reLAKSation no 946

Martin’s View:

What is it with some of the wild fish sector that they feel it necessary to make personal attacks on those who simply want to discuss the issues? The Twitter feed @salmonfeedlots has recently posted several images that I must assume are trying to demean a number of people including myself in the hope that it both discredits and distracts from the issues. All it does is confirm that what we say must have some validity, otherwise those who post such tweets would be prepared to engage and discuss why I and others are wrong.

 

However, I feel this tactic will ultimately backfire as to me it simply confirms that I am on the right path and that the case against salmon farming is unfounded. If these critics could show otherwise, they wouldn’t have to resort to such personal attacks. They would stick to the issues.

 

Podcast

A year ago, the Pace Brothers ‘Into the Wilderness’ podcast featured a long interview with anti-salmon farm campaigner Corin Smith. At the time, the brothers said that they would welcome the opportunity to interview someone from the salmon farming industry. So far this has failed to materialise even though offers to appear on the podcast were made. Instead of hosting a podcast including the salmon farming industry perspective, the Pace Brothers have posted a second interview with Mr Smith to further discuss his views on salmon conservation and salmon farming.

I have previously spoken to Mr Smith twice by telephone. This was to request that he removes my photograph from his Facebook page because the claim he made about me wasn’t true. He never did so. At the time, Mr Smith did tell me that he was impartial, so I listened to this interview with interest. I feel that some of his comments merit further discussion and as ever I would always be happy to meet with Mr Smith to discuss the impacts on wild fish face to face. Mr Smith has written that I have no interest in wild salmon. Although I have no interest in catching and killing wild salmon, I have a real interest in wild fish of all varieties.

 

Wild salmon numbers

Mr Smith talks about wild salmon numbers saying that there is a lack of data; no consistent measurements and no basic understanding of the number of fish coming into significant rivers such as the River Tay. He argues that there is a lack of solid science. I certainly wouldn’t disagree, but I would also ask why this is?

The Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory at Pitlochry changed from researching trout to salmon in the late 1950’s, especially examining the exploitation of salmon by nets and rods. The Salmon Fishery Boards have been established for much longer, having been set up in 1860. Surely between these organisations and even the more recent Fisheries Trusts, establishing reliable figures of returning fish would have been a priority. I cannot understand why as we approach 2020, there is no dependable way of counting salmon in most of Scotland’s salmon rivers.

Mr Smith argues that rod catch is an extremely unreliable way of measuring the size of salmon stocks but in many rivers, this is the only data available. Some of my own analyses are based on this data and this is why the wild fish sector argue that my interpretation is inaccurate. Perhaps, rather than spending his time campaigning against the salmon farming industry, Mr Smith might try to persuade his colleagues that they should be investing in ways to collect accurate wild fish data. After all, he is keen that the salmon farming industry should collect and publish more accurate data. Why should the wild fish sector be any different?

 

Last line of defence

Mr Smith and the Pace Brothers engaged in a long conversation about the role of recreational fisheries today. During this discussion, Mr Smith says that a recreational fishing industry acts as a last line of defence between wild Atlantic salmon and forces of industry that would seek to exploit these natural resources for commercial gain.

My understanding of Mr Smith’s comment is that recreational fishermen like himself are able to see and highlight the way other industries, such as salmon farming, are exploiting the natural environment for commercial gain to the detriment of wild salmon numbers. However, there is also another way of looking at this view. Very recently, Scottish Enterprise published a report looking at the impact that the decline of salmon catches is having on salmon fisheries. Although the case studies do not give specific figures, one fishery on the Tweed has an operating cost of £120,000, which would indicate that incomes are typically much higher. Another fishery is described as providing a good living for two people. Is this not commercial gain, especially when all the salmon fisheries in Scotland are considered together? This is commercial gain from direct exploitation of wild fish and this exploitation has been extremely high. From 1952 to 2018, anglers have caught and killed 5,924,957 wild fish from Scottish rivers. Far from being the last line of defence, it seems that recreational fishing could be described as the first line of attack.

 

Future of angling

The Pace Brothers say that it is often suggested to anglers is that ‘If you care for threatened fish, why are you catching them?

Mr Smith replied that firstly, it is an issue which is always ducked and secondly, anglers must accept that angling is inherently cruel. He goes on to say that those who wish to safeguard wild fish cannot separate themselves from them. Hunting allows people to understand the fish and this helps with saving them. He adds that just watching them is not enough as that is more like being a spectator, rather than someone who engages with the fish.

I think this is an interesting argument and it is one I have heard before. This is in the context of whaling, yet there is public outcry whenever it is suggested that hunting and killing whales adds to the understanding of these creatures. I personally see no difference between hunting threatened whales and hunting threatened salmon, especially as the salmon that are targeted by anglers are adults that are returning to breed. There is only one answer to those who say they wish to protect wild salmon and that is for them to suggest banning all catching of these fish for sport. This includes fish which are caught and released because even these fish are impacted by being caught.

This doesn’t mean an end to angling for sport. There is no reason why anglers cannot fly fish for trout in a stocked fishery. Unfortunately, Mr Smith dismisses such an idea as he says these fish are not wild and therefore there is little point in such activity.

 

Artifishal tour

According to Mr Smith, the greatest concern that was raised during his tour with the Artifishal film was from consumers with questions such as should I be eating farmed salmon given the environmental impacts of open cage farming? If not, what are the alternatives? He stressed that this was by far the biggest concern.

