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reLAKSation no 935

5 minutes with: The October issue of ‘Trout & Salmon’ magazine has just been published. This includes a ‘five-minute’ interview with ‘Salmon ‘conservationist’ Andrew Graham Stewart’.

Mr Graham Stewart is asked ‘As Director of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland, what is the toughest part of your job?’

His reply:

‘Counteracting the devious spin of most of the salmon farming industry, who cynically, do not have the integrity to admit that their activities have decimated wild fish stocks in the west Highlands and Islands. Their modus operandi of blanket denials, often voiced by individuals who are essentially salmon farm groupies, is straight out of the PR manual of the tobacco industry in the 1960s.’

This is the first time that we have been called a groupie for it is surely us to who he refers. We shall wear it as a badge of honour because we will continue to shout out loud that we do not believe that the reason for the decline of wild salmon and sea trout is salmon farming. We would be very happy to have a conversation with Mr Graham Stewart to allow him to have the opportunity to convince us otherwise However, he has consistently refused to even acknowledge our existence except in the press. We cannot be clearer, if Mr Graham Stewart is so confident of his view that salmon farming is to blame for wild fish declines then be prepared to stand up and face those who disagree.

Mr Andrew Graham Stewart is also asked ‘what is the most rewarding?’

His reply:

‘Confirmation that we are winning the battle of hearts and minds such as when recently a leading SNP MSP confided that ‘we used to believe the salmon farmers, now we know that they are just a bunch of liars!’’

So, according to Mr Graham Stewart, we are part of a bunch of liars. We are not sure when telling the truth was considered lying because it seems that anything we say that is contrary to Mr Graham Stewart’s view, he considers to be a lie.

However, we would like to give an example of our difference of opinion and anyone reading this can decide on who is right and who is wrong.

Mr Graham Stewart uses the fishing report section to regularly expound his views on salmon farming. This latest issue is no different. In the report about West Sutherland in which he mentions catches from the River Dionard in July of twenty-two grilse and salmon together with eleven sea trout, the largest of which was 11lb in weight. Fifty-three salmon and grilse were caught up to the 20th of August plus forty sea trout. He then continues to note that it is depressing to read that Loch Duart want to expand their salmon farming operation in Loch Laxford. Mr Graham Stewart says that Loch Laxford is of course the sea loch into which Loch Stack, once one of the truly great sea trout fisheries drains. The implication is clear, that salmon farming was responsible for the collapse of the Loch Stack sea trout fishery, just as the Loch Ewe salmon farms caused the collapse of the Loch Maree sea trout fishery.

We, at Callander McDowell, are happy to refute Mr Graham Stewart’s assertion, which clearly makes us liars. We would however, like to draw Mr Graham Stewart’s attention to a publication jointly produced by the Scottish Marine Biological Association and the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory in Montrose and published in 1990. The report is the proceedings of a symposium held at the Dunstaffnage Marine Research Laboratory in June 1987. The symposium was attended by some very eminent people involved with wild fish including Andy Walker to whom Mr Graham Stewart asked to produce a report in 2016 on the impacts of salmon farming on wild fish.

A paper presented by M.J. Picken from SAMS looked at the changes to sea trout catches across the west Highlands.  Mr Picken wrote:

The north-west has shown a steady decline with the highest catches in the middle to late 1950s; The region can be further examined with reference to different river systems. Historically, the name of Loch Stack was a password for excellence in sea trout circles. Before 1952, it was fished only by a few members of the proprietor’s family, the salmon fishing of the Laxford River possibly being the greater attraction. However Young (1885) mentions that it was Scotland’s premier loch for sea trout in terms of numbers and size. Unfortunately, its reputation has been eroded by a steady decline in catches from 1960-65 and again in the late 1970s.

Young A. (1885). Salmon rivers in the counties of Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness, Argyll and Dumbarton. Third Ann Rep. Fish Bd. Scot. Appendix G pp 97-100


Graph by M Picken 1987


At this point, it is worth mentioning that the salmon farm in Loch Laxford was first registered in August 1985 so following on from, Mr Picken’s paper we would suggest that salmon farming had nothing to do with the collapse of the Loch Stack sea trout fishery. If Mr Graham Stewart wants to suggest that we are lying, we would like to see the contrary evidence. At the same time, we would suggest that if this is part of some tobacco related PR then it would seem that all those attending this symposium in 1987 must also be complicit.


