Missing the message: This week he newspaper, Dagbladet demanded that the Norwegian Fisheries Minister must answer the question as to whether he gave his private email address to a lobbyist. This relates to the ongoing matter of whether lobbyists can contact Ministers outside official channels of communication. Given that the email that sparked this row was sent to an individual in Sweden who happened to have the same name as the Minister of Fisheries, the answer is that the Minister didn’t give out his email because the address that was used was incorrect. If the Minister had given out his email, the it might be expected that he would have received the offending email.
According to Dagbladet, the Norwegian Parliament now wants to know whether Mr Sandberg did give out his personal address to lobbyists. This is a rather ridiculous question because any lobbyist with enough time with the Minister to ask for his email address would surely focus on the message instead. Alternatively, the email address, had it been correct could have been supplied by someone else other than the Minister. There’s no point in having an email address unless other people have it as well.
As we have mentioned previously, this focus on the email address is simply a diversion away from the real issue. The emphasis is being placed too firmly on the messenger than on the message and it is the message that is important, not how it was sent.
iLAKS reports that the Traffic Light System has now come into force although the colours for each of the 13 areas has not been set. That information will be published in the coming days.
According to Intrafish, the Traffic Light System is linked to an assessment of the pressure on wild fish stocks from lice. If an area is given a green light, it means that production capacity could be increased. A Yellow light equates to moderate lice levels and there will be no change in capacity whilst a red light means that there is a problem with lice and production capacity must be cut accordingly.
In May, the Expert Group used data from 2016 to show how the Traffic Light System might work. Out of the 13 areas, just one was given a red light, five areas were given a yellow rating whilst the remaining seven were considered to be worthy of a green light.
The accompanying report identified that there are still some uncertainties associated with the finding. Intrafish reports that Professor Frank Nilsen of the University of Bergen and head of the Expert Group has said that there are many uncertainties in both data and methods for the impact of sea lice and how they can be used to evaluate the new salmon growth regimes.
The Expert Groups report in May highlighted concerns about the number of lice per farmed salmon as a way of calculating infection pressures. They are also concerned that there is not enough knowledge of how many lice die in the water. They have also expressed concern about IMRs model of the number of lice on migratory wild smolts. Finally, they are concerned about the way the lice are monitored.
We, at Callander McDowell are also concerned. We are even willing to go so far as to stick out our neck and say that based on our research, the model and its conclusions are probably flawed. Surely, if this model is to be used as the basis for setting future growth capacity of the salmon industry, then it should be open and transparent, especially to the industry. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Besides questions about the model, the biggest issue for us is whether the expert group includes any representation from the salmon industry. It would seem to us that some of the most knowledgeable people about sea lice are those that actually work with the parasite on a day to day basis.
Our concerns about the model are that it will inevitably reflect the preconceptions of those who built it. In the case of this Traffic Light System, the preconception is that sea lice from salmon farms is damaging to wild fish stocks. We know that we are flying in the face of accepted science, but we believe that the risk to wild stocks is no-where as great as some suggest and we would be more than happy to stand up and argue the fact. Unfortunately, there are some in the scientific arena who do not believe that their views should be questioned or challenged. This appears to be the case with the IMR model and the Traffic Light System. This is why Frode Reppe, the lobbyist previously mentioned, was so keen to lobby the Minister. We would argue that if IMR are so sure of their model then they should be willing to explain in detail how it works so that any salmon companies that might be affected by it, can at least understand why it affects them. It is not enough that IMR believe that the model is viable because nothing that we have read recently has convinced us that it is.
Writing an open letter in the press, Sissle Rogne, Director of the institute of Marine Research has said that after considerable research over many years, IMR researchers know which areas are at the highest risk of salmon and trout mortality. IMR must therefore be able to relate lice infestation with wild fish mortality. This in itself would be a breakthrough but after writing to Dr Rogne on the subject, we are still waiting for a reply. We have seen quotes in the Norwegian press that state if a smolt acquires more than five lice during migration, the changes of survival will be weakened but if it acquires ten lice than the fish will surely die. Yet, there are examples of sea trout carrying hundreds of lice and surviving. How does this fit in the model? We don’t know but without transparency, will we ever know?
