Veganuary: Don Staniford has appeared in the press recently regarding his appeal to the Edinburgh courts. What is less known is that having had the support of some vegan charities, Mr Staniford announced at New Year that he would be turning vegan. He wrote about it on his blog in mid-January but has said very little, if anything since.
However, anyone reading the mainstream press over the past few months might think that Mr Staniford has signed up to another losing cause. The Times newspaper reported that in the latest sign that plant-based dining is in decline, a Cheshire based vegan restaurant, located not far from Mr Staniford’s home, has announced that whilst the owner is a vegan, he has begun to put meat on the menu. The Nomas Gastrobar said that it needed to attract more customers to stay in business, The local High Street is dotted with a dozen or so eateries that are in direct competition, but that by remaining as a vegan restaurant, the vegan menu would appeal to just 5% of potential customers. Even if one member of a party is vegan, not all want to eat a vegan meal and diners often walk out if they realise there is no other choice.
The decision to widen its offering comes after a growing number of vegan restaurants across the country have shut down including V Rev in Manchester and Kalifornia Kitchen in London. Even Neat Burger, a plant-based burger chain backed by racing driver Lewis Hamilton and actor Leonardo DiCaprio announced the closure of four of its restaurants last November.
One restaurateur, co-founder of the Italian restaurant Pastaio believes that vegan restaurants have fallen on their own sword. The meat free menus have attracted vegan customers but kept everyone else out.
The Times says the boom in plant-based diets peaked in 2021 with around 10% of Britons describing themselves as vegan or vegetarian. By 2023, this had dropped to 7% Consequently larger companies have also rolled back their plant-based options. Most notable was coffee and sandwich chain Pret a Manger who announced the closure of all but two of its vegan-only and vegetarian stores.
This latest news is not unexpected. Last year, the vegan burger company Beyond Meat which supplies McDonalds reported sales had slumped by a third compared to the previous year. Their product range had been trimmed by 25% and their share price fell by 20%. The value of the company fell by 95% since 2019. This news had been preceded by that of the company, Meatless Farm, who had supplied products to Pret, Byron Burger and Itsu but had gone into administration.
In my opinion, I also believe that the vegan movement has been the architect of its own downfall. High profile vegan charities have spent far too much time trying to convince the public of the alleged ‘horrors’ of animal farming and thus convert them to a plant-based diet when they should have been selling consumers the benefits of a vegan diet. Clearly, some people opt for a vegan or vegetarian diet because they don’t like the idea of killing animals for food but many of the recent converts were buying into the vegan dream not because they were disgusted by the fact that animals die during the process of farming, whether terrestrial or aquatic. Vegans don’t really care whether Mr Staniford goes onto a salmon farm uninvited and films inside a mort bin to highlight that some salmon have died prematurely. That is why Mr Staniford received so little support on his recent tour of Britian.
What is more surprising is that Mr Staniford appears to have also received so little support from the wild fish sector although they do tend to applaud his actions, at least on social media. However they tend to applaud anyone that stands up to salmon farming because they mistakenly blame salmon farming for the decline of wild fish stocks and sadly whilst they continue to focus their efforts on salmon farming, the wild stocks are heading further towards extinction because no-one is trying to address the real reasons the fish are in decline.
Salmon recovery: Kyst.no reports that Pål Mugaas, responsible for communications in Norway Salmon Rivers is convinced that the wild salmon population can recover. In 2021, the organisation, representing wild salmon managers put forward a solution that would transfer salmon farms from open cages to escape proof, lice free production units. He argues that fish farmers can experience strong growth if they switch to new technology. He says that Norway Salmon Rivers cannot see that anyone could object to such a win-win solution for both farmed salmon and wild salmon and they will continue to promote their ideas with any forward-thinking farming companies.
Unfortunately, Norway Salmon Rivers are so blinkered to the reality of what is happening to wild salmon they cannot see that this supposed win-win will actually turn out to be a lose-lose and most critically the biggest loss will be for wild salmon as their decline will continue unabated. This is for the simple reason that salmon farming is not the reason why wild fish are in such crisis.
Mr Mugaas continues his view by saying that the farming industry would be better served by finding solutions to the problems they create for wild salmon and not wasting energy denying them. Salmon farmers need not waste any such energy because I am more than happy to deny that the salmon farming sector is causing any significant problem for wild fish. The science is clear if anyone wanted to look at it. Unfortunately, the narrative against salmon farming is so entrenched after many long years, that continuing to repeat the message eventually means that many will believe it to be true.
It seems that the main evidence that Mr Mugaas uses to support his claims against salmon farmers are the annual reports from the Norwegian Scientific Councill for Salmon Management (VRL). Yet their reports appear extremely short on any evidence to support their claims, it is mostly conjecture based on the fact that salmon farms have been present during the decline of wild fish numbers and thus they must be connected. I have asked VRL to provide evidence and they have failed to do so. They also refuse to discuss the issue. In my opinion, if they are so convinced, they are right, they should have no problem defending their claims.
