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reLAKSation no 1148

Question:  I have a question for Rachel Mulrenan, Director at Wild Fish, which perhaps one of the readers of reLAKSation might like to pose to her, given that she won’t reply to any communication from me. Given that the stated mission of Wild Fish, according to their website, is to reverse the decline of wild fish populations, how will this be achieved by submitting a legal complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over the use of the word ‘sustainable’ by the Scottish salmon farming industry?

The Herald newspaper has reported that Wild Fish have joined with the Coastal Communities Network to lodge this complaint. If the CMA should decide in Wild Fish’s favour and the salmon farming industry cannot claim their fish are produced sustainably, how is this going to reverse the decline of wild salmon?

Wild Fish in Scotland have pursued the salmon farming industry for as long as I can remember over claims that salmon farming is responsible for the decline of wild fish. During these many years, Wild Fish have done absolutely nothing else that might even be considered as safeguarding the future of these iconic fish. In fact, the reality is very different.

The Herald says that Wild Fish say that the use of the word sustainable is ‘greenwashing’ something about which Wild Fish should be considered experts. They have changed their name from the Salmon & Trout Association, a representative group for salmon anglers to Salmon & Trout Conservation – a representative group for anglers that claims to be interested in fish conservation despite their membership continuing to kill them for sport to Wild Fish (Conservation), a representative group for salmon anglers that is trying to hide the fact that they are a representative group for anglers.

Wild Fish’s chief executive made it perfectly clear on a podcast that the latest name change was to try to diversify their current older-age group salmon angler membership. If these name changes are not a clear case of greenwashing, then I don’t know what is.

This latest effort by Wild Fish reminds me of a group of children stamping their feet in anger because they can’t get their own way. What is this action hoping to achieve because the one thing it won’t do is protect wild fish for the future. Perhaps Rachel should come out and condemn the killing of any wild fish for sport as one way of helping protect wild salmon but this she can’t do because her members are the exact group who are killing these fish.

Rachel Mulrenan lists a range of issues which she claims are not compatible with sustainable salmon production. If she is so convinced that she is right, then she should have the courage of her conviction and accept an offer to debate the issues at a public meeting. I would be more than happy to debate the issues with her face to face. However, I suspect that like her predecessor before her, Wild Fish’s Scottish Director will not even respond to such an invitation.


Flooded: The Times newspaper has also reported on the consequences of Storm Babet with flooding occurring in the town of Brechin when the river South Esk overflowed. Some homes are now uninhabitable and may be so for some months to come.

The flooding, which has received a great deal of national coverage, is now the subject of major debate within the town. This is because the increased flow overwhelmed the flow walls installed seven years ago as a part of a £16 million protection scheme. Residents, whose houses have been flooded, now want a 150-metre-long gravel bank dredged out so any excess water flows away quicker. The gravel bank in question is just downstream of the town.

This will prove to be an extremely contentious proposal because the gravel bank is said to be used by spawning salmon. However, in recent years, the bank has grown in size and residents suggest that its presence contributed to the flooding. They argue that any environmental concerns for the salmon should be put aside to ensure that the river does not burst its banks again.

The debate is made more complicated because the river South Esk is listed as a Special Area of Conservation with salmon being a primary qualifying species. Yet, despite being a river warranting such special protection, it seems that the wild salmon in the river are not afforded such protection. Since 2000, anglers have caught and killed 8,126 salmon from the river, all fish that might have laid their eggs on this gravel bank but were prevented from doing so. Presumably as there are fewer fish in the river, the removal of one gravel bank will make little difference in protecting wild salmon stocks in the future.

Interestingly the Times did not manage to obtain the views of anyone from the wild salmon sector and none of the representative wild fish organisations appear to have made any comment. Certainly, Wild Fish are too busy attacking salmon farming to bother about such minor issues as a 150-metre-long gravel bed.  The local councillor said that local people want the gravel bed taken away to protect their houses. I wait to see whether protection of homes will take precedence over the protection of wild salmon or vice versa.


Contract: The Scottish Government’s Marine Directorate have invited the submission of tenders for a research project titled ‘The Value of Wild Salmon in Scotland’. The intention is to provide a robust estimate of the social and economic contribution of salmon fishing and the presence of salmon in Scotland. The contract is worth £80,000.

However, at the current rate of decline of wild salmon, it won’t be that long before the value of this contract is worth more than the value of any remaining salmon fishing in Scotland.

In 2017, a similar study conducted by PACEC estimated the value of salmon fishing at £135 million but this was based on 2014 catches of 62,953 fish although some netting was included.

In 2021, the catch was 35,693 fish, a decline of 43% since 2014, A similar decline in value would equate to just £77 million a year.

The problem is that whatever figure is calculated, it is just an estimate. The wild fish sector is so secretive about incomes that any real figure is beyond the capability of the most expert researcher. If it is impossible to uncover how many fish are caught in any fisheries, it will certainly be even harder to learn how much income was generated.

Whatever figure is eventually published, it is likely that it is heading in just one direction.  Angling depends on the presence of wild salmon and this appears increasing unlikely.


Banned: The Scottish Mail on Sunday has revealed that a salmon activist has been banned from going within 50 feet of dozens of fish farms. I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores or the rights or wrongs of the court case against Donald C. Staniford but rather what I found of interest was the last paragraph of the newspaper article. Mr Staniford said that ‘people would be horrified if they knew what really goes on (on salmon farms) adding that ‘I am just trying to inform people’.

