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reLAKSation no 1144

Farming: I suspect that most readers of reLAKSation will not remember that in the early days of the fish farming industry, the main representation was through the National Farming Union (NFU). Fish farming was very much seen as part of the farming sector. However, when Government became involved, its fish experts were part of the fisheries sector, and this was seen as being more relevant than the farming aspect. Today, fish farming is still not considered part of the farming community.

On September 12th, the Scottish Parliament debate the Food & Drink Sector with some of the MSPs emphasising the importance of the agricultural sector to Scotland.  One of the speakers was Edward Mountain MSP. He began by describing the challenges faced by farmers such as the increased cost of fertilisers which went from £265/tonne to £1200/tonne but have dropped back to £600/tonne. He also talked about beef prices which had risen but are now falling as are the numbers of beef cattle being farmed in Scotland. He asked whether farming beef can be sustainable because ‘we cannot eat trees.’

He pointed out that other industries have expanded, such as whisky, but if Scottish farmers stop producing barley, then the whisky sector will be faced with future problems of sourcing supplies. He continued that the industry he has found most disappointing is salmon farming. He said that he has tried to be supportive of the sector but since 2017, the number of deaths of salmon in salmon farms has increased substantially, which is not acceptable. He told the Parliament that 36,000 tonnes of salmon are destroyed annually and that is not acceptable quoting figures of 9.2% in one farm in Loch Kishorn and 8% in another in Loch Linnhe. He said that 25% of all fish that go to sea die before they reach the table. That is unacceptable.

He went on to say that ‘even worse, some of them are dying when they are harvested, and they still reach our tables’.  At the beginning of his speech., Sir Edward reminded Parliament of his entry in the Register of Members Interests which includes an ‘interest in a salmon fishery which provides no food to the economy.’ Sadly, his comments about dying fish at harvest reaching the table are reminiscent of the misinformation spread by the wild fish sector to which he belongs. To use his words – this is unacceptable.

I would also mention that the wild fish sector claims that angling adds to the Scottish economy and surely this includes the capture and killing of the fish for the table. Last year, a total of 112 salmon were taken for the table from the river Spey where Sir Edward’s fishery is located. Unfortunately, information of catches from every beat are not made public so there is record of how many, if any, of the fish caught in his fishery subsequently found their way to the table. There is no record yet of how many fish have been caught from the Spey Fishery District this year. By comparison, Sir Edward is able to recount fish mortality from specific farms from June this year. Data from July is also available.

Sir Edward suggests that mortality found on salmon farms is unacceptable. Actually, the reality is not the mortality itself but the fact that the wild fish sector still blames the salmon farming sector for the decline in wild fish numbers and link the decline to such mortality, whereas the real damage from mortality is actually to the salmon farming companies.

I have written many times about the unwillingness of the wild fish sector to sit down, discuss and better understand the interactions between salmon farming and wild fish. However, they prefer to use mortality to try to undermine the presence of salmon farming in Scotland. This is what is really unacceptable. In the past I have written to Sir Edward to suggest that if he is disappointed in the salmon farming industry then he is in a position to do something about it. I have suggested that he should act as a catalyst between the salmon farming industry and the wild fish sector to have more open discussions about what is happening to farm salmon and to wild fish.  He refused.

Following his most recent speech, I wrote again to repeat my suggestion but so far there has been no answer.

I often wonder that if the wild fish critics got their way and salmon farms were removed from the west coast as to what they would do when wild fish numbers failed to recover, which I believe they wouldn’t because salmon farming is not the problem.

Finally, I would mention that the one single reason why mortality has increased in recent years is that the lobbying by the wild fish sector has caused the levels of farm sea lice to be set too low. The repeated treatment needed to keep lice levels low excessively stress the fish so they are less robust to withstand other challenges they might face but would normally overcome. The wild fish lobby will argue that lice levels are not too low, but they are unable to demonstrate that higher farm lice levels cause mortality of wild fish.


Thank you Alex: Humanity must be grateful to Alexandra Morton for demonstrating that wild salmon can be saved from the ravages of sea lice through the removal of salmon farms. According to Business in Vancouver, sea lice on young pink and chum salmon in the Discovery Islands region dropped by 96% after salmon farms were removed in 2020. In new, and as Alex likes to highlight, peer-reviewed research published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (CJFAS), she joined Richard Routledge (Emeritus Professor of Simon Fraser University) to reveal the findings of sea lice counting done on wild salmon after salmon farms were removed in the Discovery Islands.

The study period started in 2020 when there were eight farms in the area and ended in 2022 when there was just one and involved counting lice on 1627 salmon. The overall number of lice per fish declined from 5.15 in 2020, 0.302 in 2021 and 0.198 in 2022 amounting to a 96% decline.

