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reLAKSation no 848

It doesn’t add up!: The Times newspaper has belatedly caught up with the rest of the press by running the story generated by Salmon & Trout Conservation about how sea lice are killing tens of thousands of wild salmon.

The Times articles begins by stating that ‘up to 50,000 wild salmon die as a result of the parasites in Norway’ This is the conclusion of the review from the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research that was paid for by S&TC.

We did discuss this report in the last issue of reLAKSation but we are returning to the subject to consider one specific point and that is the 50,000 wild salmon highlighted in the report. The figure of 50,000 wild salmon comes from the Norwegian Scientific Advisory Committee for Atlantic Salmon who in their report ‘Status of wild salmon in Norway’ state that ‘the committee estimated the likely effect of salmon lice on the population level in an analysis that – for the first time – covered the entire country. The annual loss of wild salmon to Norwegian rivers due to salmon lice was estimated at 50,000 adult salmon for the years 2010-2014’.

This statement raises a number of issues, but we prefer to focus on the use of the word estimated with regard to these mortalities. This is because that much of the research into the impacts of sea lice involve some form of mathematical modelling rather than the hard evidence of dead fish.

This week the fishing season opened on the River Tay in Scotland and we were reminded that sea lice are not the only cause of wild salmon mortality. Last November, Norsk Lakseelver published their assessment of the 2017 fishing season for anglers in which they estimate a total catch of 132,426 wild salmon were caught of which it is estimated that 26.500 were returned alive. This means that about 106,000 wild salmon were killed by anglers in Norway last year. It doesn’t take a mathematical qualification to recognise that if the figures are correct, then double the number of wild salmon were killed for sport than the estimated 50,000 salmon that allegedly die as a result of a natural parasite. We can only wonder why salmon farming is being excessively penalised by the traffic light system and green licences, when much higher levels of salmon mortality can be attributed elsewhere.

The 50,000 wild salmon that die, allegedly due to sea lice, come from the whole of Norway not just those areas where salmon farming occurs. The mortality is estimated to be about 10% of the total Norwegian salmon stock. Current production of farmed salmon in Norway is estimated to be about 1.2 million tonnes. This means that if the Norwegian researchers are correct then every 24 tonnes of farmed salmon produced leads to the death of one salmon smolt each year.

In his press release, Andrew Graham Stewart of S&TC states that ‘it would be very odd if the Scottish situation was markedly different to that of Norway’ therefore we can assume that the same 24 tonne production in Scotland also could lead to the death of one migrating salmon smolt. Scotland has much lower production than Norway, so using the same conversion, the mortality of Scottish smolts due to salmon farming would be just 7,500.

The wild fish catch for 2017 has yet to be published but in 2016, anglers killed a total of 5,597 salmon and grilse and 3,499 sea trout, making a total of 9,096 wild fish. This is more than the 7,500 smolts supposedly killed by salmon farming. It is surprising that an organisation which has renamed itself as Salmon & Trout Conservation is not shouting as loudly about the conservation of these wild fish, especially as the fish killed for sport are more likely to be breeding adults, that could be regenerating stocks, than the small fish that are said to succumb to sea lice. Just think how many more smolts would result if another five and a half thousand salmon were left alive to breed?

We were interested to see that Scottish Natural Heritage’s ‘Salmon in the Classroom’ website states that Atlantic salmon can usually produce between 450 and 700 eggs per pound of body weight, which means that a female salmon weighing 10lbs could produce up to 7,000 eggs.  Simply put, the alleged mortality of salmon smolts due to salmon farming in Scotland for one year could equate to the egg output of just one salmon.

It is almost impossible to attribute the deaths of individual salmon to one specific cause, but it does seem that S&TC are using salmon farming as a convenient scapegoat for the wide ranging problems of the wild fish sector.

Finally, there is the question of whether salmon farming does even result in the deaths of 7,500 salmon smolts in Scotland but that is for discussion another time.


On land too:  We were interested to come across a newspaper column from local farmer Anton Coaker in the Western Morning News published in Devon in the south west of England. The title of his column will resonate with anyone working in the Scottish salmon farming industry. He says to ‘Stop portraying farmers as the eco-bogeymen’. It seems that this has been an issue for some time, but he was prompted to write his latest column following comments from the English fisheries and farming minister, Michael Gove, whose recent policy announcements imply that farming is bad for the environment and that he intends to push farmers towards some wonderful kind of happy nirvana.

Mr Coaker says that Mr Gove must have in his mind a fabled place, where never mind a few thousand farmers, but 65 plus million other souls, each wanting a bigger, newer, flashier car/telly/device/house, two holidays in the sun, three pets and whatever else they value for themselves, can live on 93,000 square miles of damp North Atlantic islands in harmony with the environment. To help meet such aspirations, the Government is planning to excavate millions of tonnes of dirt so as to concrete over square miles of land building whole new towns, power stations, railways, runways, roads, supermarkets, business parks and even to create land fill sites

By comparison, Mr Coaker says farmers like him are being assailed from every corner with the tacit suggestions that they are some kind of eco-bogeyman.

He feels like everyone from Minister Michael Gove down to the vegan eco warrior/student on social media structures their thoughts from the position of being sure that the farming industry is cruel, damaging and currently lying waste to the last few acres of countryside it hasn’t already pillaged and poisoned, all the while boiling cuddly baby animals alive.

