reLAKSation no 957

Protection: A recent Twitter exchange led to one of the anti- farming salmon keyboard warriors being offered the opportunity to meet up with someone from the wider salmon farming industry to discuss the key issues. The company representative suggested to the critic that he might learn something if he was willing to engage. His response was ‘Don’t tell me I’d learn anything. I’ve worked across the planet and being round it twice before I was 21’!

I personally don’t think that anyone is too old to learn something new. For example, I recently learnt that wild salmon and sea trout are protected by GDPR – the General Data Protection Regulation. This was certainly a revelation to me.

I came across this little-known fact because the annual salmon catch data collected by Marine Scotland Science has been removed from the Scottish Government website. In fact, it disappeared from the website quite some time ago and whilst this was inconvenient, I had already downloaded the data and stored it elsewhere, so my inconvenience was minimal. I didn’t really think too much about the absence of the data because I just assumed that the data was being transferred to the new Government website and would eventually reappear. When I mentioned its absence to Marine Scotland Science recently, I was led to understand that the data has been removed because of concerns about GDPR.

Yet, it is a puzzle how wild salmon can be protected by GDPR because in Scots law wild salmon are res nullius – wild things belonging to no-one. They become owned if they are caught and then they presumably belong to the person that catches the fish not the proprietor who only owns the right to fish and charges anglers to fish on their beat.

With so many fish now being returned to the rivers, ownership of the fish can no longer be an issue since they the return to being res nullius. What is left is just a record that the fish was caught. It is s the responsibility of the proprietor to submit the record to the Scottish Government enabling them to draw up the catch data, which in turn allows them to better understand the state of the Scottish stock.

It seems that it is some of these proprietors who have objected to this data to be published because with fewer fish being caught it has been suggested that on some rivers it will be possible to determine the identity of individual proprietors. It is for this reason that the catch data has been removed from the Government website allowing Marine Scotland Science to review how the catch data will be published in coming years. My understanding is that the data of some fishery districts will be amalgamated in future to protect the identify of these proprietors.

If this is what is happening, then it can only be described as a disgraceful outrage.

Since 1952, catch data has been collected for the 109 fishery districts in Scotland. If fishery districts are amalgamated, then the data stream from over 68 years will be destroyed. Recently, the wild fish sector demanded that the Scottish Government treat wild salmon as a national priority yet how can wild salmon be considered as such if the limited data that is already collected about them is buried away rather than being made available

At a time when the wild fish lobby has demanded that the salmon farming industry be more transparent and publish more data more often, it seems that the same wild fish lobby are looking to restrict the data they release.

As already mentioned, salmon don’t belong to anyone so should not be subject to GDPR. What the proprietors are trying to protect is true information about the number of fish caught from their own beats. Such information has been available but just because the number of fish being caught is now so low that catches from individual fisheries may inadvertently become apparent is not a valid reason for changing the way the catch data is published. Those of us who are interested in studying wild salmon catches will be effectively prevented from doing so in order that the number of fish caught on any beat remains secret.

Of course, the basic aim of restricting access to the number of fish caught from any beat is simply a business choice. If anglers learn that only a few fish are being caught from a fishery, then they might be tempted to avoid that fishery in future and seek better fishing elsewhere. This would clearly affect the fishery as a business. However, the reality is that fewer fish are being caught from rivers around Scotland and in order to help protect and safeguard stocks, as much information should be released as possible. If the data is hidden in order to protect the business interests of a few proprietors, then clearly the interests of the proprietors are being put before those of the salmon. As such, any calls for salmon to be made a national priority would then be a travesty.

All data about salmon catches must be published as a matter of priority. It is bad enough that we have to wait some months before the data is published when some data is already published weekly on fishing websites. However, as we know, when it comes to wild salmon, there is one rule for the wild fish lobby and a different rule for everyone else.

 

See trout: The Courier newspaper reports that a near record breaking sea trout caught from the River North Esk last autumn may not have been a sea trout at all. In fact, the more I read this story, it may be that the story may not have been much of a story either.