He said that these concerns arose from the ‘sacred cow’ of eating oily fish. Mr Smith said that people he met told him that ‘I have to be eating an oily fish five times a week’ so if I am not eating salmon then what should I be eating. He offered some alternatives, but Mr Smith says he asked them the question as to whether they should be eating five portions of oily fish a week at all. He asks whether that is sustainable consumption? One of the Pace Brothers said that he didn’t eat an oily fish five times a week, but Mr Smith replied that lots of people do and lots of people eat salmon on that basis. Mr Smith said that he had lots of conversation around that subject especially when showing the film in the larger suburban areas.

Mr Smith had already pointed out that the urban audiences for the film were typically twenty-year olds who are environmentally aware, consumer conscious, interested in animal rights and are very sceptical about everything they are told by supermarket and food labelling schemes and are questioning of everything.

I attended the UK premier of the film and regular readers may remember that I was asked not to pose questions as this wasn’t ‘the right audience’ for my questions. Most of the audience were young and were as Mr Smith described. However, during the questioning, no one said they ate an oily fish five times a week. This is not surprising given that Government advice is to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which is an oily fish. Clearly, there must be a lot of people attending these showings who eat excessive oily diets or else Mr Smith has simply got it wrong.

Mr Smith also quoted figures about sales of retail fish. He says that the data from supermarkets shows that people under twenty-five to thirty are not buying seafood and they certainly are not buying farmed salmon so the ‘job is done on that front’.

Except, in my opinion he is totally wrong. Young people have not been buying fish and seafood for many years. This is nothing new. Mr Smith also says that salmon consumption is down which shows people are turning away from farmed salmon.

Previous issues of reLAKSation have highlighted that Mr Smith has made too many assumptions as to consumer behaviour in the UK. Supermarket sales of fish and seafood are in decline, which is not surprising given the closure of many counters. This is because consumers are not buying fish to eat at home, and this is for a whole variety of well-established reasons. Instead, they are eating fish out which is why overall, consumption of fish has increased. Salmon has been and remains the key species for the retail sector. Without farmed salmon, most fish counters would have closed long ago because it still is the fish of choice for most consumers. One thing that is totally clear is that Mr Smith’s and the wild fish sector’s campaign against farmed salmon appears to have not made any difference to salmon sales or consumption. The wild fish sector recognised long ago that consumers are not interested in whether anglers have any wild salmon to catch and certainly do not change their buying behaviour accordingly.

Equally, we know that most consumers will not pay a premium for salmon grown in closed containment simply because it is perceived to be a way to safeguard wild salmon.

 

Difficult discussions

Mr Smith then addresses the difficult discussions to be had in rural communities when he suggests that salmon farming is a bad thing, but that it is a local employer. He adds that ultimately if you are going to stick your head above the parapet as he has then you have to have the courage of your convictions and that in order that any argument has credibility, you have to make the argument face to face. If you’re not prepared to make the argument face to face and just want to be an internet warrior, then you don’t have a lot of credibility. Mr Smith says that he holds himself to that standard and that’s why he took the film to places along the west coast. When asked when how that went, he said not quite as expected as he believes that those working for the salmon farming industry were actively discouraged from attending the showings. He added that the big global companies want to exert a lot of control over the narrative and so they didn’t want their young people running around at these meetings, hollering off about stuff. However, he did say that there was always someone at every meeting from the industry who made their case.

I have spoken to people from various salmon farming companies and have no evidence that anyone from the salmon farming industry was prevented from attending the film. In my opinion, they heard that the film had little to do with salmon farming and therefore was of little relevance to them.

 

Closed containment

Closed containment is a huge subject which is too large for discussion here. However, Mr Smith points out that the massive investment in closed containment around the world to date is totally separate from the existing salmon farming industry. He says that salmon farming companies are not investing in closed containment because net pen farming is so different from closed containment.

Yet again, Mr Smith is wrong. The companies operating Scotland’s salmon farms are at the leading edge of this technology and have invested heavily in closed containment. What Mr Smith fails to understand is that closed containment recirculation systems are also used to grow smolts because it is so cost-effective to do so. However, this is not the case for harvest sized fish which these companies recognise because they are such experts with the technology.

A recent post on Mr Smith’s Facebook page stated that ‘Yesterday the cost of salmon in M&S was as high as £70/kg. Callander McDowell’s business is to monitor prices across all the retail sector, and I am unaware that M&S priced any salmon priced that high. Mr Smith illustrated his post with a picture of salmon fillet portions. I believe the picture is of an old pack of frozen fillets which did retail at £20/kg when it was available.

The only product I know of that sells for £70/kg in M&S is a pack of 10 salmon blinis, which as an added value pack includes other ingredients besides salmon. By comparison, the price of salmon ranges from £10/kg for tail fillets to £29.16/kg for organic. A standard pack of two fillets of £16.66/kg. For comparison, a pack of wild Sockeye salmon costs £29.54/kg. These prices are a far cry from the £70/kg quoted by Mr Smith.

 

Final thoughts

The Pace Brothers podcast with Corin Smith covered a whole range of issues, including a number we have not discussed because of a lack of space. In my opinion, if Mr Smith really cared about the future of wild salmon, he would devote more time to looking into a whole range of other factors than just salmon farming. It is worth remembering that since records began in 1952, the rivers of the west coast aquaculture zone produced less than 10% of Scotland’s catch. Salmon farming has never had any impact on the majority of Scotland’s game fishing.

In the podcast, Mr Smith says he is willing to put his head above the parapet and hold face to face discussions. I have been trying to meet with his colleagues from Salmon & Trout Conservation for several years without success. I would be delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Mr Smith and have that face to face discussion. My understanding is that when salmon farming companies have issued invitations to him to meet, he has refused. However, now that he has said that there must be such engagement in order to have any credibility, then I am sure that he will be more willing to meet. I look forward to hearing from him.