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reLAKSation no 954

Farm-free: Angling correspondent Sir Michael Wigan recently wrote in Scottish Field that “Within five years Norway has pledged that its entire salmon farm industry will be transferred to closed containment systems”.  I had to reread this statement a couple of times over because this startling revelation was complete news to me.

However, after a few moments of reflection, it hit home that Sir Michael was not talking about Norway but Canada. I might be more forgiving if Sir Michael’s error occurred in an email but there is no excuse for making such an error in a published glossy magazine. The problem is that there is so much nonsense written about salmon farming, that it will be difficult for the uninformed to separate out what is true and what is not.

After the initial announcement that the Canadian Liberal Government’s Aquaculture Act aims to transition the salmon farming industry from net pens to closed containment by 2025, the usual salmon farm critics went into overdrive demanding similar policies be introduced in Scotland. At the time, the Canadian announcement was seen as a political decision made to win last-minute votes in the election. The local salmon industry was extremely concerned as they saw that this might be the death knell for salmon production. At the time, The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance said at the time that the Government’s announcement makes two assumptions. The first is that there is scientific evidence that wild salmon are negatively impacted by salmon farms and second that closed containment is a viable technology. CAIA say that both assumptions are erroneous.

Following the announcement, I also thought of two issues that perhaps the Canadian Government had not fully considered. The first is that in December 2018, the Government had announced that seventeen farms were to be phased out in the Broughton Archipelago to help protect and restore stocks of wild salmon. The intention was to establish a farm free migration corridor to help reduce interactions with salmon farms. The theory was that once the salmon farms were removed, wild salmon would repopulate the local habitat helping restore stocks. Of course, this assumes that salmon farms are the reason why stocks have collapsed. It would appear to be rather pre-emptive for the Government now to say that all farms should be removed by 2025, if it were unknown whether the removal of the farms had successfully brought about a return and restoration of wild salmon stocks or not.

The North Island Gazette has recently reported that by the time juvenile salmon start to migrate this spring, there will be six fewer farms along the British Columbian coast. The first farms to be removed are those that were closest to the Ahta and Viner Rivers where wild salmon runs are near extinction. The trouble is that campaigners have focused on salmon farms for so long, other reasons why salmon stocks are in decline may have been ignored. Intrafish reported this week that Copper River sockeye catches are forecast to be 25% down this year. As everyone knows, there are no salmon farms in Alaska.

The second issue relates to closed containment systems. CAIA say that the technology is not viable. There are many who would disagree, but they are not running closed containment technology, whilst those that are will never admit its weaknesses because many are still raising funding. What the Canadian Government policy seems to suggest is that once the net pens are removed, the salmon companies can simply build closed containment as a replacement. What they don’t mention is who will pay for this move? I cannot see any of the salmon farming companies being willing to spend millions on this new technology. They are more likely to seek alternative sea sites even if it means moving out of Canada all together. Even if the technology did work, salmon companies are more likely to establish such units nearer the main markets rather than in isolated communities. I am not sure that the Canadian Government have thought this through. They are at risk of losing both wild and farmed salmon.

However, now the pressure of the election has receded, common sense appears to have kicked in. Critics and observers like Sir Michael Wigan will be disappointed to learn that salmon will still be farmed in the west coast of Canada in 2025. According to Fish Farming Expert, the Fisheries Minister, Bernadette Jordan has denied that she had been tasked with transitioning the industry away from open net pens. In fact, her task is to prepare a plan for transition, and she has five years to do this. She said that her mandate letter is clear that she has to come up with a plan by 2025 and that is what she will be doing. She added that any decision will be based on science.

Of course, by 2025, it will be more apparent how much impact salmon farms actually have on wild fish stocks because wild fish will have been able to use farm-free corridors for up to five years. It is now a matter of wait and see.

After writing this commentary, Undercurrent News reported that a highly anticipated study commissioned over a year ago by the Canadian Government has been previewed by the Fisheries Minister. The study confirms that the move to land-based farms will not meet the low-profile carbon footprint as hoped for by the Trudeau Government. The study states that some of the higher greenhouse emissions could be offset by moving production nearer to the markets. The Minister said that the government had not studied the commercial viability of closed containment systems in Canada between now and 2025, nor the economic and social impact of requiring operators to convert to closed containment systems by 2025. Mel Arnold MP replied by saying the minister’s response confirms that the Trudeau government made a campaign promise without first assessing the viability, nor the economic and social impact of moving to closed containment.

Of course, this is what happens when politicians rely too heavily on the advice of ill-informed anti-salmon farming campaigners. This should be a lesson for all nations that enjoy the benefits of a salmon farming industry.



Ted: Staying in North America, we have found a link to a Tedx talk given in Seattle by ‘marine biologist’ Alexandra Morton. I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone connected to salmon, whether wild or farmed, should spend nineteen minutes listening to her talk. Her presentation is called ‘What humans can learn from the wisdom of salmon’.