Obviously, for someone involved in crunching sea lice numbers, this paper was very much of interest, especially, as I would like to see the data from which the findings were derived. The first obstacle however is that the paper is not open access and costs $40 to read. I put out some feelers to see if anyone had already managed to obtain a copy and also ordered a copy through the library system (which for me involves time and travel). I did note that on September 15th Ms Morton tweeted in response to a question about open access that “we have paid the huge invoice to make it so, please check back next week, hopefully they will have the funds processed and releases it. Sorry about that.” (Open access fees are C$3500 which equates to £2130).

It’s now two weeks since her tweet and the paper is still behind the $40 paywall. However, it seems that the paper does not include a link to the raw data anyway.  I had written to Ms Morton via the Salmon Coast Field Station and to her co-author Professor Routledge to ask whether they could supply the data for me to look at. Professor Routledge did eventually respond and said that the ‘Just-IN’ version of the paper is merely a preliminary announcement of the final version which should be available shortly as an open access document and this will contain the data requested.

This is a real puzzle because surely the point of science papers is not to act as a preliminary announcement. However, it is clear that this is what Ms Morton has done in order to publicise her views before anyone has had chance to scientifically challenge them. There does seem to be a difference of opinion by both authors as to an open access version. Is it the same paper or an extended version?

As it happens, I have seen the preliminary paper as someone kindly sent me a copy. It is very short on detail but any detail that is provided appears confused.

Under methods, the paper states that juvenile pink and chum salmon were sampled between May and June each year from 2020 to 2022. Samples of up to 50 fish were collected via 34 sampling events from 22 locations throughout the Discovery Islands The authors refer to a figure (1) which shows three maps of the area with operational farms and sample sites highlighted.

If there are 22 sites and 34 sampling events, then each site was sampled one and a half times, As the sampling ran for three years, clearly each site was not sampled every year.  In fact, adding up the number of sampling sites identified on the maps, there are not 22 but just 15. This would amount to two and a quarter samples per site, which is still not enough for each to be sampled every year.

In 2020, eight different sites were sampled although there is no information as to how many times each site was sampled. What we do know is that a total of 349 fish were sampled in 2020, which equates to 43 fish per site.

In 2021, only three of the sites sampled in 2020 were revisited with the authors visiting three new sites, making a total of just six, compared with eight the year before. Despite the lower number of sites, a total of 853 fish were caught in 2021 making an average of 142 fish sampled per site.

Finally in 2022, the authors revisited three sites first visited in 2020 and two first visited in 2021. They also sampled at three sites for the first time.  Only one site had been visited for all three years. In 2022, a total of 425 fish were caught giving an average catch of 53 fish per site.

I would question how any real conclusions can be drawn from this sampling when the same sites are not revisited each year. I would also suggest that the numbers of fish are also too small to draw any conclusion at all. However, if and when the raw data becomes available then I will certainly make my own analysis of the numbers.

Finally, I was interested to see that the joint editor in chief of CJFAS is Martin Krkosek, who is also on the Board of Directors of the Salmon Coast Field Station along with Alexandra Morton. I am not suggesting anything untoward about this link, but others might. It is simply an observation.


Coastal Communities: Lesley Riddoch, writing in the Times, says that whilst Highly Protected Marine Areas may be dead, Scotland’s coastal communities are busily creating an effective alternative to improve marine protection. According to Lesley, they won’t call a total halt to fishing or fish farming, but they will call time on exploitation by developers and unsustainable fishing activity that get the go-ahead without communities having more than a tokenistic and generally belated say. She adds that 25 coastal communities are seeking ways to enhance marine protection via formal conservation agreements or small projects to protect biodiversity whilst low impact fishing angling and leisure activities will be allowed to continue.  She then delves in detail into some of the local community groups.

Unfortunately, Lesley has been misled. Certainly, the coastal communities have made it clear that they cannot wait to see the end of salmon farming and undoubtedly any other development that doesn’t fit in with their idea of protection. I suspect that a better name for such protection is simply NIMBYISM.

Whilst I have an obvious interest in salmon farming, I still think that local community control would be a major mistake. Locals will always object to changes to their local environment but if control was in local hands, how would developments of national interest such as prisons, roads, power stations, airports etc ever get built?

Coastal communities appear to want salmon farming to come on shore. However, I bet that if any salmon farming company tried to build a significant land-based farm on shore next to their existing net pen farm, there would be a massive outcry. You only need to look at how locals have objected to such a farm on a brown field site in Grimsby!