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reLAKSation no 877

Whose salmon?: Tweedbeats, the River Tweed’s blog for the end of July reported that catches of salmon and sea trout had fallen to just 25 and 7 fish respectively. By comparison, the blog rues that a netsman, fishing off the English coast of Northumbria, had had the best day’s catch, not just of this year, but ever.

The blog’s author points out that this netsman is perfectly entitled to catch as many fish as he can although the Environment Agency had intended to introduce a ban on indiscriminate netting off the NE English coast this year. The ban is now supposed to be implemented in 2019.

According to the blog, it is an outrage that at a time when the Greenlanders and Faroese have agreed not to operate any commercial interceptory fisheries that England continues to allow indiscriminate netting off its NE coast.

However, the blog says that it sticks in the throats of the managers of the 75% of Scottish rivers which are the intended destination of the fish that have been caught but who will never see these fish return or will not receive compensation from either the netsmen or the Environment Agency (who issue the licences) for killing our fish.

We would like to point out that the author of the blog actually referred to them as ‘our fish’.

We, at Callander McDowell, were surprised at this reference to ‘our’ fish because we were reminded of a guest commentary on the now MSP, Andy Wrightman’s Land Matters website ( Fiona Cameron, who has had involvement with both the wild and farmed fish sectors wrote that wild salmon are part of Scotland’s national heritage both culturally and legally. In Scottish law, the fish are ‘res nullius’ which means that they are wild things belonging to no-one, that is until they are caught and removed from the water. Within the wild fish sector, what is actually owned is the right to fish. Fiona says that this means that there is a clear case for management of salmon and sea trout stocks that is overseen by the the Government on behalf of the people of Scotland.

Fiona refers to the book ‘Saving Scotland’s Salmon’ by fisheries biologist Derek Mills, who says that in the years of abundance through to the 1970’s, anglers never had a complaint about the number of fish taken by the coastal nets. Dr Mills suggests that angling for salmon was a much more relaxed pursuit then and many of the well-known beats were only fished by the proprietors and their friends and sometimes not fished at all if conditions were poor, as we are experiencing now.

He perceived a change in the angling scene from the early 1980’s onwards as fishery proprietors began to realise that salmon fishing was a potential big earner. Fiona says that the move to making salmon fishing a business has undoubtedly increased the fishing pressure on stocks as those who have paid a significant sum for a week’s fishing expect not only to fish, but also to catch a fish. Some even expect to be able to keep any fish they catch.

Fiona makes the point that the current system of riparian ownership does not really serve the best interests of Scotland’s wild salmon and sea trout. She suggests that some riparian owners might appear more interested in conserving the value of their landholdings and fishing rights rather than conserving the fish.

By coincidence, we have recently heard rumors that the wild fish sector is talking to Scottish Government about the possibility of allowing local managers to decide how the conservation limits on any river are applied. This is because this year, incomes are down as the hot weather prevents fish from returning to fresh water. We mentioned earlier that English netsmen are reaping an exceptional harvest as salmon remain in coastal waters unable to enter their home rivers.

With less fish in the rivers, exploitation is down, and it has been suggested that there will be a reluctance for anglers to book ahead and therefore local economies could be at significant risk. It seems that even additional finance to help fisheries management is being considered.

Exploitation of stocks may be down, but this is nature in action and conservation of wild fish should not be compromised just because fish are not where they are expected to be for anglers to catch and kill them. Perhaps, rather than looking to address conservation limits for salmon, the fishing fraternity should just leave the salmon alone so that when the time comes they can breed and replenish depleted stocks.

The Tweedbeats blog says that they hope the Environment Agency will put an end to coastal netting in English waters by next year. If there is so much concern for wild fish, is it not time that the Scottish Government introduced mandatory catch and release across all of Scotland? After all, these fish belong to Scotland and should be left in Scotland’s waters, rather than being caught and killed by a visiting angler.


Here today: The Sunday Times reports that the number of people living in sparsely populated rural Scotland will fall below 100,000 because of the continued drift towards centres of population. They refer to a report from the James Hutton Institute, who warn that unless action is taken, the country’s remote settlements will decline sharply over the next two decades, leaving large swathes of the countryside without viable communities.

The Hutton Institute looked at settlements more than 30 minutes away from population centres of 10,000 or more. The definition of “sparsely populated” accounts for almost half of Scotland’s land mass, which is home to just 2.6 per cent of the population. Thinly populated communities were home to just 135,180 residents in 2016. By the end of the 2020s it is predicted that will have fallen to 117,580 and by 2046 to 99,350.

It goes without saying that many people migrate to towns and cities primarily because of a lack of good jobs. Critics of the salmon farming industry have suggested that tourism would be a much better option for rural communities, but they forget that such work is seasonal and generally low paid. Of course, many of these critics live on the west coast because they want to be in rural isolation and they begrudge others the opportunity to live in the same locations but in thriving and growing communities.


