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reLAKSation no 945

Sixty percent: Ahead of a meeting that took place on Tuesday 26th November in London, the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST) have released some preliminary results from their £1 million plus Missing Salmon Project. According to the Telegraph newspaper, the results were startling. This year the AST had tagged 850 smolts from seven different rivers in the Moray Firth. They found that two thirds of the fish were ‘lost’ (our emphasis) with the first 60 miles of their journey and before they had really got out to sea. Apparently, of the 65% that were missing, 50% were missing in freshwater and 15% in the marine environment (although only the first part of the marine journey). Mark Bilsby, CEO of the AST, told the Telegraph that ‘Now we know where they ‘died’ (our emphasis). Next year we want to find out what caused that’.

We, at Callander McDowell, have emphasised the wording used. In our opinion, there is a major difference between lost and died. We would imagine that there is no way of telling whether the tagged fish were recorded by the sensors or not. Have these fish simply disappeared because the sensors failed to detect them or have the fish actually died? This is the fundamental question which we hope the AST will answer when they publish the results in full.

The reality is that there is unlikely to be a single smoking gun. Mr Bilsby told the newspaper that there are ‘a pile of possibilities a foot high’. He said that everyone has a theory, but we need to move away from pet issues. We couldn’t agree more. Certainly, we would argue, salmon farming gets far more attention than it deserves. We found it interesting that salmon aquaculture is still listed as possible cause of salmon decline even when the focus is on a study in the Moray Firth, many miles from the nearest salmon farm.

Sadly, we don’t think anything is likely to change soon. The preliminary results of the AST were published together with the news that the AST has banded together with three other major campaigning organisations, the Angling Trust, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Salmon & Trout Conservation to form the Missing Salmon Alliance. This was launched on Tuesday at Fishmongers Hall. We had heard about this on the grapevine and we would have liked to attend but it was by invitation only. The reality is that this Alliance is just a larger group of anglers that will continue to say the same message but with possibly and louder voice. They have even recruited Prince Charles, who sent a video message.

The meeting programme was posted on Twitter and we would say it is just more of the same, from the same people talking about the same issues. We had hoped that this Alliance would have been a much larger forum willing to listen to a wider range of views, but sadly it seems that this is not to be. How often have we heard that only anglers understand wild salmon and know the solutions? Clearly, they don’t but equally, they don’t want to hear any other views but their own.


Declines: In their report of the Missing Salmon Alliance, The Telegraph newspaper mentions that salmon numbers have collapsed by 70 per cent in the last quarter of a century. Whilst numbers have been in decline for many years, the alarm bells only really started to ring around 2010 when catches from the major east coast rivers started to fall. As we have previously pointed out, in 2011, the Rivers & Fisheries Trusts of Scotland highlighted how catches from east coast rivers had been increasing since 1970, whilst those on the west coast had declined.

Since 2011, the pressure on salmon farmers has increased as anglers have failed to admit that killing 5.9 million wild fish from across Scotland since 1952 would eventually cause a stock collapse in the same way that alleged overfishing in the North Sea brought about a collapse of stocks of cod.

Marine Scotland Science publish a graph of salmon catches in Scotland every year. This shows a clear decline from 2010. What is unclear is exactly where the declines occur. We have plotted catches from east coast rivers (to Wick) against aquaculture zone catches. It is possible to see that both areas are in decline and interestingly, at about the same rate. We know anglers will dismiss this graph claiming catches are not an accurate measure of stock size even though it is a measurement used by MSS. In response, we would say that if this is such an issue, then why have the local fishery boards not installed counters on all rivers to give a second measure. Until they do, then catches are all we have.

Our question is that given the similar rates of decline, then are these the result of the same influences? If salmon farming is the cause of west coast catches as the wild fish sector maintains, then is it also responsible for decline in say the Rivers, Tweed, Tay and Spey? If east coast declines are due to some other factor, could it be that west coast catches are falling for the same reason and that salmon farming is not to blame?

Salmon catches for the aquaculture zone from 1952 onwards have been relatively consistent, even after the introduction of salmon farming to the area. A dip occurs during the 1990s, but this is likely the result of reduced angling effort in response to widespread claims that salmon farming had wiped out salmon stocks. Catches subsequently recovered as anglers returned after hearing that the fishing was actually rather good. It is only after 2010 that west coast catches have declined, just as they have elsewhere in Scotland.


Club: The Atlantic Salmon Trust have been having a busy time. In addition to the new Missing Salmon Alliance, they held a meeting of their Salmon Club also in London, but this time in Mayfair. The programme consisted of a presentation about the initial results of the Moray Firth tracking project and a second presentation about the issues arising from salmon farming in Loch Roag in the Hebrides.

We have been unable to obtain copies of the presentation but no doubt a link was made between the lice on farmed salmon and the deaths of wild fish in the Blackwater. This is something we have previously discussed, but since then a citizen analysis has been published. Unfortunately, this does not show any definite and direct link between the two, but simply assumes that because a farm had issues with lice, then they must also be responsible for the wild fish mortality. The dead fish did carry larger than normal numbers of sea lice, but the fish were caught up in warm shallow sea water for days. This allowed the natural sea lice load to explode as a secondary infestation. The primary cause of death was undoubtedly sun stroke.

