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reLAKSation no 952

Asda be: Last week, the Grocer magazine revealed that Walmart owned Asda are to close all of their meat and fish counters. These are to be replaced with hot food counters. Salmon Business say that this news follows on from the decision by Tesco to close some of their service counters including fish.

Salmon Business spoke to retail expert Richard Hyman, who said that he thought this planned closure was a mistake. He said that it’s very difficult to see how anyone could regard this as positive unless all you are looking at is short term profits. He added that removing counters meant that losing the point of differentiation between the larger retailer and the discounters. He argues that fish counters provide a greater choice for shoppers.

Mike Mitchell of Fair Seas and advisor to Marks and Spencer told Salmon Business that the move away from fish counter is likely to be driven by the drive for operational efficiency and improved waste management. For example, Mr Mitchell says that fish on ice has a much shorter shelf life compared to pre-packaged fish.

However, in their assessment of fish counters, both Mr Hyman and Mr Mitchell miss one fundamental point and that is that counters have no value if customers are not buying fish from them. I observe fish counters, often on a daily basis, and the writing has been on the wall for some years. Fish counters have fewer and fewer customers and this is then reflected in the offering that is put on display. If customers are not buying fish, then why put fish on display. All supermarkets have been downsizing their fish counters for some time. They are no longer the feature that they once were and inevitably, if they are not generating revenue then they will be replaced with something else.

I would not be surprised if other supermarkets follow Tesco and Asda’s example. Fresh fish off the counter is becoming a thing of the past as many consumers move away from fresh fish for home consumption. This is not about the retailers but rather about public opinion on fish consumption. As I have argued many times over, declining home consumption will eventually impact on those who sell fish. In my opinion, the fish and seafood industry long ago gave up trying to reverse falling consumption and thus this latest news is of absolutely no surprise at all.


Consumption advice: Anti-salmon farm campaigner Corin Smith has posted recommendations on the consumption of farmed salmon on his Facebook page and Twitter. He said that he had been contacted by a young mother who eats farmed salmon and also gives it to her children. According to Mr Smith, she had googled ‘is farmed salmon safe to eat’ and found reference to PCBs and Dioxins and this worried her. She therefore asked Mr Smith for his help and advice as anyone would. The obvious place to find out about nutritional information on salmon would be a salmon angler!!

Although Mr Smith is extremely vocal about farmed salmon, he is seemingly unaware about the nutrition. This is not news as he has previously referred to people who seemed to think that the recommendation was to eat salmon five times a week. As his knowledge is lacking, Mr Smith sought impartial sensible guidance from a reliable source. He selected Food Standards Scotland to whom he wrote a range of questions. He has quoted their response to Q4 which was a request for the most update to date guidance concerning the consumption of farmed salmon by Men, Women of child-bearing age and Children. I am not sure why he has not included all women. Maybe he doesn’t think that women who are not of child-bearing age are important enough to be included.

Food Standards Scotland responded to Mr Smith saying that the most up to date guidance can be found on the FFS website. Interestingly, this the same advice that is given on many other UK Government sites including the NHS. This is not surprising, since it is the advice provided by the Eat Well programme.

As expected by someone who is trying to undermine the farmed salmon industry, Mr Smith’s interpretation of the advice is highly selective.

The main piece of advice about eating fish is that a healthy balanced diet should included at least two portions of fish a week of which one should be an oily fish. Eat Well provides a list of oily fish which includes herring, pilchards, salmon, sardines, sprats, trout and mackerel. The list does not distinguish between farmed and wild salmon.

The advice continues with regard to oily fish that we should eat about 140g of oily fish a week. Eat Well does point out that oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants that build up in the body and for this reason, the maximum recommendation for the number of portions some groups should be eating each week should be no more than two portions a week. These groups are girls, women who plan a pregnancy or pregnant and breast-feeding women. This restriction concerns the future development of the baby in the womb. Male children are not subject to such restriction as are all men and older women.

Mr Smith appears to suggest that this advice relates to the consumption of farmed salmon whereas it refers to all oily fish including wild salmon as well as all the others on the list given above.

It is not surprising that the woman who contacted Mr Smith is confused. The internet is full of articles offering conflicting advice. Most of these date back to the early 2000s when there were numerous attempts to undermine farmed salmon in favour of wild in the USA in order to try to protect the local wild salmon fisheries.

The truth is that these toxins can be found in all sorts of foods including oily fish. The suggestion was that as farmed salmon are fed on high fishmeal diets, they concentrate higher levels of toxins in their bodies. However, salmon are now fed on diets with much less fishmeal and the fishmeal used is constantly monitored for the presence of such toxins before use.

The majority of consumers can eat farmed salmon to their heart’s content despite Mr Smith’s efforts to suggest otherwise. Women approaching motherhood are given a lot of nutrition advice of which one part is to restrict the consumption of oily fish. They are also advised not to drink alcohol including Scotch whisky. I don’t hear Mr Smith raising any concerns about whisky.