Tedx Seattle provide a summary – ‘What can salmon teach us about sustainability? Ms Morton shares startling new research that lets us decode the information stored in a salmon’s immune system. The data reveals where, we’re harming the fish, the ocean and ourselves. – ultimately revealing lessons for how humans can thrive on this planet without destroying it.’

Having closely watched this Tedx talk, I’m not sure what lessons it reveals about how humans can thrive on this planet without destroying it. I certainly don’t believe that we can learn much about ourselves from studying the immune system of wild salmon. Ms Morton blames the problems affecting wild salmon on salmon farms. Like many critics, the focus is so targeted that they forget there are many influences on natural life of salmon. In her presentation, Ms Morton mentions that when she arrived on the west coast there had been over a hundred years of logging damage. At the same time fishing fleets were growing in size. Yet it was not until salmon farms arrived three years later that she said that the line was crossed. Is it at all possible that salmon were already in a downward spiral due to the combined effect of logging and increased commercial fishing, but it was not noticed until something new came on the scene? This is exactly what happened on the west coast of Scotland with stocks of sea trout in decline for over thirty years, but it wasn’t until salmon farming arrived that anyone noticed. There is still no explanation for the decline of sea trout in Scotland prior to 1980.

Ms Morton also mentioned her 2007 Science paper. This forecast that pink salmon would be extinct within 4 generations (8 years). It never happened and her reason why was that farmers had improved their sea lice control. Yet after a further two generations, she now claims that the stock has collapsed with just one tenth of one percent of fish returning. Pink salmon have a two-year life cycle so next year could present a totally different picture.

It is telling that the audience only burst into applause once when Ms Morton said that we need to take action to protect our children. However, it could be that it is our children that are part of the problem. There are simply too many people living on this planet, and it is the impacts of everything that people do that affects the life of the animals that surround us including the life of salmon. Ms Morton’s activities are one of the reasons why the Canadian Government have decided to act on salmon farms. Perhaps, if the Canadian Government were to watch this Tedx talk, they might want to reconsider.


By Haaf: The Herald newspaper reports that the haaf fisherman of the Solway Firth are battling to keep their heritage alive. Haaf netting is thought to have been brought to Britain by the Vikings around 900AD. Fishermen wade out into the water with nets on large frames, which are lifted out of the water if a fish should swim in. Under current salmon conservation rules, haaf netsmen are no longer able to keep any salmon they catch. This is because the estuary is supplied by several rivers all of which have a differing conservation status. If haaf netsmen do catch a salmon, they have no way of knowing whether it will swim into a grade one, two or three conservation river, so therefore they cannot keep any as it is possible the fish is destined for a category three river where killing is banned.

Writing in the Sunday Times, historian Neil Oliver laments for the loss of this tradition. He says that he used to live in the area and is well aware of the importance of haaf fishing to the locality. He says that the heritage of haaf netting is now all but lost. He said the last hope was that Marine Scotland might consider an exemption so the tradition of haaf fishing can continue.

However, as the Herald points out, it was made apparent at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament Environment Committee that Marine Scotland would not change their mind. Claudia Beamish MSP suggested that as haaf netting did not involve hooks, it would kill less fish and thus haaf netsmen would have less impact and therefore should be allowed to keep a small number of fish. Dr John Armstrong told the Committee that he could see the logic of this, He added that anglers typically catch in the order of 10% of fish in the river and of that 10% that anglers catch, 90% were released. He therefore argues that there is little damage from catch and release by anglers. He added that we really don’t want any fish killed in those rivers with a poor conservation status.

Haaf netter Barry Turner recently told the BBC that it would be an act of vandalism, cultural and historic vandalism if this traditional activity, which is unique to the inner Solway dies. He added we are only 30 people and we only want a small quota so we can continue.

As yet, the rod catch data for 2019 is not available and will not be for a couple of months. In this modern time, I am at a loss to understand why data is not made available much more quickly. Some of the Fishery Boards post catch data on a daily basis. Catches for the start of the 2020 season have already been posted on some angling websites, yet I have to rely on data from 2018 to make a point. In 2018, 109 salmon and grilse were caught and killed by anglers from the Solway rivers. It seems unfair that anglers should be allowed to take a fish home but those engaging in a tradition dating back many hundreds of years cannot. Even if they kept one fish each, it would only be a third of those caught by anglers. It is worth remembering that although Dr Armstrong suggests that currently there is little damage to salmon stocks from angling, that since 1952, anglers have caught and killed over 5.9 million wild fish. The damage to wild fish stocks has been done over many years.

I fully sympathise with the haaf netters. After all, if salmon conservation is so important then why not stop the killing of all fish. However, angling seems to take priority over all else. It seems to be even more important than the future of salmon itself.