reLAKSation no 826

Unlabelled: Seafood report that environmentalists in Canada are angry that GM salmon are being marketed in the country without warning labels and are urging any supermarkets selling the fish to withdraw them. They say that Canadian consumers are becoming guinea pigs for GM salmon after AquaBounty announced that they had sold five tonnes of fillets after receiving the green light from the relevant health authorities.

AquaBounty have not disclosed to who they sold the salmon or for what purpose, so according to the environmentalists, only AquaBounty know where the fish are in the food chain. According to Undercurrent News, the company said that they have revenues of $53,278 for the period which means that if that comes from just these fillets they were sold at $10.66/kg or $4.85/lb. As a rough guide, Chilean salmon fillets are selling around $6.35/lb suggesting that this GM salmon is being sold cheaply just so they can offload it.

The assumption seems to be that it was bought and passed on to a supermarket but the reality is that this is extremely unlikely. Most retailers have strict controls in place as to the source of the fish they buy. It’s more likely that the fish have been bought for processing or into the food service sector. It’s even possible that it might not have gone into the human food chain.

It would seem unlikely that unless the fillets are labelled properly, AquaBounty will never get a competitive price for their fish. It’s still a very big step from a one-off sale of five tonnes to supplying regularly to mainstream markets.


Making a mark: In these days when news stories relate to major seafood companies with multi-million-pound turnovers, it was heartening to read the story of former copywriter Mark White who has forged a unique meat and seafood business delivering produce by travelling around London’s underground.

The Evening Standard tells his story in which he was made redundant form his job in advertising and has accidently become a personal food shopper, not only to home cooks but also to some well-known London restaurant owners. His unlikely business started after a restaurant owner friend asked him to help move boxes around the markets at 3 am in the morning. Eventually, Mark began visiting the markets on his own after seeing that some fishmongers were selling fish sold at Billingsgate for double the price. One day he bought £20 worth of sausages from Smithfield market and sold them for £35. He went back the following week and after seven years has developed a unique business.

A couple of nights a week, he jumps into a zip Car and travels to Smithfield and Billingsgate markets picking up some choice offerings. He used to text his purchases to potential customers, although now sends out a mailing on Mailchimp or through social media and receives orders by return. These are delivered to customers by travelling round the underground. He later retreats to the Star & Garter pub in Soho for a few drinks and from where the remaining customers can collect their orders. He is left with no stocks so keeping his overheads extremely low.

His clients include home cooks, supper club hosts, caterers and restaurant chefs. He will either pick up what they want or will offer whatever produce he thinks is best. He says that they know that he will buy it, deliver it and even tell them how to cook it.

We think that Mark’s story is a refreshing change from the corporate seafood sector about which we hear most. He should be applauded for his initiative.


Wild & Awesome: In the last issue of reLAKSation, we discussed how cooperation between wild fishers and salmon farmers on a west coast river has led to significantly improved catches and that such collaboration was perceived to be the way that both industries could co-exist in harmony. Fish Farming Expert reports that the organisers of the forthcoming Scotland’s Salmon Festival hope that any enmity can be put to one side for the greater good of the salmon.

The aim of the festival is to raise awareness of the Atlantic salmon, its lifecycle, cultural and economic importance and the pressures that it currently faces. The festival should bring together a range of interest from across the wild fisheries and aquaculture sectors, promoting constructive engagement and developing mutual understanding. The organisers hope that Scotland’s Salmon Festival will further encourage cooperation between scientists, the farming industry, Government and the wild fisheries sector.

We, at Callander McDowell, certainly welcome any efforts to improve dialogue and cooperation between farmers and anglers, but unfortunately, we don’t see this happening at Scotland’s Salmon Festival and this is not only a pity but also a missed opportunity.

The Festival consists of a two-day salmon conference, an evening of public lectures, a film night, a fair and a Speycasting competition. The only contribution to this programme from aquaculture is one solitary presentation in the conference and a cookery demonstration at the fair. We are not sure how these will encourage cooperation between the sectors, because the event is in effect a get-together for scientists from the wild sector with a casting competition. It’s not even really a celebration of Scottish salmon, but it could have been.

Scotland’s Salmon Festival has an envisioned aim of encouraging cooperation. By comparison, the editor’s letter in the latest issue of Trout and Salmon magazine is the exact opposite. The editor writes that the truth is that any talk with the salmon farming industry has gained nothing and he hopes that the wild fish sector appreciates that now is not the time for compromise or entering into cosy dialogue.

The editor arrives at this view because he says that ten years of dialogue through the Tripartite Working Group achieved nothing for the wild fish sector, yet, he says, over this time, stocks of wild salmon and sea trout have continued to plummet as juveniles are decimated, supposedly by sea lice from salmon farms.

He also points to a more recent forum – Interaction Meetings, from which the wild sector withdrew in 2016 because the salmon farming industry failed to acknowledge that there is a problem. Instead, the editor aligns with the view of Salmon & Trout Conservation (formerly the Salmon & Trout Association) who have opposed any such dialogue, as we, at Callander McDowell are well aware. The S&TC’s Andrew Graham Stewart has rebuffed every attempt we have made to meet and chat.