What interested me most about Mr Smith’s comment was the inclusion of a slick photo of Tara from Rickmansworth pictured with a child alongside the question ‘How much Scottish farmed salmon is it safe for me and my children to eat?’ Yet, Mr Smith didn’t specifically ask about Scottish salmon just farmed salmon. He also never mentioned that the lady was called Tara and comes from Rickmansworth.

I can only suppose that this slick imagery was paid for out of the €16,208 given to Mr Smith by the outdoors clothing company Patagonia to help fund his campaign against salmon farms. Patagonia have been campaigning against salmon farming through their film Artifishal.

I won’t repeat my attempts to discuss salmon farming with people from Patagonia, but I have visited their Manchester store to try to establish contact. Mr Smith in his continuing crusade to avoid discussing the message by attacking the messenger recently wrote on Twitter that:

“Salmon farming mouthpiece, Martin Jaffa, was recently turfed out of a Patagonia store after insisting he was allowed to explain benefits (sic) of salmon farms to very confused shop floor staff.”

This is simply untrue and is a total figment of Mr Smith’s imagination. The reality is that I have visited the store four times and been made welcome on each occasion, even being offered coffee. My departure from the store was my choice and I was told ‘don’t be a stranger’ each time.

Having read Mr Smith’s account, I contacted Harry Brooks, the store’s assistant manager and company environmental representative, who I met each time to ask if Mr Smith’s account was how he recollected our meetings. He replied that whilst our views differ, you are welcome to come and chat anytime you like.

I will leave anyone reading this to draw their own conclusions about the way the Mr Smith conducts his campaign.


Sewage: One of the regular complaints against the salmon farming industry is the amount of sewage which is said is dumped in the sea. The use of the term sewage is deliberate in order to imply that salmon farming is highly polluting. However human sewage (as passes down the sewers) is completely different to fish waste. As I have pointed out, there are trillions of fish in the sea which all produce waste. The ecosystem is geared up to dealing with that specific type of waste. By comparison, evolution never intended for human waste to end up in the oceans, which is why it is completely different in its composition.

The impacts of the different waste can be dramatically illustrated by a recent story in the Guardian newspaper. This reports that norovirus was found in oysters farmed around France’s north-western coast and that 150 out of the 330 farms have been banned from selling their produce. The infection has been caused by an epidemic of gastroenteritis which has swept through France. Heavy rains have added to the problem as sewage treatment plants have been unable to cope and untreated or partially treated sewage has ended up in the sea. Many oyster farms have been devastated.

This is what can happen when human waste is dumped into the sea. By comparison, I am unaware that there have been any major health problems from fish waste. This is because it is absorbed into the natural ecosystem. The area under fish pens may have a higher deposit of waste than in the surroundings but even this is eventually broken down.

Unfortunately, it seems impossible to discuss these differences with those who equate fish waste with human sewage simply because they refuse to meet to discuss the issues.


Icon: Following the recent parliamentary meeting to make salmon a national priority, Peter Chapman MSP posed a question this week at First Minister’s Questions. He asked the First Minister what the government was doing to address the crisis.

Mr Chapman specifically mentioned the REC Committee’s report on aquaculture and asked are the recommendations being actioned fast enough. Sadly, Mr Chapman has opted to focus on aquaculture which at most would only impact on less than 10% of Scotland’s salmon stocks. I can only wonder how long it will take before the wild fish lobby realise that imposing controls on salmon farming will not reverse the continuing decline of wild stocks, especially on the east coast where there are no salmon farms. Mr Chapman’s comments simply deflect attention away from the real issues.

One of the comments made by Mr Chapman was that Scotland’s salmon are iconic to Scotland’s history and culture. This is very similar to comments made last week in the Times newspaper by columnist Magnus Linklater. He says that salmon have been intertwined with Scottish history and who am I to disagree. It would seem rather uncontentious to suggest that salmon are woven into Scotland’s past but rather surprisingly, Mr Linklater’s comments have been challenged.

Self-styled salmon farming expert Corin Smith has written that wild salmon are not intertwined with Scottish history. They are intertwined with a history of Victorian sporting pursuits which now hold little relevance for society. He continues to say that a failure to make wild salmon relevant to all is what enables their decline.

Mr Smith remains a real puzzle because I remember that he has previously posted a picture and comment about images of salmon etched into historic stones. Regardless, salmon were important to Scotland long before Queen Victoria holidayed in Scotland.

For my perspective, Mr Smith is right, the attitude to wild salmon changed as the Victorians became interested in field sports. Just as many things which were prominent in Victorian life have been consigned to history, perhaps it is time for salmon angling to join them as Mr Smith suggests because salmon angling holds little relevance to society in general except the small, potentially influential,  group of anglers.

Mr Smith says that a failure to make salmon relevant to all is the reason for the decline. In the current climate, identification of what is relevant is not difficult. Conservation is now the driver for many people especially, the younger generation. Following Mr Smith’s train of thought, the logical conclusion is that angling is irrelevant and therefore has no value in todays society. Instead, the conservation and protection of all wild salmon stocks should be a priority and thus all angling must now cease and join the rest of Victorian history. Wild salmon should be all about conservation not sport, because that is what is important to the public.

I can only congratulate Mr Smith for laying down the thought pathway that leads only to this one conclusion.