One of a kind: There’s nothing like a good exposé to raise a NGO’s profile unfortunately, in the case of OneKind, the Scottish charity against animal cruelty, theirs was not a good exposé but rather a simple rehash of existing data. They managed to get extensive coverage in the Ferret with three articles and a podcast because they paid for it. Each of the articles ends with the statement – ‘This is a three-part investigation into fish farming funded by ‘Eurogroup for Animals’ in Brussels via ‘OneKind’, under an agreement giving The Ferret full editorial control’.

The Ferret’s articles are based on a new report by OneKind in which they have rated individual farming sites on OneKind’s perception of their welfare status. This is calculated from data such as lice counts, escapes, shooting seals, stocking densities and mortality. OneKind claim that the fish are suffering as a consequence of these factors yet, what we, at Callander McDowell find strange is that it is only now in 2018 that OneKind have become concerned about the welfare of farmed salmon. Salmon farming has been an integral part of the Scottish economy for many years and OneKind or its predecessors have never shown an interest in what happened to farmed salmon and now suddenly they believe that they are taking the moral high ground, but clearly they have no comprehension of the salmon farming industry and instead have, as they say, simply crunched some numbers as a way of promoting their cause.

In our opinion, OneKind’s interest in salmon farming has been seeded by others pursuing their own agenda. This has prompted OneKind to recruit a recent graduate to become their aquaculture project officer. However, it takes more than six months to become an expert about salmon farming, that is unless, you jump on the critic’s bandwagon. OneKind’s report brings nothing new to the debate that hasn’t been put forward by the anti-farming lobby, other than a total lack of understanding of the farming process.

Salmon are actually very intolerant of adverse impacts. If fish are ever under stress or as OneKind suggest, suffering from the farming process, then this is immediately apparent as salmon quickly stop feeding. The fact that salmon are growing so well on Scottish farms is indicative of the fact that the suffering as perceived by OneKind does not exist. OneKind’s Director Harry Huyton told the Ferret that he hoped his report will be a serious wakeup call to the salmon farming industry and in particular to those companies that are dragging down others by letting their salmon suffer.

The problem is that Mr Huyton has a particular view that modern farming of any type is cruel. He told that the Ferret’s podcast that the bigger question is whether aquaculture is sustainable. He said that in a perfect world we wouldn’t be doing it, adding that we wouldn’t be farming wild animals in this way. We are not sure what perfect world Mr Huyton wants to inhabit but the reality is that the human race needs to be fed and this must be done in an intensive way. It is interesting that Mr Huyton perceives farmed salmon to be wild animals because the wild fish lobby do not see them as wild. This brings us to the obvious deficiency in OneKind’s new interest in fish. Their website includes details of their recent campaign against the shooting of mountain hares for sport and to protect other species intended for sport, yet their concern over the ‘pain’ experienced by farmed fish doesn’t seem to extend to wild salmon and trout hooked for sport.


Wrassed off: Fish Farming Expert reports that a long-term project run by Marine Harvest and Scottish Sea Farms to farm wrasse for use as cleaner fish has managed to wean young wrasse onto dry feed which means that farming wrasse commercially is a step nearer. The hope is that this will end the need to catch wrasse from the wild.

By coincidence, we recently came across a comment on Twitter from a well-known conservationist that stated: ‘At a teach in on live wrasse fishing by Devon & Severn Inland Fisheries and Conservation Authority on how south-west England wrasse stocks were plundered to supply the Scottish farmed salmon industry’.  This comes after campaign by the Angling Trust to limit the use of English wrasse on Scottish salmon farms. They told the Observer newspaper that wrasse are very popular and many young people take up angling as a hobby after fishing for them. They always put the wrasse back as they are not particularly appetising. The Angling Trust say that it is receiving more and more reports from anglers that there are very few wrasse left in local waters particularly around south-west England.

Interestingly, a report in the Plymouth Herald suggested that the Angling Trust’s campaign, as well as a similar one by the Devon Wildlife Trust, are misleading. The paper reported that 57,000 wrasse had been captured around the Dorset coast and this equated to around 3 tonnes of the fish. By comparison, 80 tonnes of wrasse, a by-catch of other fisheries, was sold as bait for crab pots.

It does seem that it is perfectly acceptable to catch and kill wrasse to use as bait but because the fish are associated with salmon farming, the trade is considered deplorable.

It is interesting that the language coming out of a meeting with the IFCA refers to plundering of stocks even though the Plymouth Herald reported that the Devon & Severn ICFA had persuaded the four fishing boats catching these fish to work under a strict regime and set limits on when, how, and how much they can catch.

At least when Marine Harvest and Scottish Sea Farms become successful in farming wrasse, then at least English stocks of the fish will be only plundered for their value as bait. Of course, there is always the question as to whether any concern by anglers about the use of wrasse is just part of their wider campaign against the salmon farming industry rather than any real concern for these fish.