I might have been involved in the aquaculture sector for more years than I care to remember but I am also a member of the public who is interested in food and cares about where his food comes from and how it is produced. I have followed Mr Stanford’s activities over the years and his accounts of what goes on at salmon farms are all rather vague. However, they appear to be highly inflated when he talks to the press. When the hype is removed it seems that what is left does not hold much water. In fact, the Mail of Sunday says that it is his pictures of diseased fish have been widely reproduced in news reports questioning the welfare standards of farms. Sadly, it is not the welfare standards that need to be questioned but rather Mr Staniford’s understanding of the pictures he takes.

I used an analogy to explain what I meant in a recent discussion about this news story. I suggested that if a visiting alien spacecraft took one human back to their home as an example of the dominant life on earth and that human was the TV personality Richard Osman then the aliens would get a very misleading picture of humankind. Mr Osman is 6ft 7in (2.01 metres) tall and towers above most of his fellow humans. He is certainly not representative of humankind.

In much the same way, when Mr Staniford kayaks out to a salmon farm in the stillness of dawn and sticks his go-pro camera into the pen, he might catch a couple of images of a diseased and damaged fish. If he returned four hours later, I would challenge him to obtain a similar photo. This is because the few photos of diseased and damaged fish that he hawks to the mainstream media are not representative of the general population of fish in the net pens. Of course, no farmer wants to see such fish, but they are extremely difficult to remove without upsetting the whole stock.

In any type of farming, there are always a few animals that succumb to disease. That is part and parcel of the farming cycle. I have written previously of the book by Bella Bathurst in which she details the work of the knacker man.

Mr Staniford is only a relatively recent convert to visiting salmon pens. He was not the first and he only copied the actions of others. Prior to that, his signature approach was to break open and photograph bins containing mortalities. Again, he made out much more of these photographs that they merited. He skulked round shore bases when no one was around.

Other than promote photos and videos of a few diseased and damaged fish, what has Mr Staniford offered the public that would horrify them? I am not sure. Those now offering the most support to Mr Staniford appear to come from the vegan fraternity. Of course, anything salmon farmers would do would horrify vegans, but they are just as unrepresentative of the public as Richard Osman.

Commenting on the Mail on Sunday article on X, AFF the Clyde (Against Fish Farming around the Clyde) wrote ‘so what has the Scottish fish farm industry got to hide?’ The answer is simple – nothing. Scottish salmon farming is one of the most transparent industries in the UK. The question is does any member of the public, whether an activist or not, have the right to access the premises of any business in the UK without permission. I very much doubt that Mr Staniford would be best pleased if bus loads of salmon farm workers entered his garden and went through his bins and videoed what they found. If Mr Staniford believes that he has every right to do so, why does he visit salmon farms at dawn when no-one is there and not during the working day?

I have always believed that if anyone has a complaint against the industry then the best way to address the issues is to meet face to face and have a proper discussion. As I have regularly pointed out, all salmon farming critics appear extremely reluctant to engage in any direct contact, let alone actually enter into a discussion of the issues.

AFF the Clyde are members of the Coastal Communities Network and my own experience of offering to speak to them was rejected out of hand. They simply don’t want to hear the truth as it would undermine the basis of their criticism.

As well as being a latecomer to the invasion of salmon pens, Mr Staniford also has jumped onto the Wild Fish (formerly Salmon & Trout Conservation) bandwagon in using mortality as a way of deterring the public from buying salmon. However, it is ironic that Wild Fish criticise salmon mortality because the angling sector that they represent have been in the past responsible for high levels of mortality in the wild fish population. Yet, the blame for higher-than-normal mortality of farmed fish can be laid directly as the door of the angling fraternity.

The main reason why so many farmed salmon have prematurely died is simply down to unnecessary treatment for sea lice which has stressed the fish and made them susceptible to secondary infections etc. The angling sector as well as many members of the scientific community have failed to understand how sea lice infest fish. As a consequence, they have lobbied for farms to be made to manage sea lice at very low levels in the hope of preventing infestations of wild fish but as SEPA made it clear to the REC committee in 2020, sea lice from salmon farms are not responsible for the decline of wild fish stocks. The repeated treatments to keep sea lice at these low levels are causing the unnecessary deaths of farmed salmon. Of course, if sea lice levels were relaxed, the angling sector would have nothing to complain about.


Farmed: The lack of knowledge of salmon farming as well as wider food production was apparent again in the Times newspaper with the headline that ‘Scottish salmon producers want ‘farmed’ taken off labels.’ The article claims that Scottish fish producers are trying to have the word ‘farmed’ removed from their salmon packaging in a move that campaigners say will mislead customers.

Actually, this is just another example of campaigners misleading the public. The Scottish industry applied to amend their Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) for farmed salmon. This does not affect the labelling of salmon in stores in any way. Labelling legislation states that fish should be labelled with the method of production and the geographic area from where it was farmed or caught. This remains unchanged.

In total, there are 5,355 food and drink products in the UK with a protected name. Protected names are exactly that, products whose names are protected. In the case of salmon, it means that it is impossible to label a product as Scottish salmon – farmed in Norway. The protected name is not a marketing tool it is protection. Any changes do not affect or mislead consumers.

This is just another example of campaigners using any excuse they can to try to undermine the salmon farming sector.