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reLAKSation no 1171

Poor: The Atlantic Salmon Trust, the organisation which claims to campaign for salmon using an evidence-led approach, recently published a news story about the launch of a new podcast – The Last Salmon. They say this is hosted by renowned actor and AST ambassador Jim Murray and award-winning producer, author and flyfishing podcast host Daire Whelan.

The podcast will feature a star-studded guest list of salmon scientists, activists, and familiar household names including salmon scientists (Professor Ken Wheland, Professor Phil McGinnity, International activists (Alexandra Morton, Mikael Frodin) global entrepreneurs (Yvon Chouinard, Charles Clover) and household names (Paul Whitehouse, Dominic West and Matt Harris (another AST ambassador)).

Jim Murray said that “Atlantic salmon are not only the holy grail for any discerning angler, they are also a keystone species and a living barometer for the health of our rivers and oceans. The Last Salmon explores with fresh gusto the plethora of man-made challenges the silver King of Fish faces in arguably its final bid to find cold clean water before the species is lost forever.”

The aim is to provide an international 360o platform to the plight of wild Atlantic salmon.

Its interesting that the AST, with their evidence led approach, is promoting this podcase because it is clear from the guest list that the podcast will simply be an echo chamber of the preconceived idea that the demise of wild salmon is everyone’s fault except the anglers. Jim Murray even says wild salmon need anglers because without anglers there will be no wild fish. This reminds me of the idiom about Turkeys voting for Christmas.

Whilst the first episode was about the issue of salmon farming in Iceland, the hosts and guests appear to spend more time talking about the subject of salmon angling. This is not surprising since this is fundamentally what this podcast is about. The second episode very much continued the theme. I suspect that after angling, the most talked about subject will be salmon farming. Unfortunately, any discussions will be rather one sided since Mr Murray is not interested in hearing any other view than those who wish to see an end to salmon farming. They are unwilling to consider that they may have got the narrative wrong. Sadly, they have very little knowledge about salmon farming and farmed salmon other than from those who are equally uninformed.

The first episode of their podcast which was promoted as being about salmon farming in Iceland included the following exchange. It began with comments from podcast host Daire Whelan. He said that salmon farming was all about producing luxury type food, such as sushi for the middle-class who had an affectation for things that they don’t really need. In response, Jim Murray said:

“Just to counter that you now have got salmon as food for the poor. Certainly, in the UK people who can’t afford protein – (salmon) is now the cheapest form of protein (available). You can go into a supermarket and spend a couple of quid on one of the shittier salmon fillets – but if you have a family of six – living on top of each other in social housing then that goes a long way to get your protein.

He added that because of the marketing behind it, it’s cheap protein. He then continued in response to Mr Whelan that:

“You’re probably right, the lions share is the sushi of the world and the smoked salmon and all that nonsense, but sadly they have got a big market in the poorer people, which is a tough one to unsell. It’s like cheap beef mince. British farmers can’t compete with imported beef because of the way its farmed for example in South America, where we get a lot of our beef from.  Ethically we would never get away with it here. It wouldn’t pass muster. People buy that cr-p instead of the good stuff and it is the same with salmon.”

I suspect that Mr Murray is as much as an authority of farming practices as he is the market. It would be interesting to ask Mr Murray to explain his interpretation of the market and provide examples of poor people that are able to share a single fillet of cheap salmon, whether it is considered sh-tty or not, in order to sustain the protein element of their diet. I can only wonder when Mr Murray last went into a supermarket and bought any protein.

As he referred to cheap beef mince, which he said was most likely imported from South America, I would like to first compare the price of protein using discount store prices which in this case is Aldi.

Aldi 20% fat mince 500g £2.49 = £4.98/kg

Aldi diced beef 700g £6.49 = £9.27/kg


Aldi Ashfields pork chops approx 750g £3.29 = £4.39/kg

Aldi Ashfields pork loin steaks 480g £2.69 = £5.60/kg


Aldi Ashfields chicken breast fillets 650g £4.49 = £6.91/kg

Aldi Ashfields chicken drum fillets 600g £2.79 = £4.65/kg

Aldi Ashfields chicken drumsticks 1kg £1.99 = £1.99/kg

Aldi Ashfields chicken wings 1kg £1.99 = £1.99/kg


Despite Mr Murray’s assertion about imported beef, all of Aldi’s beef, pork and chicken is grown in Britain. Like Mr Murray, I am fortunate that I don’t have to watch every penny and make difficult choices of the food I buy but sadly his view of poverty in Britain is extremely blinkered in that not everyone who has to make difficult choices has large families and lives in social housing. Even people who work full time in lower paid jobs can find the daily task of making choices extremely difficult.   However, a pack of mince and a few vegetables together with pasta or rice can make a filling dish that might even stretch into a second day. The mince works out at just under £5/kg. Buying mince with less fat, pushes the price up but it is better value in terms of protein. Pork chops are well under £5/kg as are chicken drum fillets. But one kilo of wings or drumsticks for under £2 is great value despite the fact that the cost includes bones.