The fish weighed in at 28 pounds 6 ounces which would have made it just one ounce short of the British record for a sea trout. Dr Craig MacIntyre of the Esk District Salmon Fishery Board said that they thought it was a sea trout because of the head. The upper jaw extended past the line of the eye whereas in salmon, the upper jaw finishes in line with the eye. Dr MacIntyre also said that there were many more spots on the gill cover than would be seen on a salmon. He also said that the fish generated quite a bit of interest up and down the river.

Dr MacIntyre sent a scale sample to the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory who have now poured cold water on this monster sea trout. They said that the scales indicate that the fish spent just one year in freshwater followed by two years at sea before entering the river North Esk in 2019. They say that the growth pattern of the scales suggest that the fish had been in captivity and had come from a fish farm, most likely from Norway.

Of course, the usual critics have jumped on the story claiming that it is yet another example of how salmon farming is damaging wild stocks. However, the reality of the story is very different. Firstly, when this fish was caught, it was obviously then killed. Why a 28-pound fish had to be killed at all is unclear, especially at a time when fish stocks are under threat. It wasn’t killed because it was a farmed escapee, it was killed because it was a sea trout. Fisheries biologist Dr MacIntyre did not say to the Courier that when he saw the fish he thought it was a salmon or an escapee from a farm. He said that judging by its head, it was a sea trout. After hearing the results of the scale analysis, he said that ultimately, it was good news that the fish was killed before it had a chance to breed with a wild Scottish salmon, but he clearly didn’t know that at the time.

Dr MacIntyre also told the Courier that he didn’t know when the fish might have escaped from the farm but given the erosion on the fins, it probably was sometime in 2019. Any fin erosion on this fish is not evident from the photograph printed in the paper but fin erosion could be indicative of a fish of farm origin and it is surprising that Dr MacIntyre wasn’t alerted to this at the time when the fish was caught, in which case the fish would have been judged to be a  farm escapee rather than let this story run for a few months.

Salmon farm critic Corin Smith has also jumped on the bandwagon stating on his Facebook page that it is unlikely in the extreme that an escaped salmon from Norway would randomly arrive in the North Esk. Instead he said that it must have interacted with migrating wild fish and joined their journey. Given that pink salmon randomly arrive in Scottish rivers, it would not be unexpected that Atlantic salmon randomly arrive in different rivers too. In fact, straying is a natural response to strengthening the gene pool. If fish from each river were genetically specific, then there would be a risk of inbreeding. We know fish stray naturally otherwise rivers such as the Mersey in England would still not have any salmon, but it does. The river was so polluted that no fish could live but once the water quality improved, salmon returned without any help from man.

Finally, Dr MacIntyre told the Courier that scientific studies have shown that the genes of farmed salmon are inferior to wild salmon; that the eggs they produce are not as good; that their progeny are less suited to wild environments and that basically, they are not as genetically ‘fit’ as wild salmon. Given all these inferiorities, it is surprising that this so-called escapee managed to grow to 12kg, swim across the North Sea and find its way into the North Esk and then give good sport to an angler as well as fooling those on the day that it was a sea trout. I feel sorry most for angler Euan McGrandle whose big day of catching a near record breaking sea trout has been dashed and now it turns out he has caught an inferior, weak, unfit fish. It probably didn’t even fight and jumped into the landing net, because it probably felt at home in a net bag!!

 

Ewe too: The March issue of Fly-Fishing and Fly-Tying magazine (FFFT) includes a four-page spread about salmon fishing on the River Ewe. The author, Sandy Howie, relates how he and a group of friends – the Ewe Crew – met up to spend a week fishing the ‘majestic’ river Ewe last June. This was the sixteenth year Mr Howie has fished the Ewe.

