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reLAKSation no 813

Too weak: Fishupdate report that the ‘Fish2a Week’ campaign is continuing apace but suggests that Seafish still has some work to do. A YouGov survey commissioned by Seafish prior to the launch of the campaign found that a surprising 72% of adults questioned still do not know that they should eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily fish. The survey also found that many adults were put off eating fish by its cost.

In fact, there are many reasons why consumers are deterred from buying fish, cost amongst them but we are not convinced that it is the overriding reason. After all, it is possible to buy a pack of two pollock (white fish) fillets or 2 mackerel (oily) fillets for less than £2 a pack. If consumers want to eat fish, they will find a way.

We, at Callander McDowell are not party to Seafish’s strategy to their ‘Fish2a Week’ campaign or where, and to who, it is targeted. We only know that we have not encountered reference to it during our regular travels around stores. We are looking forward to hearing what impact it has had on consumer awareness and more importantly consumer consumption. Has the campaign made the public start to buy fish or buy more of it?

Meanwhile what has caught our eye is the extended logo for ‘Fish2a Week’. This includes the message – ‘Feel the Difference, See the Change’. This is because, Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish and American Catch and whose new documentary for PBS – ‘The Fish on My Plate’ was recently broadcast (we hope to obtain a copy to review) embarked on a personal journey of eating fish and seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In all, he ate over 700 consecutive meals made from fish and seafood. He was aware that fish eating societies seem to have lower rates of the so-called Western diseases, such as heart disease. He had also heard that there was some evidence of higher cognition i.e. better test scores amongst certain populations. Paul simply wanted to see whether having fish as the central part of his diet would register some sort of effect either on his cardiac or mental health.

According to the Daily Mail, Paul was shocked by the results of comparative medical tests carried out at the end of his experiment. Despite the much-lauded benefits of the fish oils, his health was left ‘virtually the same. Unchanged.’

Paul had visited his doctor prior to starting his new diet. He wanted to see if his health niggles could be improved by changing his diet. His niggles include slightly elevated blood pressure, cholesterol issues, depression issues and sleep issues. He added that according to the omega 3 industry, these are all issues that could be fixed by fish oils.

By the end of his experiment, Paul found that the only differences were that his blood pressure had increased slightly, which he puts down to a higher salt intake and that he had increased detectable mercury.

Although the medical tests did not show much change, Paul did say to the TV channel that he felt better eating fish but he admits that fish meals tend to be accompanied by healthier sides such as broccoli instead of French fries. However, what he doesn’t say, at least in print, is how the diet affected his sleep and depression.

This is not the first time someone has opted to commit for an intensive diet change. Morgan Spurlock is famous for his ‘Supersize Me’ approach eating at McDonalds three times a day. Of course, his health suffered over the course of his experiment. By comparison, Paul’s seafood diet aimed to improve his health not damage it.

We, at Callander McDowell, are not surprised by the results because whilst the health food industry can stretch the claims they make, the reality is omega-3 have more to do with prevention than improvement. This means that a diet rich in omega-3 is unlikely to make the consumer feel better unless they were in a poor state of health to begin with. Even then as Paul discovered, it is a balanced diet together with a healthy lifestyle that will bring improvements. If a heathy diet and exercise are already part of the lifestyle than boosting omega-3 will not bring about any noticeable short term change. What it does do is to offer greater protection to the heart reducing the risk of heart attacks in later life etc.

This is why we wonder what Seafish mean when they say, ‘Feel the difference, See the change’? According to Fishupdate, Seafish have recruited a team of volunteers who will follow a 28-day meal plan and report back with their results. If Paul Greenberg didn’t feel different after eating fish and seafood for a year, what difference and change can be expected over a 28-day period. We shall be looking out for the results.



Salmon too: Whilst Paul Greenberg was gorging on omega-3 fatty acids to try to improve his health, it seems that farmed salmon may be suffering because they are not getting enough omega-3 in their feed.

Intrafish have highlighted the results of a new doctoral thesis by Marta Bou Mira of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences which show that salmon need omega-3 fatty acids in order to preserve good health. Marta studied the minimum levels of marine omega-3 fatty acids in the diet that will ensure that farmed salmon are healthy and growing well under several different environmental challenges and at different stages in the lifecycle.

The results suggest that the minimum requirement for these marine fatty acids may have been set too low to ensure that farmed salmon maintain a good health profile in the demanding environment of a salmon cage. Marta found that when at the lowest level, structural changes occurred in the bowel and spine although these levels were below that found currently in commercial feed. However, there is increasing pressure to replace these fatty acids in feeds due to high prices and the need to acquiesce to the demands of the environmental lobby.

In recent years, the environmental lobby have increasingly demanded that aquaculture producers minimise the amount of marine proteins and oils in fish diets in order to protect fish stocks in the oceans. We, at Callander McDowell, have previously argued that this could be to the detriment of the aquaculture industry and more importantly, the health and welfare of the fish.

We can understand the concern of the environmental lobby but at the same time, they seem highly selective about to whom they direct their concerns. For example, whilst aquaculture is a primary target, there is still widespread use of marine proteins and oils in the feeds for animals, especially the pet food sector. Why is acceptable for them to include marine products in their feeds but not the aquaculture industry?