We would ask that if it was the farm that caused these deaths, why weren’t wild salmon seen to die in other river systems?  It is also worth remembering that in 2012, the Blackwater featured in news stories because the catch was the greatest ever recorded in the fishery. The reason why, because fish were trapped in the shallow pools by low water, just as they were last year. The only difference between the two events was that in 2012 the fish were killed by anglers whilst in 2018, it was sun stroke.


Different approach: The outdoor clothing company Patagonia have written that over the last two decades, salmon farming has led to the loss of half the wild salmon population in Norway. This appeared in an article entitled ‘The Final Frontier for Wild Salmon’ in Patagonia’s online magazine – ‘The Cleanest Line’.

This revelation about the state of wild salmon stocks in Norway is news to us at Callander McDowell, so much so that we wrote to the editor for clarification. In response, we were sent a link to the Norwegian Scientific Council for Salmon Management’s (VRL) annual report. Whilst this does say that salmon stocks have declined by half over the last twenty years, they suggest that this is due to the combined impacts of human activities, together with a large-scale increase in marine mortality. They do suggest that in areas where salmon farming occurs, the industry contributes to the overall decline in numbers but as we pointed out in the last issue of reLAKSation, the estimated mortality of wild salmon due to sea lice from salmon farms is around 11,000 fish, a fraction of those killed by anglers for sport. We also believe that VRL’s estimated is over-stated but unfortunately, VRL appear unwilling to discuss these numbers.

‘The Cleanest Line’ also suggests that salmon farming is responsible for the collapse of salmon and sea trout populations in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland. They have taken this information from an Icelandic website that says that groups such as Salmon & Trout Conservation attribute the decline of wild fish to salmon farming. We note the use of the word attribute, which suggests a lack of proof. This website also says that the decline in east coasts stocks has been less significant, something to which we would beg to disagree. The collapse of east coast stocks in recent years has been greatly significant because of the importance of these rivers to salmon angling.

‘The Cleanest Line’ continues by highlighting that Patagonia has been supporting grassroots groups in Iceland to object to the spread of salmon farming. Such groups include the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) that could hardly be described as grassroots.

Having launched their film ‘Artifishal’, Patagonia appear to be focussing their efforts of supporting the angling sector in Iceland. The article in ‘The Cleanest Line’ includes an interview with representatives of the NASF and the Icelandic Wildlife Fund, both of which pronounce support for the Icelandic fly-fishing industry. They said that with the help of the film ‘Artifishal’, they managed to put together a petition to the Icelandic Government to oppose the growth of the salmon farming industry.

Here’s the rub.

The main theme of the film ‘Artifishal’ is how Patagonia believe that the stocking of salmon in rivers might cause more damage than good. Only a small part of the film is about aquaculture and this seems to have been inserted as an afterthought. Patagonia are very much against the idea of restocking rivers believing that rivers should be left to rewild. The problem for Patagonia is that some of the best salmon fishing rivers in Iceland rely on restocking, something that would not happen under Patagonia’s management. The East and West Ranga’s are stocked by the local river keepers and have a huge number of salmon returning every year, typically three to four thousand in each river. These rivers provide some of the best fishing in Iceland. The Brediddalsa River is also stocked and has been elevated from a minor river to another of the best salmon rivers in Iceland.

This week, the Press & Journal reported how Sir Jim Ratcliffe of INEOS is currently funding a restocking programme for the Selma, Kveerka, Hvammsa, Miofjaroara and Vesturdalsa Rivers in Iceland. The Chief Executive of the local Strengur angling club says that the restocking programme will build something that is sustainable and environmentally sound and of benefit to the local ecology and local communities, as well as helping maintain this part of the world as a world class fishing destination.

The approaches from these two wealthy companies are very different. One appears hands on doing something to try to reverse the declines. We will leave you to draw your own conclusion about the other.


Global: A new scientific paper – The Future of Food from the Sea – written for the High-Level Panel, a group of 14 heads of government, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has concluded that growing fish on land will put intensive pressure on freshwater resources.

According to SeaWestNews, the paper co-authored by a collective of scientists in support of the panel which has come together to champion real progress towards a sustainable ocean economy says that land-based aquaculture is not a good idea. They say to transfer BC salmon to tanks would require 4.16 billion litres of freshwater and then the required 10-day depuration would require a further 998 billion litres.

The report says that over 80% of current water use in the world is allocated to food production but marine fisheries require very little. The scientists also say that the energy requirement will impact climate change. They estimate that two billion kg of salmon grown in land-based units would produce 526 billion kg of greenhouse gases.

The report suggests that smarter management of wild fisheries and the sustainable development of aquaculture would enable the oceans to produce over six times more food than it does today.

It is no secret that the Canadian decision to force a move to closed containment was prompted by those with their own agenda. However, it may not be until the industry moves on land that those who advocate this move begin to realise that salmon farming is not the reason why stocks of wild fish are in decline.