Driver wanted: Fisheries Management Scotland are recruiting for the third incumbent of the post of Aquaculture Interactions Manger. The first holder of this position was Polly who joined FMS at the beginning of July 2020, and she was replaced by Charlotte in May 2021. It now seems that Charlotte has decided to seek pastures new.
According to FMS, the post of Aquaculture Interactions Manager (salary £42-£47,000) is funded by the Crown Estate and the Marine Directorate with the aim of protecting and restoring wild salmonid populations. Since wild salmonid stocks have continued to collapse across all of Scotland, it would seem that the previous incumbents failed to make any impact on protecting and restoring wild salmonid stocks, especially within the west coast aquaculture zone but then this Is not surprising since salmon farming is not the reason why wild salmonids are in so much trouble.
Sadly, rather than focus on the real issues, the Crown Estate and the Marine Directorate seem intent on continuing to fund this pointless role. I would suggest that this is because like most of the wild salmon sector, they are now so blinded to the problems of wild fish that it is easier to lay the blame with the salmon farming industry as a way of avoiding having to deal with the real issues. The Scottish Government banned fishing by nets as a way of protecting wild salmon. The next step would be to ban fishing by rods too but of course this will never happen until there are no salmon left to catch.
There are a number of fundamental problems with this post. Firstly, why does FMS need a manager exclusively to work with salmon farming, an industry that impacts on less than 10% of the national catch. Where is the manager for predators, the manager for barrier removal and the manager for exploitation? Why just for salmon farming?
Secondly, why create an interactions manager who then never interacts. Interactions do not just occur between wild and farmed salmon but also between the wild fish sector and the salmon farming industry. As far as I can gather, there has been very little interaction between the sectors. Certainly, repeated invitations to meet for a coffee and a chat have never even been acknowledged. My understanding is that the interactions manager was never allowed out unless accompanied by a senior manager. I assume that this was because FMS didn’t want anyone to question their anti-salmon farming narrative. As far as I could see the only interactions undertaken were to submit objections to any new or amended salmon farming development. Why were Crown Estate and the Marine Directorate paying to employ someone whose main role seemed to be objecting to salmon farms. What sort of interaction is that?
My own view is that this post should be scrapped and if FMS want to interact with the salmon farming industry, then they should recognise that this is a two-way street, and they should start to listen to why they should be looking elsewhere than the salmon farming industry for the problems of the wild fish sector.
It is interesting that both previous incumbents of this post had previously worked for Lloyds Register as part of ASC certification. Both had also studied for a master’s degree at the University of York. Polly had spent a couple of years working as an assistant biologist for the Spey Fisheries Board where according to FMS she had gained extensive knowledge of the natural history of salmonids and interactions between wild and farmed salmon populations. If working for the Spey Fisheries Board gives someone experience of interactions between wild and farmed salmon, then it is not surprising that the wild fish sector has such an unhealthy view of salmon farming.
FMS have provided a job description for the new post holder which includes the essential criteria. In addition to all the usual office skills, the new postholder must have access to a car as the job includes travel across Scotland. This is essential. By comparisons familiarity with interactions between wild fisheries management and finfish aquaculture would only be an advantage!!!
More money: Whilst looking at the Fisheries Management Scotland website, I see that they are to spend up to £45,000 on a tender to develop a ‘Scottish source to sea nature finance’ model. They say that new funding mechanisms are urgently needed to help meet nature targets to halt biodiversity loss. They are looking for a model that allows corporate bodies and investors to invest through their environmental and social responsibility commitments. Presumably this is because the decline in fishing income means FMS are in receipt of decreasing funds.
However, if salmon are heading towards extinction, as they are, then the fisheries boards will have no role and therefore FMS will have no role either. As there will be no fish to catch, it is unlikely that the angling fraternity who claim to be the only people interested in protecting wild salmon, will seek other forms of activity or as most are older age people, they will simply disappear from the sector. It is therefore unclear as to who will be helping safeguard wild salmon in future.
It is not new finance models that are required but real action to protect these fish now and that is simply not happening. If wild salmon become extinct in Scotland, it will not be the salmon farming industry who are blame.
England too: The Atlantic Salmon Trust have made much of their Moray Tracking Project with the headline results being in the first year that 50% of the tagged smolts disappeared whilst still in freshwater and a further 15% disappeared during the start of their migration in the sea. Of course, such losses can vary from year to year and just one year’s results cannot be definitive.