When compared with fish, the meat and poultry is much cheaper. Imported farmed catfish is price matched against imported wild caught Alaska pollock, but these are priced at just under £8/kg. The cheapest salmon cuts are well over double the cost of all the other proteins. Standard salmon fillets are over three times the price and neither of these are necessarily produced in the UK but could be imported from Norway.

Aldi Fishmonger basa filets 250g £1.99 = £7.96/kg

Aldi Essential whitefish fillets 250g £1.99 = £7.96/kg

Aldi Essentials boneless salmon pieces 250g £2.85 £11.40/kg

Aldi Fishmonger salmon fillets 240g £3.79 = £15.79/kg

Mr Murray could buy wild pink salmon from the freezer cabinet at nearly double the cost of the meat and poultry or frozen whitefish for half the cost of chilled whitefish but anyone wanting to save money buying fish could go for the breaded whitefish fillets or the fish fingers with the latter costing £3.20/kg including the breaded coating.

Aldi Fishmonger wild pink salmon fillets 400g £3.65 = £9.13/kg

Aldi Essentials white fish fillets 520g £2.49 = £4.79/kg

Aldi Essentials breaded white fish fillets 500g £2.35 = £4.70/kg

Aldi Essentials fish fingers 250g 80p = £3.20/kg

Clearly, it doesn’t take anyone with any sense of cost and value to realise that anyone counting the pennies would not buy salmon even in the cheapest forms available. In my opinion, Mr Murray has no concept of reality. His view of the salmon market is formed by his perception of salmon farming. Sadly, he is very wrong on both counts.

I, for one, would be very happy to appear on his podcast, but like all the other podcasts before this their passionate fishing hosts don’t want to hear anything that might suggest that they may be wrong.

What is of more concern is that the Atlantic Salmon Trust is happy to have Mr Murray as an ambassador helping them reach their aims. If anyone was hopeful that the AST might have more sense and that they are willing to have a serious evidence based scientific discussion about salmon farming, then they will be extremely disappointed. The AST are still very much a salmon anglers organisation at heart.


Another non-story: The Herald newspaper published an article claiming that more fish are dying on Scottish salmon farms than is often mentioned in the published data. Yet when it comes to the nub of the story, campaigning groups Free Salmon and Coastal Communities Network, are unable to substantiate their claim. They accept that the mortality figures published by the regulator SEPA are correct, so it seems that no more fish are dying than the numbers that are published. This is such a non-story, but they use any excuse to ensure negative stories about salmon farming appear in the press.

Just in case anyone reading this commentary wonders what the story is about then John Aitchison of CCN and the so-called campaigning group Free Salmon who is actually just one aggrieved angler who seems now to want to remain anonymous, claim that the mortality data published by the Fish Health Inspectorate doesn’t include every fish and rather unsurprisingly, it doesn’t. I say unsurprisingly, because as a government spokesperson highlighted that data collected by SEPA and FHI are intended for different purposes using different measures, so it is inappropriate to seek to compare these directly.  Yet the journalist who wrote that article says that she often refers to FHI data when discussing mortalities. Sadly, too many journalists just seek a negative story about salmon farming and don’t bother to seek accurate data. If this journalist is using the ‘wrong’ data, then that is not anyone’s fault but her own.

John Aitchison says that there is a big discrepancy between the data sets which made him think that there is something funny going on. He’s right, there is something funny going on and that is NIMBY organisations such as his own are looking for any excuse to attack salmon farming. It might be thought that by now he should know everything there is to know about salmon farming, but it seems he still knows very little. This is why a recent CCN complaint to Environmental Standards Scotland in conjunction with Wild Fish is doomed to fail. They argue that SEPA may have broken a range of legal obligations by failing to put in place ‘proper controls’ to protect wild salmon and sea trout from sea lice emanating from fish farms. Sadly, neither group are concerned about protecting the wild fish from anglers who are still catching and killing the fish in rivers that are adjacent to salmon farms.

What is interesting is that regular readers of reLAKSation may remember that I wrote about discrepancies between the rod catch data published by Fisheries Management Scotland in their annual review and the official Scottish Government catch data. Both supposedly receive the data form the same source, the local salmon fishery boards who in turn obtain it from the various river proprietors.

There was a considerable difference between the rod catch data of selected rivers from the FMS annual review and numbers published by the Scottish Government with the numbers reported by FMS being higher than those in the official data. Sadly, rather than investigate the reasons for the differences, FMS opted to stop publishing the data in their annual review. This was so that I could no longer draw any comparisons and thus the possibility of such differences was no longer an issue.

Yet, all that FMS ‘s action has done is hammer another nail into the coffin of wild salmon. If we cannot trust the catch data, then any assessment of stock is meaningless. However, as safeguarding salmon fisheries appear to be more of a priority than safeguarding wild salmon in the Wild Salmon Strategy then it doesn’t really matter how many wild fish there are in Scottish rivers. As long as there is still one left, then the wild fish sector still has a reason to go fishing.