Mr Coaker says he is being casually accused by implication of degrading the land under his control deliberately shutting down the few species of local fauna and flora to produce unhealthy expensive food or possibly just to satisfy his own greed.

The landscape he, and his peers, work has been quietly evolving, changing as farming methods change with time but it is quite demonstrably recognisable to his forebears and while he is producing large chunks of the nation’s staple diet, there is still lots of natural beauty, wildlife, biodiversity and general niceness about the British countryside. So much so that Mr Gove feels he needs to protect it from ravages from local farmers.

Mr Coaker is proud to be working amidst what wildlife coexists around him and its habitat is pretty secure in his custody, however much he is insulted by Mr Gove and the like. He says what he does is very close to sustainable and while he does use a share of resources, he could quite easily adapt his systems to use less. He could farm in even more harmony with nature, but he would inevitably produce less food than he currently does and that is something that should be given consideration before farmers are accused of damaging the environment.

As we suggested at the beginning of this comment, Mr Coaker’s views should resonate with the salmon farming industry. Salmon farming is also under attack, mainly from a small handful of activists and NIMBYS, but they are doing all they can to spread a similar message, regardless of its accuracy.

We hope that everyone who reads reLAKSation will also ensure that our politicians understand that salmon farming is not just good for the local economy but that its impact on the environment is being deliberately over-stated by those who are following their own agenda.


Closed in: Fish Farming Expert reports that the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture is to benefit from a £70,000 contract awarded by the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF) to investigate the use of closed containment in-sea nurseries. Simply, the idea is to use floating tanks to grow salmon up to 1kg with the aim of reducing the impact of sea lice during the initial time at sea.  SARF require theoretical, but well-evidenced research that investigates the technical and economic feasibility of incorporating fully closed containment sea pen systems for the production of farmed salmon.

By coincidence, Fish Farming Expert also reported that Norwegian salmon farmer Sulefisk has just completed a full production cycle from smolt to harvest size using a closed in cage for the first months when the fish grew from 130g to 800g. The fish were then transferred to a traditional cage for the final period.

At the same time, Kyst.No also report that Inventura Consulting Company has evaluated post smolt production strategies including the use of closed in cages.

Against, this background, we wonder why SARF are investigating a production strategy that has already been tested in Norway and shown to have positive results.  Despite this, we wonder how much value such production methods have given that companies are already investing in land based facilities that do the same job. It seems a waste of £70,000.

At this point, we, at Callander McDowell, would declare a vested interest.  Last year, we had heard that SARF is being wound down as we understand Government funding is now being directed elsewhere. We have previously found that in the past SARF funding has been generally inaccessible as most is given to academic institutions or Government research agencies. In our experience, funding will only go to small companies when they have no competitive bids. Despite this, and after talking to ‘people’ we thought it would be worth submitting an application to progress our own research.

For the past two or three years, we have been investigating the impacts of sea lice on wild fish populations. As yet, we have not received a single penny in funding, but we have had some good results. Research is not cheap, even the basic task of consulting research papers can cost £27 a time. Such costs can be avoided by visiting the British Library, but this involves travel to London and the cost of overnight stays. Even an invitation to speak at Sea Lice 2016 came at a price with travel to Co Mayo in Ireland, hotel cost and also a conference fee. Costs soon mount up but to date these are costs we have absorbed ourselves.

Even though our application funding was much less than the £70,000 awarded to the University of Stirling, our request was rejected. We understand that the reason given was the suitability and accuracy of the database upon which the research would be based. The main objections came from Marine Scotland.

We have previously discussed that Marine Scotland had already decided that catch data could not be used to determine the impacts of salmon farming, even though this is just a small part of our work.

Marine Scotland have even produced a briefing document on the subject as a result of our endeavours, even though their findings are flawed. Instead, Marine Scotland say that they have adopted an experimental approach. This translates into a £600,000 three-year project which effectively repeats much of the work carried out in Ireland and which found minimal impact of salmon farming on wild fish numbers. The Marine Scotland project is funded by SARF. The project is due to end this year so we look forward to hearing whether this expensive research has proven that salmon farming does have an impact on wild fish or not.

The new SARF project about closed in cages is supported by Marine Scotland. Is it not surprising, that Callander McDowell cannot get a look in?

Raising funding for research is always a challenge. Raising funding for sea lice work is an even greater challenge. There seems plenty of money available if the research is aimed at showing the negative impacts of salmon farming on wild fish, as the review paper paid for by S&TC from NINA demonstrates. By comparison, raising funding to show salmon farming does not have a major impact on wild fish is almost an impossibility. We have therefore decided that crowdfunding could be an option. We would like to hear from anyone as to whether this might be a viable route before we set the wheels in motion.


Hooked: Green Business reports that consumers aged 18-34 are more likely to choose eco-labelled fish than older shoppers, according to the Marine Stewardship Council.

Fifty-two per cent of 18-34 year olds say that they prefer to choose eco-labelled fish compared to thirty seven percent of those over age of 55.

The Marine Stewardship Council say that they are delighted that the younger generation care about sustainable seafood as they are the shoppers of the future. We, at Callander McDowell, wonder whether their concern about the sustainability of fish and seafood is also why this younger age group also eat the least amount of fish. Perhaps they think it is more sustainable to leave the fish in the ocean and eat something else instead.