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reLAKSation no 914

Nero fiddles: The Times newspaper reported this week that salmon catches are at their lowest levels ever recorded. Alan Wells, chief executive of Fisheries Management Scotland, said: “Figures for 2018, taken with those of recent years, confirm this iconic species is now approaching crisis point” He added that “Some of the factors impacting on wild salmon stocks may be beyond human control. But Scotland’s government and regulatory authorities now have a historic opportunity to do everything in their power to safeguard the species in those areas where they can make a difference.” In a subsequent Tweet, FMS stated “Effective regulation of human impacts on Scotland’s environment – aquaculture – agriculture – hydro energy development etc will make a meaningful difference for wild salmon”.

We at Callander McDowell can only wonder as to why FMS have omitted the most obvious actions to safeguard wild fish. They don’t even need government and regulatory authorities to intercede, they could do it themselves – stopping fishing for wild fish for sport. The angling sector previously demanded that commercial netting should cease to protect wild fish, and this has not halted the declines. A similar suspension of all angling for salmon and sea trout should be implemented immediately to enable every returning fish to breed without any interruption.

We are realistic enough to know that the angling lobby will never stop fishing, as this is their raison d’ȇtre and their lobby is too powerful to persuade government otherwise. However, the impact on wild fish could be minimised by firstly classifying every river in Scotland as category 3 and to make killing fish for sport illegal. Any fish killed accidently should be frozen and sent to Marine Scotland Science for research purposes. More importantly, the fishing season should be restricted to May, June and July only. This would ensure that fish are in the best possible condition to spawn and produce the future generations.

The Scottish Government have now published the catch returns for 2018 which indicate that just 37,196 salmon were caught, of which 2,475 were killed. This is 67% of the five-year average. Salmon catches peaked in 2010 with a record haul of over 111,000 salmon and grilse and the current catch represents just 33% of that catch.

Given that the angling sector continues to maintain its attack on the salmon farming industry with claims that it is responsible for the loss of wild fish, we are therefore interested in how the catches from east and west coasts have fared. Back in 2016, Marine Scotland Science produced a report comparing catches from east and west coast. They did this by examining the proportion of the catch taken from the farming and non-farming areas. The following graph is taken from their report.

The black line represents the divide between west and east coast which typically averages out at about 10%. This means that 10% of the salmon catch comes from rivers within the Aquaculture Zone and 90% from other Scottish rivers, mainly east coast. There was a time from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s when the catch rose to 15% and peaked in about 1967 at 19%. The red line is salmon farm production and MSS were trying to show that as salmon farm production increased, the catch decreased. That is not exactly the case. The graph is misleading because when the percentage catch decreases, it may not be due to declining catches on the west coast but increasing catches on the east. Equally, when east catches decline, the percentage catch from the west will increase. The blue line shows how the west coast catch has increased as a proportion of the total catch.

This year the Aquaculture Zone salmon catch was 6,230 fish compared to 30,966 from elsewhere. This means that using the MSS formula, salmon catches have increased to nearly 17% of the total Scottish catch. However, this increase is not just due to a decline in the east. The 2018 catch from the Aquaculture Zone is 85% of the 2010 record catch whilst the 2018 catch from the east coast is just 34% of the 2010 catch. It is clear that the problems of wild salmon are centred on the east coast, hundreds of miles from the nearest salmon farm.

Year in year out, we have heard how damaging salmon farming is to wild fish yet, there is currently no direct evidence to support such claims. We have previously argued that the problem affecting wild fish was apparent much earlier in the west coast because of the nature of the rivers there. The much larger east coast rivers have had a large reservoir of fish which has protected stocks from the problems. Unfortunately, these reservoirs were not infinite and the inevitable is now becoming apparent.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that despite claims that west coast rivers are devoid of wild fish, anglers have still managed to kill 61 salmon and grilse from rivers within the Aquaculture Zone and 514 sea trout and finnock. This represents 3% and 30% of the total number of salmon and sea trout respectively killed for sport in 2018 in Scotland. If wild fish are so threatened, why are they still being killed for sport?


Daniel in the Lion’s Den: A more unlikely place cannot be imagined for the UK premier of clothing company, Patagonia’s new film, Artifishal. The Crate Brewery and Pizzeria in a canal side warehouse in Hackney Wick in east London, not far from the Olympic Stadium. We would have thought an independent cinema in central London would have been a more appropriate venue, except the location in ‘The Garage’, a store room cum venue with a bar, was well suited to the target audience of young eco-hipsters. About a hundred or so people crammed into the venue, armed with beer and pizza, to watch this cinematic attack on salmon farming, restocking and river dams followed by a Q & A with a panel of experts.


This was an opportunity not to be missed. The evening event began with music from a band followed by an introduction from the panel of experts. These were:


Andrew Graham Stewart – Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland
Friðleifur Guðmundsson – North Atlantic Salmon Iceland
Corin Smith – Activist and fly fisher
Mikael Frodin – Swedish fly fisher
The moderator was Alistair Maltby, Operations Director of The Rivers Trust,


The panel were asked what is the problem with salmon farms?


Andrew Graham Stewart (AGS) told the audience that salmon numbers have dropped in all rivers across the UK but rivers along the west coast have seen stocks collapse. Some small rivers have lost all their stock. AGS said that the only difference between west coast and elsewhere is salmon farms adding that some salmon farmers have admitted to him privately that their actions have destroyed wild stocks.