In all, the group hooked on to twenty salmon and grilse of which eleven were landed, of which five weighing a total of 57 pounds were landed by just one member of the fishing party. This is not a bad week’s fishing and is probably the envy of many anglers. Yet this catch comes from a river located in the heart of the aquaculture zone, where according to many critics, wild salmon are heading towards extinction. Mr Howie’s account would suggest otherwise. However, we don’t need to read FFFT to know that the Ewe is a good salmon river because it is categorised as a Grade One river by the Scottish Government. Even Director of the salmon farming critical Salmon & Trout Conservation, Andrew Graham Stewart has been fishing the Ewe within the last couple of years.

What Mr Howie fails to mention during his account of fishing the river Ewe is that he has been fishing a river that is located only a few kilometres from an active salmon farm. He does mention the salmon farm at the end of his account at which point he turns his attention to Loch Maree and sea trout. He relates how he saw a good number of sea trout during the week and caught finnock to one pound plus. He doesn’t say how many were caught but he does mention that the ‘vast majority’ had very high levels of sea lice attached – the highest being 19 although he doesn’t mention which life stage of lice they were. He also doesn’t include any photos of the sea trout whereas he does picture the 17lb salmon that was caught.

Mr Howie suggest that the farm in Loch Ewe is considered mainly responsible for the demise of the sea trout fishery as up until the arrival of the farm, the fishery was vibrant, thriving and world renowned. However, the historic catch data tells a different story. FFFT include a graph of sea trout catches from the Loch Maree Hotel beats from 1969 to 2007. The graph was provided by Andrew Graham Stewart of S&TC although it is based on an original graph from a paper by Butler and Walker from 2006. The graph appears to show a collapse of catches in 1987 when the farm was established in Loch Ewe. FFFT say that the reader should draw their own conclusion from the graph. However, the graph is misleading in that it has cherry picked data. The catch data for the Loch Ewe catchment including Loch Maree goes back to 1952 and shows significant variation. Using a ten year catch average, catches were in decline for at least eight years prior to the arrival of the salmon farm. In addition, there is no evidence from anywhere else that the construction of a salmon farm causes an immediate collapse of local fish stocks. Sea trout catches had been in decline for at least the previous thirty years across the whole of the west coast. The famous Loch Stack sea trout fishery had already collapsed well before 1987.

What actually caused the final collapse in Loch Maree was the removal of the three-mile fishing limit. There is very strong correlation between the collapse of Loch Maree sea trout and local marine fish stocks after this date. Sadly, the angling sector are so entrenched in their damnation of the salmon farming industry that they have closed their minds to any other possibility. I will be submitting a letter to FFFT but it won’t get published because it will tell a story that they don’t want to hear.

A detailed account of the Loch Maree sea trout fishery can be found in my book Loch Maree’s Missing Sea Trout which is available from Amazon.

 

Taking the flack: The sad news of the death of TV personality Caroline Flack is a timely reminder of the hatred that often takes over social media. Another TV personality Kirsty Allsop writes in the Guardian that real people do not come up to you in the street and say ‘You b*tch, your children should be taken into care’ yet they do online.

Unfortunately, those who have taken a stance against salmon farming also seem to think that anything is acceptable on social media. I have seen abusive and racist comments from those campaigning against salmon farms although not against me. There have been however many personal attacks on my credibility and integrity. I do not respond to such comments on social media because I just pity those who seemingly feel so strongly about salmon farming but are unwilling to stand up for their beliefs in the real world.

I know in some cases; they know that they cannot defend the misinformation they spread so prefer to remain hidden behind their computer keyboards. Others have developed a narrative from which they don’t wish to be deflected and they know that engaging in discussion may just do that.

The wild fish sector has refocussed on highlighting mortality on salmon farms. I am not sure what they hope to achieve because even if they managed to get every salmon farm in Scotland closed down, stocks of wild fish are unlikely to recover. This is because salmon farming is not the main reason why wild fish stocks are in decline. It is just that after years of telling that story, they so firmly believe it to be the truth.

Meanwhile we are left with a social media that allows people to post comments without engaging their brain first. Until they do, there will continue to be casualties as we have so sadly seen over recent days.