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reLAKSation no 1175

Rural Affairs and Islands Committee:  A letter has been published on the RAIC Committee website addressed to Mark Bilsby of the Atlantic Salmon Trust saying that the committee has recently agreed to embark on an inquiry into the implementation of the recommendations made during the previous inquiry from 2018 and they would welcome written views from the AST to help inform its scrutiny. They were given three weeks to respond. I hope the AST speed up their communication because they promised to respond to my enquires over a year ago and I am still waiting.

It appears that RAIC have decided to pursue yet another inquiry with evidence sessions from NGOs, Aquaculture Scientists, SEPA, Licencing, Salmon Interactions Working Group, and then finally from the salmon farming industry linked to a visit to a salmon farm. The sessions run from the beginning of June to the beginning of October.

The programme is a bit of a puzzle since clearly it would make more sense if the committee went to visit a salmon farm at the beginning of the inquiry so they would then be able to relate what they hear in evidence to what they have seen. Undoubtedly, having a first session that involves NGOs means that the committee will begin their inquiry with a very negative narrative about all the usual complaints.

Yet, in my experience, the NGOs refuse to discuss the issues with the industry including myself and thus like the science, their whole narrative to the committee will be flawed and there will be no-one present to refute what they say.

Unfortunately, it seems that this inquiry will be another compartmentalised consideration of the salmon farming industry when really what is needed is for those with an interest to sit down around the same table and discuss the issues together.

I will no doubt be writing about this inquiry throughout the summer and into autumn.


Red Light for scientists: As regular readers will be aware; I have been discussing my recent analysis of the NALO sea lice data as used in the Norwegian Traffic Light assessment. The report can be read at

I have sent my analysis to over thirty Norwegian scientists, all of whom are involved in some way in the sea lice assessment. Interestingly only one of these scientists has acknowledged receipt or the existence of my work, however I am not surprised the number is so low. The scientific community (and not just in Norway) appear extremely reluctant to enter into any discussion about the impacts of sea lice on wild fish, especially in relation to how such parasites behave. I can only presume the reason for this reluctance is that most of these scientists are not just helping in the assessment but also involved in the underlying research. Any acknowledgement that the narrative might be wrong would also imply that their research is also wrong. I have heard that when Scottish scientists look to Norway for confirmation of the science, they refer to a source of over190 separate scientific research papers. If the basic narrative is wrong, then there could be a significant question mark hanging over all these scientific papers. I would have expected researchers to happily defend their work rather than build this wall of silence, but silence is what I have got.

The problem with the Traffic Light System is not only is there such an unwillingness to discuss the science but that the assessment is reliant on these scientists, who clearly have a vested interest in pursuing the established narrative.  It is interesting that there is not even one scientifically qualified representative from the salmon farming industry on any of the groups involved in the assessment. It is 100% science based and as I have pointed out more than once the science is wrong.

Last year, I wrote about a commentary issued by the Institute of Marine Research, which was interesting not least because it was co-authored by the Institute’s director and not just specialist scientists. The commentary said that if salmon farmers want to increase production in the north of Norway, then they need to learn from the mistakes of farmers in the western counties. From my perspective, it was not the farmers in the west that had made any mistakes but rather the IMR scientists who were wrong. The commentary continued that the solution to sea lice is simple – at least in theory- the use of good models that identify infestation pressure between salmon farms and the wild fish. Using these models, IMR were in a position to advise which farms should be closed to reduce infestation pressure or whether farms should be encouraged to use technology to reduce lice.

All the models used to predict sea lice infestation are basically the same and have developed from the same narrative. Clouds of infectious sea lice larvae are released from salmon farms to drift with the wind and currents down through the fjords until they encounter a wild salmon or sea trout, on which they can settle.

Unfortunately, there is a major flaw in the narrative. Whilst the models can predict the spread of the larvae away from salmon farms, no-one has actually managed to actually physically locate these clouds of lice in the water column. As far back as 1997, attempts by IMR researchers to locate these lice failed. The abstract of a paper by Karrin Boxaspen from IMR begins “Surveys in the area around Austevoll Aquaculture Research station have failed to reveal the presence of a large number of the free-swimming stages of salmon lice in the water column”. Karin Boxaspen is now IMR deputy Director General and also is one of three members of the Traffic Light management group.

It is now about twenty-seven years since this paper was published. Surely, it should not be in the realms of current science that these clouds of sea lice can be identified along the predicted dispersal track within the water column. There has been so much other work undertaken in Norway, yet this basic and fundamental question remains unanswered. If no large numbers of lice can be found in the fjords, then is the model valid? Alternatively, Is it just what should be expected to fit the established narrative so they must be there, even if they cannot be found.