Feed the dream: We would like to congratulate the Scottish salmon farming company Loch Duart. According to Undercurrent News, the company stood up at the annual general meeting of the Marine Ingredient Organisation in Washington this week and said that they will ignore calls to cut the fishmeal content of the feeds they use and to replace them with alternative new ingredients that will lower costs, make the fish grow faster and preserve forage species. Andy Bing from Loch Duart said that if the fishmeal content of their feeds translates into higher costs for their fish, then that is a price that their customers will have to pay and as the company continues to prosper then clearly their customers are happy to do so.
Mr Bing told the meeting that Loch Duart will continue to feed their fish a diet that contains at least 51% marine ingredients. They do this because they want to feed a diet that is as close to the foods that the fish would eat in nature. He said that there is strong pressure from the environmental sector to change and that whilst the company might receive much praise from the NGO’s for doing so the company is not prepared to undermine the health and the welfare of their fish.
We, at Callander McDowell stand up and applaud Loch Duart’s stance on the use of marine ingredients.
Whilst there are claims that using alternative ingredients might reduce the cost of production or speed up growth, we believe that the main reason why alternative ingredients are being promoted within the aquaculture industry is this pressure from the environmental sector to supposedly protect stocks of forage fish and the health of the ecology of the oceans. We would reply by saying that if there is so much concern about the state of forage species, then why is the same pressure not being applied to terrestrial farming and especially to the pet food industry. Marine ingredients are currently being fed to species of animals that do not traditionally eat marine proteins yet the environmental sector appear to be doing nothing to challenge this. There are already plenty of non-fish pet foods in the marketplace so use of fish could be stopped overnight given the will to do so.
The answer is that there would be huge resistance for such change from those who feed such foods to their animals and so the NGO’s avoid raising the issue and attack the easy target, aquaculture, instead.
It seems that the NGO’s want companies like Loch Duart to use new proteins made from raw materials such as natural gas. How is that sustainable?
The problem for the aquaculture industry is that it gets sucked into these issues. Feed sustainability is part of certification programmes and to achieve certification, companies must agree to every part of the process including reducing marine ingredient usage.
Regular readers will know that we have always argued that aquaculture is inherently sustainable. It is just common sense and the natural way of raising fish. This is what Loch Duart are doing and they should be held up as an example to the way the industry should operate. All power to them.
Just problems: In a commentary in the Norwegian newspaper Bergen Tidende, Malcolm Pye of Benchmark Holdings says that he finds it strange that the debate about salmon farming in Norway almost exclusively focuses on the negative issues. He says that he would have thought that it should be about making Norwegians understand what a fantastic role Norwegian aquaculture knowledge and expertise can play in the years to come on the global stage. He says that there are so many good stories such as the Salmobreed breeding programme which produces fish that are more resistance to disease and lice. In other areas, such as equipment and production methods, the transfer of knowledge can contribute to achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals. Yet, the discussion is always about the negatives.
Mr Pye was in Norway to speak at the NCE Sustainable Growth Summit. Also speaking was Aaron Mervin, Director of Sustainable Food in WWF. He told the audience that aquaculture production is better and more environmentally friendly but that the paradox is that badly regulated shrimp farming in Thailand can give Norwegian salmon farmer an undeserved poor reputation globally. According to Kyst.no, he said that the reputation of salmon farming is being influenced by what is being done in other countries. He highlighted the problems in Thailand which he said is not being done properly and the reputation that they create will also affect aquaculture in Norway.
Perhaps, Mr Pye was in the audience during Mr Melvin’s presentation for he would see how easy it is for the focus on aquaculture to be so negative. The NGO’s prefer it to be so as it provides them with a role in our industry. They talk about the negatives and then offer solutions.
