reLAKSation no 845

2018 – a better year: We very much hope that for the salmon farming industry 2018 will be a much better year than 2017. In Scotland, the salmon industry has suffered particularly high mortalities this year as highlighted in the recent BBC TV One Show The presenter told viewers that one in four salmon produced has died as a result of disease and sea lice. The programme included an interview with Don Staniford of the grandly named Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture. Mr Staniford said that ‘we’re farming too many salmon in too confined a space. The mortality problem is simply symptomatic of overproduction.’

We, at Callander McDowell, disagree. Despite Mr Staniford’s suggestion, the salmon industry is not over-producing. We therefore would like to offer a different explanation:

From almost the first weeks of 2017, there was a flood of negative press coverage in the mainstream Scottish press, most of which was instigated by Don Staniford through a number of Freedom of Information requests. Most of the narrative was about the alleged deleterious effects of sea lice or of sea lice treatments. Given the very low number of comments that appeared in on-line versions of the paper in response to the ‘revelations’, the issues raised did not resonate with the public. However, we know how we felt to the repeated coverage, so we can imagine that farming companies felt some despair when they picked up the newspapers every day. They had no idea when the latest attack on their businesses would occur.

The ideal response to any accusations would be to ensure that further accusations could not be levelled at producers, so we suspect that farming companies took the decision to aim to reduce sea lice counts to the lowest possible levels. Hence, we started to see the introduction of new equipment and techniques such as thermolicers etc. Such an approach to lice control is not without problem as the process has the potential to be stressful to the fish. Under normal circumstances, this would not be of concern but 2017 saw other problems affecting farms. On their own, these issues would not have been such a problem, but because farmers were trying to respond to the press criticism, the combination of issues led to unforeseen mortality.

Of course, the concerns about sea lice are that they are responsible for declines in wild fish populations. However, despite claims from the angling lobby, this is not the case and therefore the salmon industry’s response was totally unnecessary. Farmers should be left alone to follow their own management protocols rather than influenced by misleading and inaccurate claims about their activities. Hopefully, 2018 will be a year when the salmon farming industry pursues its own agenda and not that of a handful of anti-salmon farming activists.


Dredging up issues:  We, at Callander McDowell, would like to congratulate Carole Laignel of The Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) who told the Guardian newspaper that the organisation took rigorous steps to protect the marine environment. These include monitoring of vessels, routine reporting of any rare or endangered species caught and the closure of some areas to conserve stocks. She recommended that the marine conservation campaign ‘Open Seas’ refrains from un-informed and unfair comment on what remains a highly sustainable fishery. Well done Carole. It is long overdue that hard working fishing organisations stood up for themselves, rather than bend over to the continuing onslaught from the environmental sector.

In this case, ‘Open Seas’ had urged UK retailer Waitrose to suspend sales of an eco-certified king scallop caught from waters around Shetland. They had challenged Waitrose after they had raised concerns that the scallop fishery causes unjustifiable ecological damage because the shellfish are dredged from the seabed. However, the Shetland scallop fishery was awarded Marine Stewardship   Council certification back in 2012 and whilst the fishery continues to be certified by the MSC, Waitrose say that they are justified in stocking the scallops.

The fishery is currently being reassessed by the MSC as part of a five-yearly reappraisal and as a result, the certification is expected to be renewed early next year. ‘Open Seas’ say that the recertification has failed to take into account the evidence that the fishery caught critically endangered common skate and skate eggs. They say that 7% of the catch is made up of rare horse mussels. The fishery also includes parts of a marine protected area and a special area of conservation.

We, at Callander McDowell, feel that here is, yet again, an example of the environmental sector, that believes that the best place to argue their concerns is within the pages of the press rather than address them to those who are best placed to deal with them. The environmental sector seems to think that it is acceptable to try to shame those who they think do not meet their own high ideals. If they have concerns, the press is not the place to air them. Do they think the public will read the article and then avoid buying scallops from Waitrose? We hope not.

However, this article in the Guardian is not just about trying to shame Waitrose. ‘Open Seas’ is a new campaign group (of two) who are clearly looking for publicity to establish their credibility? However, as far as we are concerned, they have no credibility, and this is for one reason. Whilst, their website says that they are a new charity, with a board of trustees, they fail to mention who is providing their funding? We think that this is important as it eliminates any concerns about their motives. We believe that such groups should be totally transparent if they are to be taken seriously.

This is important for as Canadian researcher Vivian Krause identified, the Packard Foundation was one of the sources of funding behind a campaign to demarket farmed salmon in the US with the aim of protecting the market for wild Alaskan salmon. The Packard Foundation also provided the funds for Julie Packard to establish the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Seafood Watch programme, who still ‘red’ list most of global farmed salmon production as one to avoid.