Certainly, the scientists who undertook a much more recent search in Scotland as part of the SPILLS project had difficulty in catching the 20 lice larvae that they actually did find. Their report says that just because they didn’t locate the large numbers of lice that were expected didn’t mean that they were not there. I would argue the opposite. They didn’t find any lice exactly because they are not there. The dispersal model is simply that; a model, and as a model it is not a true reflection of what happens in the fjords and lochs around Norwegian and Scottish salmon farms.

Back in 1994, a group of researchers from Ireland also looked for larval sea lice in the water column and couldn’t find any. One of the researchers suggested that the logical approach would be to start where they knew where there were lice and then follow them from there. They began their sampling within a salmon farm and then gradually moved away sampling as they went. Within 1 km of the farm, lice levels, which were highest around the farm, had dropped to almost zero.

It is therefore not surprising that over the years various researchers have been unable to detect clouds of sea lice in the waters of Norwegian fjords and Scottish lochs. Any larval lice that are dispersed from a salmon farm are so dilute within a kilometre that they are largely undetectable. This research paper (and there are others) invalidates the whole concept of lice dispersal by wind and currents that has been adopted by a range of models that have been applied to salmon farm regulation. The latest to join this group is that produced by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency that is supposed to protect wild salmon from Scottish salmon farms but is just as pointless as the rest of the models including those used in the assessment of the Traffic Light System. I have repeated many times, that if the scientists who say that salmon farming is damaging to wild salmon are so confident about their science, they should have no problems standing up to defend it. I can only conclude that the wall of silence that emanates from the various research organisations means that they are not confident in defending their science against the truth. Alternatively, if the truth is wrong, then they should have no problem in demonstrating that too.


Etneelva: The Institute of Marine Research have posed a question on their website. What do a German, a Spaniard, a Finn and a Brazilian have in common. The answer is that they all have a direct stream to an underwater camera fixed in the river Etne. IMR are delighted that the images of salmon returning to the river has attracted viewers from around the world. They say that the migration of salmon and sea trout has fascinated people since the Stone Age (I am not sure how they know) so it is exciting for anglers and natures enthusiasts, regardless of where they live to be able to follow part of this journey. The live stream can be viewed at

The river Etne is part of a major monitoring programme as all fish returning to the river must enter a trap from which the fish are sampled for a variety of data. Researchers are looking for escaped farmed salmon, wild salmon, wild sea trout and the effects of sea lice on returning fish. Escaped farmed salmon and pink salmon are killed whilst any other fish are returned to the river to complete their journey.

The first salmon of 2024 was caught on May 1st and weighed 3.5 kg. Data from previous years suggest that the older and larger fish return first with smaller fish arriving much later. Data from 2023 indicates that it was a poor year for wild fish in the Etne with 1095 salmon and 1543 sea trout returning, The reports from IMR appear to focus on the numbers of escaped salmon in the river arguing that if these fish spawn with wild fish than the offspring will not be as robust. Although they don’t say it outright the implication is that these escaped salmon may be the reason why numbers of wild fish are down on previous years.

I have entered the numbers of wild fish returning to the river since 2019 into the following table (IMR only give a total for 2019).

I always find it puzzling that those researching wild fish in salmon rivers, regardless of whether it is in Norway or Scotland appear to focus on only part of the story. In this example, it is escaped salmon that are highlighted even though in 2023, the number was just 23. In addition, much is made of the allegedly weaker genetics from wild farmed crosses, ignoring Darwin’s natural selection. If wild farmed salmon crosses are genetically weak, they won’t survive. Of course, no-one wants to see any farm lose any fish, but those promoting wild fish tend to focus on this aspect of wild fish survival rather than look at the whole picture.

In the case of the Etne, I find that IMR make no mention of the exploitation in the river. In 2023, 1095 salmon entered the river but 212 were slaughtered (using Statistics Norway’s wording) by anglers with only 25 fish returned. In 2022, 4063 fish returned but 453 salmon and 123 sea trout met their end at the hands of anglers.

Since records began in 1993, 15604 salmon and 7431 sea trout have been killed for sport whilst a further 800 salmon and 1275 sea trout have been returned.

It seems rather remiss to omit parts of the story if the intention is to study wild fish in any river. In the four years recorded in the table, 139 escaped salmon have been preventing from breeding, although most probably would not. By comparison anglers have prevented 1383 wild salmon from breeding by the simple act of killing them. If researchers want to know why 2023 was a weak year for salmon than maybe they ask the anglers rather than highlight escapees.