Just this week, Kyst.no also featured an article about WWF in Norway. They are currently working on updates of the ASC salmon standard whilst lobbying for a halt to all growth of the salmon farming industry. We have always suggested that that the original ASC standard would not be the end of the process and that environmental NGO’s like WWF would be aiming to tighten up the standards bit by bit. Their eventual aim is to move salmon farming into closed containment.
Julie Døvle Johansen from WWF Norway says that whilst it is gratifying that more farms have been certified by the ASC, aquaculture still has not solved the problem of lice and escapes. She welcomes the improvement in technology and is pleased that more companies are looking at closed containment as an alternative to open cages at sea. She added that the ASC standard has steadily evolved and will continue to do so. We might suggest that those farms with ASC certification may consider that if they want to maintain their certification, they should start looking at closed containment now for it is clear this is where this discussion is heading.
Such change wouldn’t be necessary if all the discussion about aquaculture were positive as Mr Pye hopes. Good news stories don’t create the need for change or for the need for NGO’s to be involved.
Julie Døvle Johansen told Kyst.no that the process of updating the ASC has been good so far. She said that she has had good dialogue with other WWF offices and they have come up with several good inputs into this round of updating the standard. The focus has been on feed, smolt farming and the use of sea lice treatments. They also want to see better regulatory framework and more frequent controls. She said that there must be more sustainable feed for farmed salmon and that all growth of salmon farming should be halted until the problems with salmon lice and escapes are resolved.
We, at Callander McDowell would argue that the problems are not sea lice or escapes, but actually the WWF. We think that they have got their priorities all wrong.
This week, the BBC broadcast their Autumn Watch programme, which looks at what happens to British wildlife at this time of the year. Although broadcasting form the heart of rural Britain, the programme featured the issue of plastic pollution more than once – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05l3qw1
Plastic pollution is now a global problem. This week shocking pictures have been circulated about the disgusting state of the sea around one Caribbean Island https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CK_inDmuoU. BBC Autumn Watch also highlighted the problem of microplastic pollution and the way it is getting into the human food chain. Several years ago, we discussed the amount of plastic pollution in the Pacific Gyre. At the time we asked why NGO’s were so focussed on aquaculture when the world was suffering such a problem. Plastic pollution has steadily got much worse. It is a global tragedy, yet still the NGO’s like the WWF seem more worried about the ASC standard than dealing with the plastics. It seems nothing has changed as plastic pollution hardly gets a mention on the WWF Global website. The NGO sector should be up in arms about pollution but despite even images such as we have mentioned, there is little reaction.
More messengers: The Vancouver Sun has reported that a BC Government fish pathologist, Gary Marty, has said that he has been surprised to find himself at the centre of a political firestorm involving the Agriculture Minister but that he holds no ill-will towards her.
The Agriculture Minister, Lana Popham, has faced accusations of inappropriate political interference after she said that she was going to investigate Dr Marty and his work following complaints from First Nation groups who wanted him fired because his research supposedly dismisses the seriousness of diseases found on salmon farms.
This is not of any surprise to us at Callander McDowell. It now seems common to attack those who question the beliefs of those who object to the salmon farming industry. Whether it is a British Columbian scientist or a Norwegian lobbyist, it is fashionable to attack the messenger rather than debate the message. We, at Callander McDowell have attracted similar attention, whether it be in national, local or angling press. We have received anonymous postcards and have seen web based forums discussing our location. We have been both insulted and criticised. One Government scientist even refused to speak with us because he doesn’t think we are suitably qualified.
It is easier for some to attack the messenger than address the message but such practice only delays the inevitable as these messages will not go away. The First Nations might not like what Dr Marty has published but it doesn’t change the facts. In much the same way, those that criticise us will eventually have to face up to the issues we raise. Even if they don’t agree with us, then they should be willing to discuss the issues face to face.