If those behind ‘Open Seas’ truly believe that the Shetland scallop fishery is not sustainable, and they have the evidence to support their claim then they should be in talks with the recertification body not the press.


Going viral: According to the Campbell River Mirror, a peer review group of 39 experts from various disciplines selected for their expertise and knowledge have approved a report from Fisheries and Ocean Canada (DFO) that says there is minimal risk to the wild Fraser River Sockeye salmon population due to the transfer of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHNV) from Atlantic salmon farms. Current health management practices help minimise any risk. The report is the first in a series that will assess the risk of pathogen transfer associated with aquaculture activities to wild fish and the environment.

This follows on the news that a paper authored by salmon farming critic Alexandra Morton and others suggest that another virus Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) is transferring from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild Pacific salmon and this may pose a risk of reduced fitness in wild salmon impacting their survival and reproduction.

This paper is the latest attempt by Alexandra Morton to prove that salmon farming is damaging to wild salmon stocks even though more and more evidence appears to show that changes to the earth’s climate is affecting all sorts of wildlife, and from which salmon are not exempt.

It is only necessary to read the beginning of the materials and methods section of Ms Morton’s paper to see that it is flawed. The very first paragraph describes that as she is not provided access to any salmon farm, 262 samples were purchased from 10 supermarket chains selling fresh farmed salmon on 93 different dates. The ‘Best Before’ date was used to select the freshest samples .

We wonder if shopping at the local store for a salmon virus is a first?

The problem of this approach to sampling is that there is no chain of custody. The authors of the study have no idea when the fish were harvested nor, what has happened to the fish since harvest, including who has handled the fish, what they did with them or even if they were stored correctly. There are so many unknowns. What we do know is what happened to the fish once they had been bought because the ‘documentary’ ‘Salmon Confidential’ includes a section about how these salmon were sampled for viruses. This can be viewed at  at about 42.50 minutes in. At around 48 minutes, samples can be seen being taken from a fish, which is laid out on the ground at a supermarket carpark. A dog is also lying nearby. It would seem the risk of contamination is ever present.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association issued a press statement about this paper and most interesting is that the laboratory used to test the samples taken from the supermarket had lost its international accreditation as previous results from samples provided by the same authors, were later found to be false.

Had we known Ms Morton was collecting her samples from the supermarket, we would have sent her our shopping list and she could have picked up our shopping whilst she was there. It would have saved us a visit!


Lost at Sea: Last week, we discussed the poor salmon catches from the River Tweed as reported by the Times. The paper described the river as being in trouble.  The paper also said that local biologists had said that the catchment was still healthy and plenty of juvenile fish were hatching. The Clerk of the Tweed Commission had said that a similar pattern had occurred 60 years ago, and the river had recovered. Fay Hieatt, the Clerk, said that they hoped that history is going to repeat itself.

By coincidence, the Atlantic Salmon Trust has just posted videos of presentations made during their 50th Anniversary. The first one is from Jonathan Carr of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. He begins his talk by saying that Atlantic salmon populations in North America have been stuck at historic low levels since around 1990 but that the juvenile salmon populations in the rivers that have been studied are quite healthy and relatively stable and that this suggests that the problem is in the oceans. Could it be that the same issue is affecting the Tweed and it is when the fish go to sea that the problems start to occur.

The link to Jonathan Carr’s presentation follows as do the link to all the presentations from the meeting. They make interesting viewing and are certainly worth watching.

The Atlantic Salmon Trust also recently held a showing of the new film ‘Lost at Sea’ at an event in London. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend, but we have come across a blog from leading ghillie Ian Gordon, who did get to see it Mr Gordon mentions that the film includes reference to the Canadian tagging project outlined by Jonathan Carr and the fact that climate change has brought new predators north that have been feasting on smolts migrating out from some rivers.

However, what attracted our attention was Mr Gordon’s comments about juvenile production.  He asks whether rivers are producing the same number of juveniles as in the past? He says that dodgy, poorly conducted science says yes but those like him who spend a lot of time in the river say no. He says that most rivers have not produced a surplus of young fish since the 1980s. He adds that only those with a vested interest or a different agenda would question this. He says that if you add predation to the equation, then the fall in numbers in many Scottish rivers is of no surprise.

After considering some of the other reasons why salmon numbers are in decline, Mr Gordon continues ‘that it is easy to invent a story, apportion blame on something based on inconclusive data, especially if the majority of the audience is green, easily influenced and don’t ask questions.’ He says that ‘the bottom line is that if something positive is to be done then there must be a plan to deal with the things that influence salmon numbers.’

At this point, Mr Gordon says that this must include aquaculture. He suggests that no organisation has a plan, desire or ability to deal properly with the question of predation and all simply fail on aquaculture. Its simpler, he says, to go fishing for a shoal of red herrings.