We should have not been surprised. Many years ago, we were approached by a salmon company, who were fed up with the lack of progress towards cooperation, and asked if we could sound out S&TA (UK) to see if a new forum could be established outside the official industry and Government representative bodies. It was proposed that this new forum would start with a blank sheet of paper, putting aside any preconceptions and prejudices. Sadly, S&TA came back with a list of preconditions which included an immediate demand for an admission that salmon farming was responsible for destroying wild fish stocks. Of course, that was the end of that initiative.

The editor of Trout and Salmon says that instead of dialogue, ST&C have relentlessly and forensically exposed the damage that the salmon farming industry has caused to wild salmon and sea trout. However, we, at Callander McDowell are not convinced they have. This is why we would like to talk to them to obtain their view on our research into fared and wild fish interactions. Unfortunately, their strategy of not engaging in dialogue means that their views cannot be challenged or our views be debated. They just progress with a relentless media based campaign trying to promote their view.

Trout and Salmon magazine says that their damning revelations in the media result in ever more desperate responses vainly defending the indefensible from the industry representative body, which seems to believe that it has a divine right to trash the environment. We are not part of the industry representative body but we are happy to continue to defend the industry because the damning revelations appear to show signs of ever further desperation.

The latest in Salmon & Trout Conservation’s media campaign that the editor of Trout and Salmon so welcomes is detailed on the BBC News website. They report that there has been a call for action over the ‘unprecedented collapse’ of the salmon run in Argyll. We, at Callander McDowell, would usually comment on the story as reported but the BBC have confused the salmon catch and the salmon count and therefore we have opted to obtain a copy of the original press release as issued by Andrew Graham Stewart of Salmon & Trout Conservation. This was not as easy as it seems as we are blocked from all their communications however, we prefer to comment on the numbers they quote to avoid being accused of manipulating the figures.

The news story is based on the fish counter in the River Awe. S&TC say that the River Awe is a short river emptying out of Loch Awe, Scotland’s longest loch. A hydro-electric dam is situated at the head of loch and this is fitted with a fish lift and a counter. The water flow is such that fish can swim through on any day of the year. This gives a full river count of the fish. Last year, 807 fish were counted through the dam and this number was slightly above the all-time lowest count. The S&TC say that this year the count of about a third of that in 2016. They say that if the number of fish continue at a similar rate, the number will struggle to reach 400. This would be the lowest count of returning salmon to the biggest river in the South-West Highlands since the counter began in 1965.

Before we crunch any numbers or look at what might be happening in the Awe, it is worth pointing out that it is now only just August and it is still has some time until the end of the season at the end of October. There could still be a significant late run of fish or there might not be. Either way, S&TC are being a bit premature in their warning of an imminent stock collapse. There are also plenty of examples where catches have been extremely poor one year but followed by a really good year. A single year’s data is not really indicative of what is happening in the fishery. It is only a potential guide rather than a firm warning.

Regardless, Andrew Graham Stewart says that this unprecedented collapse of salmon in the South-West Highlands underlines the failure of the Scottish Government to protect wild fish from the catastrophically negative impact of salmon farming. He continues that since the arrival of salmon farming numbers of mature west Highland sea trout have crashed but the decline of wild salmon has not been as extreme. He says that the decline is accelerating into free fall in the southern section of the West Highlands.

ST&C state that in an attempt to quantify the effect of salmon aquaculture, a comparison can be made between salmon catches on the east coast and the south west section of the west coast. They say that between 1970 and 2014, rod catches on the east coast have increased by 40% whilst over the same period, catches on the west coast have decline by 50%. Unfortunately, their attempt (and we note their use of the word attempt) to lay the blame for the decline of the south-west Highlands salmon fishery to salmon farming is just an attempt. Their reasoning is somewhat flawed.

S&TC have provided a link to a separate two-page document, which is attributed to Roger Brook, Chairman of the Argyll District Salmon Fishery Boar. This document provides evidence as to the decline of the local salmon fishery. The first page graphically compares catches of salmon from east coast rivers with those fish caught from rivers in the south-west Highlands. In order to fill up a page, Mr Brook (and the S&TC) includes a paragraph explaining that because the SSPO produced a graph in 2011 using that date, he has used the same date.  As the SSPO graph was dismissed at the time because it included catches from commercial netting, we are unsure why they are giving it any credence by using the same start date. However, because of the way that Mr Brook treats the data, it does actually matter what start date is used. It could be argued that as official catch statistics began in 1952, the graph should start from then. As it happens, it doesn’t really matter as the graph is inherently flawed anyway.

The graph is based on one produced by the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) in 2011 and that was flawed from the outset. This is for two reasons. The first is that east coast rivers are very different from those found on the west coast. This means their fish stocks are different and even the way they fish is different. In addition, just over 80% of Scotland’s salmon are caught from the east coast meaning that for each fish caught in the west, four are caught in the east. As this particular graph compares only part of the west coast, it is more likely that for every fish caught, eight are caught from the east. The graph does not compare like with like. We are also reminded that when we compared the catch data trends from the River Ewe with the River Nith, Andrew Graham Stewart wrote in Trout and Salmon magazine that such a comparison was a Red Herring because of the physical differences between the two rivers. This is no different to what he and Mr Brook have done. Its ok for them to make such comparison but not us!