Sick!!! A little-known fact is that there are about 3,800 veterinary practices in the UK. The work of one, Skeldale Veterinary Centre in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, is featured in the Channel 5 TV documentary series, ‘The Yorkshire Vet’. Viewers can watch the day to day activities of a mixed animal practice. The reason why this veterinary practice, and nearly four thousand others, exist is that farm animals get sick and need to be treated. This is a simple fact of life. Veterinarians also treat the millions of pet animals that are part of people’s daily lives. Pet animals get sick too.

One anti-salmon farm critic has recently been mining the Marine Scotland Fish Health section for pictures of sick salmon, which are posted on social media with claims that they are evidence of fish welfare abuses and disease-ridden farms. These comments are accompanied by demands that these are proof of why the salmon farming industry should be closed down. However, fish get sick just like any other animal and therefore we would have thought that if salmon farms should be shut down, then all animal farms should close too. At the same time, if pets get sick, then surely, people should be prevented from keeping pets so that they won’t get sick.

There are also about 7,000 doctor’s surgeries in the UK. This is because people get sick too. Based on Don Staniford’s view, then perhaps we should maybe get rid of people too in case they get sick.

What Mr Staniford fails to mention is that the few examples that he has taken from the Fish Health website are not representative of the many thousands of tonnes of healthy high quality salmon that are harvested every year and are eaten and enjoyed by the general public, not just in the UK but in many countries around the world.

Pictures of healthy salmon farmed in a responsible way are not conducive to Mr Staniford’s negative claims about salmon farming. So, he continues to post pictures taken from the Fish Health website whether they are relevant or not. Mr Staniford has made it his life mission to criticise the salmon farming industry, but the reality is that he depends on the existence of the salmon industry otherwise he may have to get a proper job and work for a living like the rest of us.

After being deported from Canada for his disruptive activities there, he appears to have no means of income to support his children who he shamelessly uses in his campaigning on social media, He is usually ignored except by his very small group of acolytes. However, this week a fellow Tweeter opted to respond to Mr Staniford. ‘Felix’ tweeted ‘Is it your agenda to organise sustained abuse of third-party companies/salmon farmers by @’ing everyone? Dogpiling is a form of online bullying Mr Staniford. Maybe @TwitterSupport would like to look into your rabid tweets aimed at innocent people and companies.’

What is interesting is that at the same time, BBC News highlighted a new report from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate. CCDH is a new think tank that says it aims to find “practical solutions” to the “increasing use of racial and religious intolerance, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of identity-based hate to polarise societies and undermine democracy”.

The report suggests that trolls attack in groups, coordinating activities to “isolate” and “mass-assault” a public figure to bait them into responding. “It is crucial to remember that troll propagandists are not seeking to enter an honest debate,” say the report’s authors Imran Ahmed and Dr Linda Papadopoulos. They describe defending yourself against online abuse as a “trap”.

“We act counterproductively, engaging trolls, debating them, believing this is a battle of ideas.

“In fact, the trolls are playing a quite different game. They don’t want to ‘win’ or ‘lose’ an argument; they just want their ideas to be heard by as many potential converts as possible.”

One group, Mr Staniford has converted, or at least partially converted is SumofUS who claim to put people before profits. They have a community of 15.3 million people whose aim it is, is to stop corporations from behaving badly. They describe themselves as:

‘SumOfUs is a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations. We want to buy from, work for and invest in companies that respect the environment, treat their workers well and respect democracy. And we’re not afraid to hold them to account when they don’t.’

We, at Callander McDowell, find all of this rather odd because the salmon farming companies, we know all respect the environment, treat their workers well and most importantly, respect democracy (at least when it is based on truth and not untruths and misinformation). We suspect that most SumOfUs members recognise that truth because Mr Staniford only persuaded less than 0.3% of the SumOfUs community to sign his petition; hardly a great success!

SumOfUs supported Mr Staniford in his recent three-day protest up on the west coast and they have subsequently sent out a mailing about the event to their members with the obligatory request for money. We do find it funny that they object to corporations making money but are not averse to asking their own supporters for cash.

