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reLAKSation no 915

Artificial: In the last issue of reLAKSation, we discussed our presence at the first public showing of the film Artifishal in the UK. We have now had time to reflect on what we saw and what we heard and would like to offer our perspective of the evening event.

As we have already mentioned, the audience consisted of young people who were clearly eco-aware. Corin Smith, one of the ‘expert’ panellists wrote on his Facebook page that ‘It’s been hugely positive to hear from the crowds at the film tour who are most interested in the food chain and pollution issues. Less than 5% of attendees have any interest in fishing. Almost all are around 30 or under. A wave of environmentally concerned, active, well informed and motivated people are piling into this issue. It’s great to see.’

In his introduction, the panel moderator referred to this eco-awareness and asked the audience how many people had been to the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ demonstrations that were taking place in London.  Many of the audience raised their hands indicating the widespread commitment to eco-awareness. We mention this because one of the aims of ‘Extinction Rebellion’ is to demand a halt to biodiversity loss. Whilst, the ‘expert’ panel were keen to discuss the evils of salmon farming, we are not sure how many of the audience were cognisant that the common interest of the panel was salmon angling and how much impact angling has had on the status of wild salmonid stocks. In Scotland, anglers have caught an average 10,000 wild fish annually for over sixty year and all of these fish have been killed simply in the name of sport. We would have been interested to see and hear the response of this audience if they were aware that ‘so-called conservationists’ are still catching and killing threatened wild fish for sport.

Perhaps, this is something that we should have raised during the evening’s Q&A, but we were mindful that there was a greater opportunity to discuss the issues. Mr Smith wrote elsewhere on his Facebook page about the film showings that ‘Anyone can come to these events. Everyone is free to ask questions and challenge what is said. We have nothing to hide and we are not hiding from anyone. This is open debate.’ However, what Mr Smith says is not true. As we mentioned previously, it was suggested to us at the door that the audience would not be receptive to hearing an in-depth discussion of specific issues and therefore it might be helpful if questions were not asked at this particular event. In the hope of an invitation to meet with people from Patagonia, the company behind the film, we opted to remain quiet.

Prior to the showing, the moderator asked the panel to answer the question ‘what is the problem with salmon farms? Andrew Graham Stewart from Salmon & Trout Conservation said that whilst salmon numbers have dropped in all rivers, stocks on the west coast have collapsed. He added that the only difference between west coast rivers and rivers elsewhere is the presence of salmon farms. Despite several attempts to meet Mr Graham Stewart, he has resisted our advances. We would like to point out that whilst S&TC have repeatedly stated that the only difference between rivers is salmon farming, there are clearly several other differences. The most obvious being that east coast rivers are long, often with meandering flows. By comparisons, west coast rivers are typically short spate rivers. This key difference is reflected in the stock of wild fish. Mr Graham Stewart said that stocks have collapsed in the west, yet, 47% of Aquaculture Zone fishery districts have one fishery that has been to be exploitable by anglers allowing them to kill fish for sport. This does not suggest that west coast wild fish stocks are in crisis.

In 2011, the Rivers & Fisheries Trusts (RAFTS) responded to a salmon industry claim that west coast stocks of wild fish were not different to stocks elsewhere. They produced a graph showing how east coast catches were increasing whilst those on the west coast had decreased. The problem for us was that their graph was based on percentage change from the catch in 1970.  Since then there has not been a comparison of catches from west coast (salmon farming) and east coast river (no salmon farms). With the release of the 2018 catch data, we have produced a comparison of coasts (Tweed to Wick and Aquaculture Zone).

What is most notable is the similarity between catches from both coasts. There is in fact a correlation of about +0.3 (on a scale of -1 to +1). A slight divergence occurred during the late 1990s. This has been attributed by the wild fish sector as being the influence of salmon farming, yet, catches recovered despite increased aquaculture production. An alternative explanation is that the wild salmon sector had increasingly claimed through the press that salmon farming had wiped out fish stocks on the west coast and consequently anglers avoided fishing the west coast. It was only as reports emerged that those anglers who had ventured into the west were catching good fish, that anglers started to return and hence catches increased. Catches have declined in the most recent years, but the decline matches that seen on the east coast. It doesn’t stop critics such as Mr Graham Stewart blaming salmon farming.  Of course, we will be accused of spinning the data and that catches are not necessarily indicative of what is happening in the rivers. Yet, it is worth remembering that the Scottish Government have used such data for over sixty years to assess the state of Scotland’s wild fish stocks. There were no complaints when catches were high.

We should also point out that even before salmon farming arrived on the west coast, west coast catches accounted for around 10% of the national catch and therefore have never been large as can be seen by the numbers on the right-hand side of the graph.