The second reason is that the graph compares percentage change in the catch, not the actual number of fish caught. The percentage change is likely to be much greater on a larger sample i.e. the east coast, so using percentage change will distort the overall picture. In fact, one east coast district salmon fishery board has already ‘tweeted’ that the graph isn’t representative of what is happening in their river.

There is also another argument against putting too much faith in this graph as proof that salmon farming is having a negative impact on local wild salmon stocks. In the press release S&TC say that the Scottish Government’s own fisheries’ scientists share their view on the impacts of salmon farming on wild fish. However, the same fisheries’ scientists have also written a document clearly saying that catch data comparisons of east and west coasts cannot be used to show the impact of salmon farming on wild stocks. This was published over a year ago so it is unclear why S&TC continue to use this approach to try to prove their point.

The second page of the document is dedicated to the River Awe and a graph of the fish passing through the Awe fish counter. Mr Brook says that there was ‘no real decline’ in the count until the 1990’s when it dropped to an all-time low in 1998. The numbers of fish counted recovered in the early 2000’s but then dropped from 2008 onwards at about half the former level. He says that 2016 was the worst since 1998 and 2017 is going to be the all-time record low.’

As we have already pointed out, Mr Brook cannot be certain that this year’s count is going to be an all-time low. We need to wait until the end of the year to make that claim. What we can say is that if a trend line is applied to the count from the start, there is a clear decline in fish numbers over the whole period. There is also a decline from 1965 to 1990, albeit not very pronounced. Mr Brook says that from 1990 there is a decline to the present low, although with some ups and downs on the way. The implication is that an expanding salmon farming industry is responsible for this decline.

The problem with the S&TC argument is that the link between declining catches and the salmon farming industry is somewhat tenuous. Linking the two has proved difficult even for the most eminent scientists. There are lots of clues which can be interpreted either way so as yet, there is no clear-cut proof that salmon farming is responsible for the decline in fish counts on the Awe dam.

So, if salmon farming isn’t to blame for the decline, the question is whether there are any other possible explanations. According to ICES, marine mortality of wild salmon across its range has declined from around 20% fish returning in the 1980s to around 5% now. If less fish return to their home rivers, then ensuing generations will not be as numerous. It is unreasonable to expect that fewer fish will return but that stock levels will be unaffected. The River Awe counter is simply reflecting the changes in the wider fish populations. Of course, at a local level it is just as easy to blame local farms rather than look at the bigger picture. However, the Argyll District Salmon Fishery Board, of which Mr Brook is Convenor, as well as being the representative for the Awe district on the board, has previously considered the wider picture and as recently as last year. Their review of the 2016 fishing season in their most recent annual report states:

“The 2016 fishing season was an exceptional one, and not always in a positive way. The fish counter on the River Awe showed the largest number of early running salmon in May and June that we have seen for 40 years. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not conducive to good fishing and the fisheries were unable to benefit from the good numbers of running salmon. After June, the fish counter showed an almost total collapse of the grilse run, which was unprecedented, and this pattern appears to have been replicated across Argyll, with few numbers of salmon reported caught. The good early run of salmon and poor grilse run appears to have been the same across all rivers in Scotland, indicating the issues lie with the salmon feeding grounds out at sea.”

Unfortunately, as the editor of Trout and Salmon magazine points out, the S&TC do not wish to enter into dialogue so it is impossible to discuss whether it is the salmon feeding grounds or salmon farming that is the problem.

We, at Callander McDowell have not yet looked closely at the Awe System as we are currently investing our limited time into responding to the S&TC’s claim that salmon farming destroyed the Loch Maree sea trout fishery. Our ongoing examination of their analysis of the collapse is struggling to uncover a link between the arrival of the salmon farm to Loch Ewe and the decline of the sea trout stock. S&TC are calling for the farm to be moved to allow Loch Maree sea trout to recover. We are not convinced that such recovery will happen but we are now of the view that perhaps if an alternative site can be found, the farm should be moved simply to demonstrate to the S&TC that salmon farms are not to blame. Dr Andy Walker, in his Loch Maree report, suggests that it may take several years for stocks to recover so we believe that if the farm were removed, then all angling in the Ewe System should be banned for at least three years and then subjected to a review with the possibility of an extension to the ban. The S&TC can organise compensation to the affected proprietors. Of course, if the stock doesn’t recover, S&TC will just blame farms located much further away. Dr Walker has already indicated as such in his report .. just in case.


Pinker and Pinker: Every week brings more reports of pink salmon in Scottish and Irish rivers. This week, a pink salmon was recorded in the River Ness but this fish is of more interest than those previously identified because it was filmed whilst still swimming in the river. According to those posting the film on Facebook, this male can just about be seen pairing up with a female and appear very close to spawning.

The video can be seen on the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board Facebook page – just scroll down.

We wonder how long it will be before it is recognised that these fish represent a much greater threat to Scottish wild fish than any farmed salmon?


Links to documents