We were sent a copy of the mailing which we would like to share simply to demonstrate the huge difference between their version and the reality. We were very much struck by the fact that the SumOfUs organiser of this three- day protest was only willing to spend just one day on the west coast. It was a long way to travel from London for just one day of this epic protest. Equally, why was she on her own and where were the other 43, 000 people who signed the petition. In the end just a handful of people showed up for this ‘epic protest’. She mentions that after the west coast protest, Mr Staniford and his intrepid team headed for the Scottish Parliament. This intrepid team consisted of Mr Staniford, his wife and his two very young children!

We were also struck by the idea that the organiser seemed to think that farms were located offshore so they could hide their activities out of sight!! She also seemed to think that the staff on the farms were following them to keep them away from the sites, whereas they were following them to make sure they were safe. The idea of people swimming around a salmon farm is a health and safety nightmare.

The organiser relates that Mr Staniford did manage to obtain a water sample from around one site but that the Scottish Government refused to accept it. We can only presume that SumOfUs then sent off the sample for independent analysis and we expect the result to be forthcoming.

The truth is that Sondhya, the SumOfUs organiser has little idea about salmon farms and is simply repeating the misleading and incorrect information that she has heard from Mr Staniford. We have offered to meet with her for a coffee and a chat, but she has refused. As CCHD suggest these people are not interested in the truth, they simply want to attract more people to pass on their message and in the case of SumOfUs, generate a significant income whilst doing so.

Their mailing is copied as is:

“”Together, we’ve really got under the skin of the salmon farming industry recently.

For over three years now, SumOfUs members have been calling on the Scottish government to better monitor and regulate the salmon farming industry. They’re basically underwater battery farms that causes harm to the farmed fish themselves as well as wild salmon and other marine creatures — including seals, dolphins and porpoises.

Support from SumOfUs members like you meant we were able to pull off an epic three-day protest on and off the water in Scotland.

Even before we’d pulled on our waterproofs and wetsuits, our plans resulted in a flurry of press, with salmon farming corporations branding us a ‘serious hazard’. We knew we’d really touched a nerve when we received emails from the companies, putting restrictions on us filming the battery salmon cages. What are they so desperately trying to hide?

Undeterred, I joined our partner Don Staniford from Scottish Salmon Watch and the crew of sailors and kayakers at Dunstaffnage marina just north of Oban early one Saturday morning. I was ready to swim past the farms to draw attention to the harm they are doing both to the salmon inside the cages and to the surrounding environment.

We’d packed the boat and were all ready to set off when the heavens opened and the wind whistled through the rigging. When we finally set out, the sea had been whipped into a frenzy. It was clearly not safe to proceed closer to the farm or get into the water to collect samples, so we abandoned plans to sail and headed back to port.

We took the landlubbers route to another farm, tucked up in the protected waters of a loch, and were able to kayak and swim to protest. But we found that the salmon at the farm had been removed from the cages. Still, staff from the farming corporation were there and wanted to keep us away from the site — and local police came by to check out what was happening

Luckily, Sunday’s team had much calmer conditions (I clearly picked the wrong day!) and were able to get close to three active salmon farms. Despite farming giant Mowi’s best efforts to prevent it, they were able to collect samples of waste effluent from all three farms.

The company was so determined to stop us from filming, Don wasn’t able to get close enough to the cages to see the fish close up. I can’t help thinking that if they really thought their battery salmon was healthy and happy, they’d be more than happy for us to see that.

After a day’s rest, Don and his intrepid team travelled to Edinburgh to deliver the samples they’d collected to Fergus Ewing MSP, Secretary for the Rural Economy. He’s the government minister responsible for fishing who’s been dragging his heels over better testing and regulation of the salmon farming industry.

Government authorities have avoided going out to collect samples, so we did the hard work — thanks to SumOfUs members’ generous support — and all they had to do was take the samples to a lab for testing.

But, despite claiming how safe and sustainable industrial salmon farming is his office refused to receive the samples, claiming they were a biosecurity risk. The irony! But we will get one sample to the lab at Marine Scotland to see what they find.