The pressure to reduce the amount of marine products included in aquaculture feeds can mean that essential nutrients are reduced to minimal levels when in fact as this new research has shown, requirements can increase at different times in the production cycle especially during some of the essential processes of the farming cycle.

Fish welfare is much more important to the industry than the demands of the environmental sector.


Have a break: Long-time readers of reLAKSation might remember that we have previously highlighted discrepancies in the number of anglers estimated to be fishing for salmon in Ireland and the number of fishing licences sold. We were even mentioned in an Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) press release. We have now identified another discrepancy in one of their press releases, albeit with much smaller numbers.

The background is that IFI issued a press release this week stating that a ’new study finds that sea lice from salmon farms can cause a 50% reduction in runs of wild Atlantic salmon’.  This study was the result of research conducted by two of IFI’s own scientists and was welcomed by the IFI Board.

The press release begins by stating that: ‘30 years of data from the Erriff river in the West of Ireland to evaluate the effect of sea lice from salmon aquaculture on wild Atlantic salmon.’  By comparison, the abstract of the actual paper as published in Aquaculture Environment Interactions states: a 26-year record from the Erriff River was used to evaluate the contribution of sea lice from salmon aquaculture to declining returns of wild 1 sea winter salmon.’ A small discrepancy maybe but it is enough to pose the question as to the possibility of yet otherwise undiscovered discrepancies.

The IFI press release explains the basis of the research, which examined sea lice production from salmon farming in Killary harbour and its effect on the return of wild salmon to the Erriff river at the head of the harbour, in the following year. Results from this long-term study indicate that returns of wild adult salmon can be reduced by more than 50% in years following high lice levels on nearby salmon farms during the smolt out-migration.’ IFI say that this new study, authored by Dr Samuel Shephard and Dr Paddy Gargan from IFI is the first to clearly demonstrate significant losses of wild Atlantic salmon due to infestation with sea lice from salmon farms. This view was repeated in the Irish edition of the Times newspaper.

We, at Callander McDowell, have looked at the paper, which is open access (there is a link given in the press release which can be found on the IFI website) and we are struggling to see where it ‘clearly demonstrates’ that the Erriff river has significant losses of wild salmon due to infestation with sea lice from salmon farms. Instead, the findings seem to be based on theoretical statistical modelling. In fact, the abstract clearly states: ‘Statistical modelling suggested that returns were >50% lower following high lice levels on nearby salmon farms during the smolt out-migration.’ There is a big difference between a statistical model and the number of fish returning to the river. The authors say that their model produces ‘an estimate of how returns might have looked in the absence of serious aquaculture lice impact.’

Within the body of the paper there is a graph showing what look like real time series including one of (estimated) high lice numbers in the Killary salmon farm. What seems to be apparent from the 26-year time series is that lice numbers were high in only three of the years – 1991, 2006 and 2008. The rest of the series records low lice levels except in 2015 where levels were elevated but not as high as in the other three years. If the assumptions made in this study were correct and that high lice levels correlate with declining returns (and we cannot see where in this paper, that this is proven) then only three years of runs were compromised. Even the authors admit that there are factors impacting on the number of fish returning and they admit that their paper does not explain the greater declining trend.

In their press release, and repeated in the Times, IFI state that: ‘the River Erriff is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for Atlantic salmon’ and they quote Dr Gargan, who commented that increased mortality of wild salmon due to the impact of sea lice from salmon farming can result in salmon stocks not reaching spawning targets. He said it is therefore critical that sea lice are maintained at a very low level on farmed salmon in spring and if not, salmon should be harvested before the wild salmon smolt migration.

Given that the Erriff is a conservation zone, we do wonder that if Dr Gargan and IFI are so concerned about the mortality of wild salmon on the river, that the fishing is not mandatory catch and release. Fishery reports for the river last year indicate some fish were returned but fish are still being killed. Unlike the conclusions of this new paper, the evidence of mortality from angling is regularly displayed on the IFI website. Regular readers may remember that Dr Gargan had also been fishing on the Erriff and at the time we were unclear if he had returned or kept the salmon displayed because there appeared to be two versions of the photo; one of which showed the fish as tagged (dead) and the other not.

We recently came across another photo of Dr Gargan, this time in the Daily Mail. The photo appeared in relation to some new research in which he was involved. He had been consulted as to whether he could tell the difference between old recipe and new recipe KitKat chocolate wafer bar. Dr Gargan said that the bars ‘practically taste the same’. The research was videoed and can be seen on the Daily Mail’s website.

The results of this new research were that all eight people who tasted the bars noticed a difference. Six of the eight identified the new recipe (0.7g lower sugar) and five preferred it ( In our opinion, the results of the KitKat taste test are much easier to understand than those of the new paper co-authored by Dr Gargan and Dr Shephard.

We, at Callander McDowell, unlike IFI, are not so clear as to how the statistical modelling actually relates to what is happening in the river. We would happily give Dr Shephard or Dr Gargan the space to write a less scientific oriented account of their research detailing how they can be sure that sea lice from the farm are limiting the number of salmon returning to the river. This is something we think would be of interest to our readership.

Finally, we note that this work relates to 1 sea-winter fish. These fish are now the subject of much discussion as to why fewer are returning to rivers across the regions. This is a subject we will look at in a future issue of reLAKSation. Could it be that if fewer 1 sea-winter fish are not returning to the Erriff, this wider issue, rather than sea lice may be to blame?