Friðleifur Guðmundsson (FG) expressed concern about the expansion of salmon farming in Iceland. He said that Iceland has the chance to do it right as there is better technology available today. He is campaigning for Iceland to avoid what has happened in Norway with disease, waste and sea lice.


Corin Smith (CS) said that farmed Atlantic salmon is what consumers buy in supermarkets and restaurants like Yo Sushi. He said farmed salmon are fed wild fish with conversions of 5:1, adding that this is a global issue However, he said that whatever feed is used to feed farmed salmon will be an environmental issue. Many of the solutions today are just band-aids plastering over the problems such as advocating restocking.


Mikael Frodin (MF) said he saw the problems in Norway 20 years ago. Wild salmon numbers have dropped by half over the last ten years. Salmon stocks have been genetically polluted by escaped farmed salmon, yet the industry says there isn’t a problem. Not only has salmon disappeared but also cod and prawns. The salmon industry has mortality of 24% and in 2017, 53 million fish died.


The film was then shown. There are two points that are worth making:


  1. The film was primarily about the implications of restocking rivers in the US. The recurring message was that restocking rivers at the cost of billions of dollars harmed the wild fish stocks, however, there was no explanation of why.
  2. Only a small section of the film concerned salmon farming. It seemed that this had been squeezed in to make the film more appealing to a European audience. It didn’t really make sense against the main theme. The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, was seen to say that restocking and salmon farming are much the same. The section on salmon farming concerned the break-up of the salmon farm in storms in Washington State and some underwater filming by Mikael Frodin in which he managed to identify a sick fish.


A Q&A followed the film although quite a number of people walked out as the film ended.

The questions were – How do we get consumers to stop eating farmed salmon. CS said that they need to speak to more people who eat farmed salmon and get the message across. Mass mobilisation against farmed salmon is required. AGS said that things are changing and that the Advertising Standards Authority rule that salmon farming could not be called sustainable. Most people want to eat sustainably and messages like this will eventually reach them. Another question was whether there was a place for sustainable fish farming in future. CS said it was difficult to answer. He said that the industry could move to closed containment, but the fish still have to be fed and flying wild fish to Europe to feed them to fish makes no sense. There are also issues of fish welfare. However, open cage farming will never be sustainable. MF said that salmon are seasonal, yet the industry tries to make consumers eat it every day. This is working against nature to make as much money as possible. The final question was that the MCS say that wild Pacific salmon are green rated but how does this fit in with the issues about hatcheries raised in the film. There was a bit of a debate as to whether any scheme could be really trusted. CS said that the RSPCA scheme is an abomination. He said that consumers must be sceptical.


Given that the film hardly mentioned salmon farming, the discussion appeared somewhat out of place. However, the eco-hipsters have already been convinced that salmon farming is evil, so the discussion was always going to be one sided.


The obvious question that readers of reLAKSation might ask is why did we not ask a question or intercede in the debate. The reason is that the organisers had flagged up our presence and suggested that the event was not the place to engage in a more detailed debate. Hopefully, our restraint will lead to a more comprehensive discussion at another time. We will however discuss our take on the views expressed at this event in the next issue of reLAKSation.




Dead whale: According to BBC News, the body of a dead humpback whale recently washed ashore in East Lothian. The body was entangled in rope and experts say that the whale had been entangled for weeks if not months before it died. The whale’s stomach was found to be empty and it is thought the rope prevented it from feeding. The whale weakens and eventually drowns.


However, what may be of interest to readers of reLAKSation is that the veterinary pathologist told the BBC that not only were the lesions from the rope extremely chronic, but the whale had a parasite burden that was the most he had ever seen in an animal of this size. He said that the whale had become weak because it couldn’t feed, which meant its immune system weakened which meant in turn that the parasite burden increased. This added more stress to the whale.


All parasites have a similar infestation strategy with increasing numbers in a small number of hosts, usually those already weakened or stressed. This is called over-dispersion and happens in exactly the same way in sea trout. A few sea trout carry large numbers of parasites. The problem is that those sampling the fish often think that such a small sample is representative of the whole sea trout stock. This is the basis on which the salmon farming industry is blamed for wild fish declines. However, the reality is that most of the sea trout stock will either have one or two parasites or none at all. Unfortunately, so entrenched is the idea that salmon farming is to blame that the possibility that parasites act differently to other animals is not even considered. Sadly, the scientific community seem reluctant to correct this misplaced view.


It is interesting that such a large animal as a whale has been infested in exactly the same way as sea trout.



4 alternatives: Now that the Scottish Government have reported that the catch of wild salmon is at a record low, Sam Wylie-Harris, food and drink editor at the Press Association has helpfully provided four good alternatives. Miss Wylie-Harris seems unaware that wild salmon has already been off the menu for a couple of years due to the ban on commercial netting.


The alternatives recommended by Ms Wylie-Harris in the online magazine are sardines, clams, squid and mackerel.


We would like to suggest a much better option. This is the salmon that is widely available in supermarkets everywhere. Just because stocks of salmon from Scottish rivers is unavailable does not mean consumers should go without. However, if they want to eat other fish too, then why not. It is even possible to eat a combination with this recipe of salmon with clams: