Apologies: The Scottish Parliamentary enquiry is now entering its final phase and we hope that we can soon begin again to write about issues affecting the marketplace rather than the alleged impacts of salmon farming on wild fish populations. Recently, we have read about increasing fish consumption, MSC market presence, consumer response to labels, Maccy-Ds, closing fish counters and much more. We apologise for this narrow focus, but we are sure that readers will understand the importance of raising these issues.
Progress(ives): The salmon farming industry finally had its say during a session of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee (REC). We very much felt that if as repeatedly suggested, the salmon farming industry is given a fair hearing then it has nothing to fear. All the witnesses were open and provided the fullest answers that the time allotted allowed. Perhaps, if the Environment Committee had afforded theses witnesses the same opportunity to answer that Committee’s concerns, then their final report might have been a very different document. Instead, one representative from the SSPO had to answer for the whole industry whilst sharing the platform with two industry critics. In addition, some of the REC Committee had been on a fact-finding tour of salmon farms and wild fisheries and could see the issues for themselves. It is difficult to comprehend how anyone can make a judgement on something that they have not even seen for themselves, instead preferring to rely on negative media stories as their main source of information.
Fish Farming Expert reported on a number of issues raised by the committee members. The question asked by Richard Lyle MSP was of particular interest. He wanted to know what can be done to resolve the problems faced by the industry and those by the wild fisheries sector. Ben Hadfield from Marine Harvest responded by saying that ‘ultimately the progressives on the wild fish side and the industry working together will provide the solution’. We hope he is right, but we wonder if the progressives are still too few and far between and that most of the wild fish sector are still too entrenched in the view that salmon farming is to blame for all the problems of the wild fish sector.
It does seem that the wild sector is willing to collaborate with farming companies if they, for example are in receipt of a contribution to a restoration programme or the like. By contrast, they appear less willing to collaborate if this means that they must sit down and become involved in a discussion of the issues. We speak from experience.
As readers will know, Martin has written a book that attempts to explain the issues surrounding the decline of wild fish from the west coast and in particular, the disappearance of sea trout from Loch Maree.
It was pleasing that the book was mentioned during the REC session this week but whilst some MSPs have been willing to read it, the wild fish sector appear to have adopted an attitude that if they ignore the book, then they don’t have to discuss it. We have always known this book would be a hard sell to the wild fisheries sector, but it does seem rather strange that a sector which claims to be so concerned about the fate of wild salmon and sea trout, even to the point of petitioning the Scottish Parliament or submitting evidence, aren’t prepared to simply sit down and discuss views other than their own. Perhaps, picking issue with the salmon farming industry is just a way of deflecting attention from their own deficiencies.
Whilst it is perhaps understandable that the angling sector want to defend their sport, whilst still being allowed to kill threatened fish, it is less so that Marine Scotland Science are reluctant to discuss the findings of the research that led to the book. MSS said that they would be only willing to speak with us after a scientific paper had been published on the work, even though this rather negated the point in speaking to them. In addition, they published a briefing document suggesting that catch data couldn’t be used to draw any conclusions about the interactions of salmon farming and wild fish. This was even though they had no idea as to which approach had been adopted. Instead, they said that the only way to determine the impacts of salmon farming on wild fish was experimentally and by coincidence they were undertaking a three-year £600,000 project to do exactly that.
The three years are now up. We understand that the final report of this study is now completed and some time ago had been submitted to SARF for peer-review. We have no idea what the report says but apparently when asked at some industry meeting, MSS said that the ‘results were not as expected’.
Next week, the Minister and Marine Scotland (Science) are due to sit before the REC Committee to give evidence .It seems inconceivable, given that the whole Environment and Rural Economy Committee enquiries were prompted by complaints about the impact of salmon farms on wild fish, that the results of this study might not be released to the Committee before the next session, but we suspect that if the study does not show an impact on wild fish from salmon farming, publication might be delayed for some time. Yet surely, these findings are now as relevant as they will ever be. It would be a disservice to all concerned if these results are not published now.
Reel time: Fish Farming Expert also mentioned that the Committee’s Convenor referred to the recent announcement about the publication of sea lice data. He highlighted a Norwegian website where such data was available in real time and asked why the Scottish industry could not do the same. Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) have made a similar point in a press release.
This is an interesting idea, especially for us, at Callander McDowell, who use wild fish data for our research. We must wait for the annual data to be published to gain access.
The 2017 catch data for rod caught salmon and sea tout has just been published and it seems almost archaic to have to wait over 15 months to obtain details of the first catches of 2017 yet, catches for 2018 have already been recorded. Surely, it would make sense to have more regular reporting of what has been caught, both released and killed, even on a daily basis. As it happens the Convenor has declared having an interest in a wild catch fishery so surely, he would be interested in revealing catch data as well as sea lice data in real time.
The published catch data is quite limiting in that it reveals the catch of salmon, grilse, sea trout and finnock for each month within every fishery district. This is akin to the way sea lice data used to be reported by the SSPO. What the catch data statistics does not reveal is from which fisheries the fish were caught or when they were caught, which means that it is impossible to plot from where and when in the river the fish were caught. This has relevance for some forms of analysis, which we are so far unable to pursue. Some data is available on fishing sites such as Fish Pal but it’s not clear how accurate it is. Equally, some Fishery Boards publish information week by week but again, its accuracy is unclear.
We have been trying to find an example of a wild fishery to demonstrate what this means but it is difficult because we have no idea as to how much is caught by each fishery. However, looking through Fish Pal we found reference to one fishery where an indication of the catch is given.
According to Fish Pal, the Delfur Fishings on the River Spey offers approximately 2.5 miles of prime double bank fishing on the lower river. The beat is well known as one of the most productive yet under-fished beats on the river with 11 named pool being fished by five rods. Four full time ghillies are provided to assist rods where required. The beat has consistently proved to be on the top beats on the Spey and annually the beat produces about 10% catch of the entire river.
The knowledge that 10% of the catch from the entire river comes from this single fishery means that in this case numbers can be attributed to a fishery. This is unusual.
For 2017, the catch data for the entire River Spey is 4099 salmon of which 146 were killed, 1032 grilse of which 62 were killed, 1874 sea trout of which 261 were killed and 346 finnock of which none were killed. On this basis, Delfur caught 735 fish of which 47 were killed. However, we have no idea whether this one fishery caught and killed more or less than these averages or if they killed any at all. Surely, if there are real concerns about the state of wild fish stocks and their future survival, such detailed information should be available.
We hope that the Convenor takes note in his advancement of real time data of sea lice numbers.
Postscript: Trout & Salmon Magazine has had an overhaul and now includes information about the activities of their contributors during the month. One of these is Andrew Graham Stewart of S&TCS who appears unhappy with the way the SSPO has released sea lice data. Trout & Salmon say that during May and June, Andrew will be focussing on the Scottish Parliamentary inquiry into salmon farming. He’ll also be attending and contributing robustly to the annual NASCO meeting (in Portland Maine). Less onerous will be two days fishing on the Ewe.
Mr Graham Stewart lives on the east coast near some excellent salmon rivers yet it is puzzling that he has chosen to go fishing on the west coast in the heart of the salmon farming industry, especially as S&TCS claim that salmon farming has destroyed west coast salmon and sea trout fishing unless of course……
Mr Smith: A large number of submissions about salmon farming were posted by the REC Committee on their website (http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/108008.aspx) A handful have caught our attention and we may discuss these in a future reLAKSation but for now, we noticed that there is one from Mr Corin Smith, who we have mentioned previously.
Mr Smith’s submission (http://www.parliament.scot/S5_Rural/Corin_Smith.pdf) appears to be an amalgam of some of his comments already posted on his Facebook page and offers little new. He does appear to confirm what he had already said in a phone call, that he was involved with one of the UK’s most successful start-ups and subsequently ran analytics for stock exchange listed companies. As in his telephone call, he does not expand on this information.
During our telephone conversation, Mr Smith was asked to clarify his background, but he simply said to ‘Google’ him. After some research, it seems that the successful start-up in which he was involved was Betfair, an online gambling company. According to MarketVisual.com Mr Smith was an operator with the company from April 2000 to May 2001. Between June 2003 and June 2004, he was head of Market Operations then between February 2005 and January 2006, he was Commercial Operations Director before becoming the Operations Director until January 2007. In 2010, Mr Smith appears in the list of shareholders with a holding of 0.07% of share equating to 69,828 shares. This related to Betfair’s listing on the London Stock Exchange.
It would appear that Mr Smith’s role had something to do with Financial Spread Betting which is trading on a wide range of markets, speculating on whether the price will rise or fall in value. One of the advantages of Spread Betting is that the profits are tax free. Mr Smith’s involvement in Betfair is clearly the reason he feels able to put the salmon industry under financial scrutiny although we are not sure how the two can even be equated.
If we have made any error with this account of Mr Smith’s background, we would anticipate that Mr Smith will be happy to correct us. As we have already pointed out, he was asked about his experience and referred us to look at the Internet and the result is as described.
As well as submitting his evidence to the REC Committee, he has posted a copy on his Facebook page and as a result has received some positive comments from his fellow anglers, to which he has responded.
‘Cheers for the encouragement. Feels like a long since I last did anything close to this type of work. Just wish I had my old teams of analysts and a nice fat wedge of budget. Barely scratched the surface of most issues. Honestly, I don’t yet know what the answers are, but a lot of arrows are pointing in the same direction. What I do know is we need to see an Everest of data, compared to the molehill we are working with just now. Excellent and good people in government departments who are helping. Ministers are, privately, at least, grasping the issues and genuinely shocked. Change is coming but its not going to be fast. In quant (sic) we trust.’
We are in no doubt that Mr Smith is in contact with/working with politicians at Ministerial level and seemingly government departments, but we don’t understand why or how. If there is a debate to be had, then let’s have a debate. Sadly, the wild fish sector of which Mr Corin Smith is an active participant are quick to spread unsubstantiated claims about the salmon industry but quickly vanish if faced with the prospect of having to address the issues directly to the salmon farmers they accuse.
We would suggest that if there is a Minister in the Scottish Government who is genuinely shocked about whatever Mr Smith has told him or her, then he or she should sit down with the industry and hear what they have to say, rather than rely on Mr Smith’s ‘impartial’ analyses. We, at Callander McDowell, don’t speak for the industry, despite whatever the wild fish lobby thinks, but we are sure that all the salmon farming companies would welcome the opportunity to talk to any politician and show them around any farm that they would wish to see.
Conversely, we would be more than happy to talk to any representative from the wild fish sector about the views expressed in the book – Loch Maree’s Missing Sea Trout- but we’re not hopeful.