During the Q&A, Mr Graham Stewart told the audience that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had recently decreed that salmon farming was not sustainable and their decision would eventually get through to consumers. Actually, the ASA said nothing of the sort. Salmon farming critic Derek McLay saw an old image from a salmon farming company in which they stated: ‘the sustainable salmon company’. Mr McLay took exception to the word sustainable and complained to the ASA. When the ASA approached the company concerned, they were told that this was an old image which they no longer used. As there was therefore nothing to investigate, the ASA closed the case. There simply is no story, and there never was, except in the minds of the salmon industry critics who look for any excuse to try to undermine salmon farming.

Corin Smith, who Patagonia seem to have recruited to front most showings of the film, told the assembled crowd that farmed salmon, which can be bought in any supermarket, are fed wild fish with a conversion of 5kg wild fish to one kg of farmed flesh. He said that the plunder of wild fish stocks to feed farmed salmon was a global issue.

What Mr Smith did not tell the audience was that as well as farmed salmon, it is also possible to buy in supermarkets, fishmeal for spreading as a fertilizer on gardens and pet animal food made from wild fish. If feeding farmed salmon with wild fish is a global issue, why is this spreading fishmeal in the garden and feeding pet animals with fish not a global issue too? Nearly three million tonnes of wild fish goes to feed the global pet population and yet this does not merit even a mention from Mr Smith, Patagonia or many environmental groups. This is because Mr Smith is only concerned that in the future there may not be any wild salmon and sea trout for him to pursue for his sport.

What we find most interesting is neither Mr Smith nor Mr Graham Stewart focus their attention on the wild fish they aim to protect. Instead, they look for any way to attack salmon farming without providing any conclusive link between salmon farm activity and the decline of wild fish. In fact, Mr Smith describes this strategy in a post on Facebook. This is titled: ‘How is done? Orchestrated Obfuscation’. He goes on to say: ‘Deflect the issue, sow doubt, create confusion. Every day resist effective policy making and regulation.’ Of course, he is not describing wild catch salmon fisheries but salmon farming but what he says is much more appropriate to those from the wild fish sector who attack salmon farming. We have always argued that this focus on salmon farming is simply a way to deflect attention away from the deficiencies of the wild fish sector.

We’ll just end by referring to another statement from Mr Smith’s Facebook page in which he responds to someone’s comment. He says: ‘You are the one or two who want to attack individuals rather than argue the issue.’

Interestingly, his obfuscation comment is illustrated with images of a Salmon Farm MD, Paid Lobbyist and a Paid Blogger along with a picture of Pinocchio. If this is not an attack on the individual, we don’t know what is. In addition, we have clearly told Mr Smith that we are not paid anything to write reLAKSation or to do anything that acts on the industry’s behalf. We cannot be any clearer. Mr Smith is not the only one from the wild sector to attack the messenger rather than the message. Equally, neither him nor Mr Graham Stewart are willing to discuss the issues at all. We have made repeated attempts to meet Mr Graham Stewart whose response in the press was that it shows his email spam box is working well. When we heard that the film was to be shown in Manchester, we wrote to Corin Smith to invite him for a drink, coffee or a meal and a chat. We now know he did not attend that showing, but he did not respond regardless. So much for wanting to discuss the issues. We hope Patagonia might be a little more open to discussion, but we’ll have to wait and see.


Seagone: Seafish recently ran a Seagan campaign in which they hoped to persuade vegans to include fish in their diets even though vegans will not eat any flesh. We have not heard what impact this campaign had on fish consumption, but we suspect that it didn’t.

There is a lot of talk about veganism but a new survey of consumers from North East Lincolnshire, ie around the Grimsby area, found, that despite a huge surge in veganism, a vegan diet was followed by around one percent of the population. According to Grimsby Live, this tallies with figures from the Vegan Society who estimated that there are about half a million vegans in the UK. This is about three times as many as there were in 2006.

The survey from YouGov found that even though there was much publicity about changing to a more environmentally friendly diet, 91% of the local people still eat meat. Of these 75% claim to be carnivores whilst 16% say that they are Flexitarian, i.e. people who mainly eat plant-based foods but still eat meat.

The survey found that five percent said that they were vegetarian, and three percent claimed to be pescatarian, i.e. that the only flesh they eat is from fish.

Finally, the survey found 6% of meat eaters said that they may give up eating meat this year. This still leaves a large majority who eat a more traditional diet.

It does seem that targeting minority groups is likely to be a fruitless exercise. If fish consumption is to be increased, then the whole population must be considered the target audience.

However, we acknowledge that targeting the whole population can be equally futile certainly without a change of approach. We believe that Seafish are planning to discuss ‘understanding consumers and new market initiatives’ at the next Common Language Group meeting in July. We certainly look forward to hearing about these initiatives then and how they will lead to the desired increase in consumption. In the meantime, our understanding of consumers is that many just don’t seem to want to eat fish.