Mr Gordon takes an interesting path by including aquaculture because clearly, aquaculture has no influence on rivers such as the Tweed and Tay on the east coast of Scotland. Whilst Mr Gordon suggests that invented stories, apportioned blame and inconclusive data are features of the angling sector, we would suggest that they can be even better applied to the angling sectors attitude to salmon farming. In addition, he suggests that the dodgy, poorly conducted science is responsible for some of the views on the way rivers are managed. Could it be that the same dodgy and poorly applied science is used by some of the angling sector in their attempts to attack the aquaculture industry too? We certainly believe so.

Despite his view on aquaculture, we very much agree with his summation of the general situation. He says that only those looking to catch the same number of salmon as in the 1980s will be disappointed. Most people who went salmon fishing really enjoyed their time with Mr Gordon and his colleagues, whether it be in Scotland or Norway. All those who went with realistic expectations, had fun, learned something and caught few fish. Mr Gordon says 2018 will be no different and maybe even better.


Killing…or not: A planning application for two new farms producing organic salmon in the Isle of Skye has recently been submitted to the Highland Council. The applications have provoked the usual responses from what one member of the local community describes as serial objectors, who see the words salmon farming and object without consideration of the wider issues. We have recently observed that the same serial objectors have already tweeted negative comments about a proposed caviar farm planned for Argyll.

Amongst the objectors is a letter from Andrew Graham Stewart of Salmon & Trout Conservation and what surprises us at Callander McDowell, is his newly found restraint. Only a couple of weeks ago (12th December) he appeared on the BBC TV’s One Show and quite clearly stated:

‘Sea lice emanating from salmon farms are killing wild fish’

This statement leaves listeners in no uncertain terms as to the impact of sea lice.

However, in his letter of objection to the Highland Council dated 20th December about these new salmon farms, he makes no such claim. In fact, he simply states that ‘S&TCS is concerned that sea lice from the proposed farm will further damage already severely depleted wild salmon and sea trout populations.’

Instead of his usual certainty, Mr Graham Stewart refers to Marine Scotland’s standard advice notes:

“Scientific evidence from Norway and Ireland indicates a detrimental effect of sea lice on sea trout and salmon populations’ Salmon aquaculture results in elevated numbers of sea lice in open water and hence is likely to have an adverse effect on populations of wild salmonids in some circumstances. The magnitude of any such impact in relation to overall mortality levels is not known, However, concerns that there may be a significant impact of aquaculture have been raised due to declines in catches of both salmon and sea trout on the Scottish west coast…Information from the west coast of Scotland suggests lice from fish farming can cause a risk to local salmon and sea trout.”

As far as we can tell, this advice – more properly titled ‘Summary of Science’ comes from the Scottish Government website It does appear that Mr Graham Stewart has reordered the words and also includes some that are not taken from the website. The following paragraph is the summary of the full page as stated:


Salmon aquaculture can result in elevated numbers of sea lice in open water and hence is likely to increase the infestation potential on wild salmonids.  This in turn could have an adverse effect on populations of wild salmonids in some circumstances. The magnitude of any such impact in relation to overall mortality levels is not known for Scotland. However, concerns that there may be a significant impact of aquaculture have been raised due to declines in catches of both salmon and sea trout on the Scottish west coast. There is scientific evidence that individual Scottish sea trout can experience physiological detrimental burdens of salmon lice in areas with salmon aquaculture but the effects on populations in different areas is not known. Scientific evidence from Norway and Ireland indicates that early protection against salmon lice parasitism results in reduced absolute marine mortality, increasing recapture rates of experimental salmon, and reduces the time spent at sea, indicating that salmon lice can influence the population status of wild salmon.

Nowhere does it state that sea lice emanating from salmon farms are killing wild salmon and sea trout as Mr Graham Stewart claims.

We, at Callander McDowell, have been now working on the impacts of sea lice on wild fish populations for a number of years. We disagree with much of the information provided in the summary above. We have tried to raise our concerns with Marine Scotland Science but like Mr Graham Stewart they have been vey reluctant to talk to us.

We therefore pose the question ‘do sea lice emanating from salmon farms kill wild salmon and sea trout?’ Until we can be convinced otherwise, we will stick with the 1-2% identified in the Irish study.

In his letter of objection to this new organic salmon farm, Mr Graham Stewart also writes ‘Loch Duart Ltd farms organically at its farms in West Sutherland.’ This is a reference to a graph showing historic lice counts with the inference that even organic salmon farms cannot control sea lice. However, Mr Graham Stewart has not done his research because Loch Duart has never farmed organically or claimed to do so.

We are very much reminded of Mr Gordon’s comments.