VRL appear to suggest that because anglers are allowed to catch and kill salmon by Royal Decree, they are. removed from the equation. I do not believe that angling is the main reason why fish stocks are now under threat but continuing to practice their sport is placing extra pressure on the declining stocks.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is Norwegian, Scottish or Icelandic anglers, not forgetting those on the other side of the Atlantic, the sad truth is that this focus on salmon farming is simply heralding a speedier decline of this iconic fish. Removing salmon farms from the seas, is not going to herald a recovery in wild salmon stocks.
Clean up: Norway Salmon Rivers clearly believe that the recent reports of poor wild salmon catches are reason to go on the attack against the salmon farming industry. After two reports in Kyst.No where they blame salmon farming for the declines in salmon numbers, they have written a commentary, together with others, in Intrafish.
They say that the price of continuing with the existing salmon farming industry will be paid by the coast. They say that there is a constant spread of lice, fish disease, pollution, and escapes. They say that the total emissions of nutrients from the farming industry are now five times greater than those of the coastal municipalities, agriculture and industry combined. Disease, lice, and genetic contamination from escaped fish also spread to wild salmon and wild cod. They wish to see that fjords are clean and rich in wild fish. They suggest that the salmon farming industry is shooting itself in the foot is they overrun the environment. Of course, those signing up to these comments know all about shooting and hooking fish since they include not just Norway Salmon Rivers but also the Norwegian Hunters and Fishermen’s Association.
In addition, The Norwegian Nature Conservancy, The Wild Salmon, Birdlife Norway and Nature & Youth have signed up to this commentary.
Together they propose that:
All salmon farms should be emissions and escape free.
The number of farmed fish should be reduced across all of Norway.
There should be more and larger farming free zones.
Cod farming should be put on hold until it can be made escape free,
Land based farms must be only developed on former industrial sites.
Animal welfare both inside and outside salmon farms must be a priority regardless of the technology used.
Of course, consideration of animal welfare doesn’t extend to the 51,767 wild salmon their members dragged round on the end of a hook and then killed together with the 18,826 fish they caught in 2023 and then returned to the rivers in a stressed and exhausted state,
However, the point that always makes me smile is their concern about wild cod. The genetic aspect of salmon farming was only raised because the wild fish sector claimed that the salmon in different rivers were genetically different and that escaped farmed salmon would destroy these unique lines. We know that such differences don’t exist because wild salmon naturally stray from river to river to ensure genetic mixing and the health of the gene pool. The idea that farmed salmon harm the genetics of wild salmon has now spilled over to cod as if the same ideas apply. The reality is that no one cares a jot about cod genetics and that any escaped farm cod would make no difference to the cod gene pool. It is simply that those who blame salmon farming for everything from the decline of wild salmon to undermining world peace have no concept about the claims they make other than they see it as a way of deflecting attention away from their own potentially harmful activities.
History: One of my readers has kindly sent me a copy of an article by retired solicitor Ewen Kennedy, recently pictured in the media as part of Don Staniford’s legal team. The article is dated from last year but has apparently re-emerged now on social media. It is the second part of an account of the history of fish farming in Scotland that was published in Bylines Scotland. It was sent to me because the comments on social media highlighted that it included quotes from the early days of salmon farming when even a government scientist warned about how it was killing fish.
Unfortunately, the article contains many errors such as the claim that Unilever decided in 1971 to grow salmon, which ignores the fact that the first smolts were put in the sea at Lochailort in 1967. The article continues that in the first year (1971) production totalled just 14 tonnes, despite the fact that it takes at least two years to reach harvest size.
However, I was more interested in reading the comments of the government scientist who warned of the damage salmon farming would incur on wild fish. Andrew Walker (of the Loch Maree sea trout paper fame) said “Roll forward in time to the end of the 1980s and we find a true West Highland sea trout stock collapse and an almost a total loss of the older multi-annual spawning sea trout, hitherto the specimen fish of the sea trout anglers. Not just the big fish were lost, but the overall catches plummeted. Further scale sampling in the Ewe System revealed a clear decline then sudden drop in sea trout marine growth and longevity”.
The article continues ‘Andrew and his colleagues became convinced that sea trout were a major factor in the collapse along the aquaculture cost which has resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs in wild fishing and boat management and destroyed a way of life.’
However, whilst Andrew and his colleagues may have convinced themselves that sea lice from salmon farms were to blame, they failed to provide a shred of evidence to support their conviction. Even, the often quoted ‘Butler and Walker’ paper failed to provide any direct evidence. Ten years later Dr Walker was commissioned by Salmon & Trout to write a report on the collapse but yet even with the benefit of further data, Dr Walker was unable to provide any direct evidence between sea lice and the decline of sea trout stocks (which predated the arrival of salmon farming by thirty years).
It doesn’t seem to matter how much is written about the interaction between sea lice and wild fish, what continues to be absent is any direct evidence that clearly links the two. It is now over fifty years since salmon farming arrived in Scotland, and yet there is still an absence of any such evidence.