet it seems that there is no plan to reverse this decline. The Government has said that cutting sewage discharge was a key part of its response to restoring salmon numbers. It also said that conserving and restoring salmon stocks would come from international collaboration and supporting key research initiatives.

However, whilst pollution may now be impacting on wild salmon, the decline has been taking place over many years and certainly long before the water companies were privatised. The trends were already clear, but nothing was done because, as in Scotland, the priority seems to be safeguarding the fishing first before safeguarding the fish. For the river Exe salmon, it may be all too late.

This should be a wakeup call for the wild fish community and Government, but it won’t be. It is only necessary to read the salmon angling magazines to see that there is little concern about the future of these iconic fish. Of course, when there are no more fish left, we all know who will get the blame.

Job offer:  The Department of Mathematics and Statistics of the University of Strathclyde has a 2-year post-doctoral research job available to anyone with a PhD in mathematical ecology. The successful applicant will join the university’s Ecological Modelling Group and will focus on modelling controls over Atlantic salmon growth and survival to provide new management guidance and risk assessment.

This research job is not a pure academic study because it is funded by the Missing Salmon Alliance as part of the Likely Suspects Framework. The project aims to test, refine, and apply a simulation -style whole life cycle model of salmon survival and growth. The objective is to produce a tool for integrating and comparing a diversity of potential management intervention and known environmental trends both on land and at sea.

I despair for wild salmon. I despair that those in the Missing Salmon Alliance believe that this is an effective approach to saving wild salmon from extinction in Scotland. It is already clear from the work on modelling sea lice dispersal that there is a significant disparity between the models and reality. I cannot see that modelling the salmon life cycle will be any different and will simply end up misleading those trying to put management practices in place.

It is already clear that even when there is real knowledge of risk, management ignore it. STV News recently broadcast a feature on saprolegnia saying that fishery boards had asked those on the river to focus on better biosecurity such as disinfection of equipment. However, despite such calls, there are no moves to shut the affected rivers to fishing, so reducing the stress on the fish that have survived.

At the same time the Government’s Wild Fish Strategy has still not been implemented, not that it will help the salmon as it is more concerned about safeguarding salmon fisheries than the fish.

Meanwhile, The Times reported that Fisheries Management Scotland continue to bleat on about ‘the country’ needing to invest in planting more trees to provide shade so they can continue to survive and breed in hot summers.  Alan Wells told the newspaper that “2023 is the latest year in which river temperatures have been a concern. Warm dry conditions make rivers more susceptible to damage from pollution and poor water quality and it is vital we do more to address these issues at source.”

I don’t see how planting trees will help address those issues.

The reality is that the wild fish sector has little idea of anything, except to blame everyone else for the current problems but themselves. Mathematically modelling wild salmon life cycles is just the latest attempt to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is that the wild fisheries sector has exploited wild salmon for decades with minimal investment to protect wild salmon’s future.