A new paper, by a group led by the Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment, but including participants from England, Ireland, Canada, and the USA. One hundred smolts were tagged in the river Derwent (Cumbria) and the main finding that the paper highlights was that one of these fish was found to have travelled 262 km in days after leaving the river mouth. However, of much more interest was that out of the hundred tagged smolts, just eight made it to the river mouth and of these eight fish, three were registered as crossing the acoustic array operated by the SeaMonitor project. Eight per cent survival is a lot less than the 50% found by the Atlantic Salmon Trust.
Whilst critics of the salmon farming industry will claim that many smolts are lost as they travel north past Scotland’s west coast, the array that detected the smolts from this project was located off the coast near Stranraer, well south of any fish farm activity.
The Far North: This week, BBC Scotland’s Landward TV programme featured the Atlantic Salmon Trust’s Project Laxford which the AST describe as working in partnership to restore a salmon catchment. They say that this ‘dynamic’ ten-year project aims to better understand the river Laxford catchment and then restore its wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout by improving the quality and habitat of the river and surrounding landscape. The AST explain the project on a video available at https://atlanticsalmontrust.org/projectlaxford/#:~:text=The%20Atlantic%20Salmon%20Trust%20is,salmon%20and%20sea%20trout%20populations. Chris Conroy, project lead, explains that whilst the greatest problems affecting wild salmon are at sea, there is much that can be done to ensure that migrating smolts are in the best condition to undertake the migration, a point highlighted in the Landward TV programme.
The AST ask on their website why the Laxford was chosen for this project. The main reason given is that the whole river is located within the Reay Forest Estate (owned by the Duke of Westminster, one of the UK’s richest men) and thus was perfectly suited to be the AST’s first ‘Core River’. The intention is that the Laxford should be a test bed for management strategies and salmon restoration efforts at catchment scale.
In the video Chris Conroy, who also appears in the Landward feature, says that the ecosystem wide approach consists of four key elements of work. These include restoring riparian woodland, reducing deer grazing pressure, adding large woody debris to the river system, and realigning historic river channels.
After the TV programme was shown, there was a lot of activity on social media saying why didn’t they mention the salmon farm located in Loch Laxford which the migrating smolts have to pass. Given that the AST have recently highlighted their position statement on aquaculture (10 pages long) as something that requires urgent dialogue with the salmon farming industry, it does seem that the Laxford was a strange choice as their first core river.
Number 2: The AST have just advertised for a catchment restoration manager for Project Deveron, their second core catchment, but this time on the east coast. This also will be a 10-year project looking to achieve large scale restoration of salmon and their wider environment. The AST say that salmon in the Rover Deveron encounter a number of issues including forestry, agriculture, water abstraction, barriers to migration and human settlement.
What the AST don’t mention is salmon farming which is not surprising since there is no farming activity on the east coast and exploitation, which is also not surprising since the local fisheries board and the AST are advocates of salmon angling. The chart of salmon catches from the Deveron shows that salmon returns have declined in recent years, although they have been somewhat variable. Since the year 2000, anglers have killed 24,419 salmon and grilse as well as 5,551 sea trout. Current conservation policy on the river is that anglers who have paid for a week’s fishing can kill one fish a week whilst anglers who fish on a day ticket must return all they catch. It seems that the criteria for killing a fish from the Deveron is the ability to spend money.
Perhaps if AST want to classify the river Deveron as one of their Core Rivers, in which they assess how to help restore the fish in the river they should first put a stop to all exploitation, but they won’t.
Changing the subject: The highly promoted End Salmon Farming tour concluded last Monday with a protest march down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament. Given all the criticism of salmon farming by groups such as Compassion in World Farming, One-Kind, Vegan Groups such as Viva and Animal Action, wild fish groups such as Wild Fish, FMS, AST, the community groups of Coastal Communities Network, politicians such as the Greens and not forgetting all the voices on social media, a huge turnout might be expected.
The reality was very different with four individuals joining Mr Staniford for his walk down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament. Once there, one of these individuals disappeared (at least keeping well away from the camera) leaving the four to be joined by two others who had accompanied Mr Staniford around Scotland, who seem to have been guarding Mr Staniford’s stash of promotional material. This huge gathering of protestors (six in total) was joined by the famous Digivan for one last photo opportunity before Mr Staniford went for a paddle in the Parliament’s water feature.
Mr Staniford appears to be oblivious of his lack of supporters, but I would have been embarrassed by such a low turnout. Of course, this is nothing new for Mr Staniford who has never managed to galvanise the public to pay any attention to his misleading claims.