Although our plans were affected by poor weather, we definitely succeeded in shining a light on industrial salmon farming, and turning up the heat on the corporations that profit from damaging the living oceans. And we couldn’t have done it without SumOfUs members like you.

My trip out to the salmon farms really made it clear how easy it could be for the industry to hide what they are up to. The cages are hard to get to, and the weather might stop inspectors from making the trip out.

But that shouldn’t stop us from continuing to call for better regulations and closer inspection of the sites. In fact, it makes the need all the more urgent.

It’s obvious to us now that years of industrial farming on land, and the over-use of pesticides has lead to a collapse of the pollinator and worm populations that form the very basis of life. We have the chance right now to stop corporations from doing the same to the sea, before it’s too late.

We’re so grateful for your monthly donation. It means we’re ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice. But with salmon farming corporation Mowi lobbying hard to set up an even bigger salmon farm in deeper waters further out to sea, we have an even bigger fight on our hands. Can you make a one-off donation today so we can ramp up the fight against harmful battery salmon farms?

Thanks for all that you do,
Sondhya, Anna and the team at SumOfUs””


Science : The Guardian newspaper reports that climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has bluntly told members of the US Congress to heed scientists’ warnings over global heating on a day when the existential anguish of young activists was given a voice at the heart of Washington DC power. She told Congress “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists,” Thunberg told the US lawmakers. “I want you to unite behind the science and I want you to take real action.”

The trouble  for most members of the public is to know which scientists they can trust. Scientists take very different positions on issues and this can dramatically affect their view. We mention this because we have yet to hear any response from the wild fish sector as to our view that there is a more plausible explanation as to why the Loch Maree sea trout fishery collapsed at the end of the 1980s than it being the fault of the salmon farming industry. We believe that it was the removal of the three-mile fishing limit in 1984 that finally sounded the death knell of this over-exploited fishery. Of course, the wild fish sector doesn’t want to hear this as it rather undermines their repeated claims about the impacts of salmon farming. Eventually, they will have no choice to listen, but we know that their first response will be to say that if the evidence is correct, then why is the work not published as a scientific paper.

The simple answer is that, although it is a very long time since our time in academia, we have tried to get it published but we have been met with many hurdles. We suspect that the first obstacle is that we are no longer part of an academic institution.

We submitted the paper first to an ecological journal who said that an investigation about Loch Maree was far too local for their international audience!

We therefore decided to submit it to the journal in which we had seen the Inner Clyde data published. After all, that was very local. The reviewer’s main comment was as follows:

Reviewer #1: ‘There are fundamental issues with this paper. While you claim no conflict of interest, you work for a company which provides “Strategic Planning and Marketing for the Aquaculture Industry”. You therefore have a vested interest in exonerating the aquaculture industry for any blame for the decline in wild stocks. Out of curiosity I searched for your name and found the many other examples of your work in the media’.

We did not report any conflict of interest because there was none. We did not hide our affiliation, but we are left pondering what this has to do with the science. We appealed for a re-evaluation and the appeal was allowed. However, it was clearly apparent that the appeal was just an exercise and they had been convinced by the reviewers’ comments. Of course, the reviewer is anonymous, so we are unable to check his connection to aquaculture related research.

Given the anti—aquaculture views, we thought we would try an aquaculture related journal as this might be more forgiving as to our connections. However, the editor refused to send the paper for review because didn’t we know that there was a huge body of work that showed that wild fish died from sea lice infestations from farmed salmon and our paper had ignored all this evidence? We have now looked into the background of this editor and it comes as no surprise to discover in which areas his past research was directed.

We are now looking at funding a student to take a new look at the data and re-present a paper in future.

It isn’t possible to go through this process without wondering whether potential reviewers have got their own conflict of interest in that anything that might undermine the sea lice argument might bring an end to this lucrative area of scientific research?

Greta Thunberg might tell us to listen to the scientists, but we would rather make our own judgements after looking at all the evidence.

Whether the removal of the three- mile limit is the cause of the collapse or not is something we are prepared to argue. However, what is clear is the rapid decline of wild fish stocks along Scotland’s east coast over the last decade cannot be blamed on salmon farming. We wait with interest to hear who the east coast scapegoat will be.