reLAKSation no 981

Dearly departed: It is my understanding that Salmon & Trout Conservation have been kicked out of the Missing Salmon Alliance. Of course, there will be no public admission that this is what occurred, but I am reliably informed that ‘kicked out’ is an accurate description of what happened.  Instead, S&TC issued a statement saying that “After discussion and detailed consideration of the tactical approach, the Missing Salmon Alliance has decided to pursue an advocacy course by engaging with the Scottish Government with respect to future regulation of the aquaculture sector. Salmon & Trout Conservation has decided to withdraw from the Alliance to pursue an alternative approach.”

It is unclear how S&TC will be able to influence change if they are unwilling to engage with the Scottish Government. In addition, as I have discussed previously, any influence that the wild fish sector may have will be diluted without a united front. S&TC’s statement states that they will be campaigning for effective regulation in accordance with the recommendations of the Scottish Parliamentary inquiries. Perhaps, S&TC see that the Parliament rather than the Government might be the best route to get their message across. I am not so sure.

This is because the Parliamentary inquiries were the consequence of a S&TC petition. This presented a very weak case, and it was only good fortune that it opened the door for them. The petition was essentially flawed, and I suspect that trying a similar approach may not be successful. In addition, the Government has pursued long term discussions through the Salmon Interactions Working Group and undoubtedly, most MSP’s will want to see if this group’s recommendations are implemented before attempting to initiate a new round of inquiries.

I also think that there is an increasing awareness that S&TC’s claims are not so clear cut. I suspect that their policy of only talking to those who support their case will eventually backfire. Sooner or later, S&TC will have to respond to the opposing view. Interestingly, my last video questioned the claims made by S&TC director Andrew Graham Stewart in an article in Trout and Salmon magazine in 2017 in which he said my explanation of what happened to west coast sea trout was wrong. I know if the shoe were on the other foot, I would have come out with a strenuous defence of my views. Instead, I have been deafened by the silence. I certainly don’t think that this helps S&TC’s case. I will be further exploring the claims that Mr Graham Stewart’s made in Trout & Salmon magazine in a forthcoming issue of reLAKSation.

In addition, S&TC’s departure from the Missing Salmon Alliance, for whatever reason, must be an embarrassment for their patron, The Prince of Wales. In a video message at the launch of the Missing Salmon Alliance last November, HRH, Prince Charles, said ‘The very future of a species that has been swimming in our oceans and seas for over 6 million years will be in jeopardy. We simply cannot allow this to happen in our lifetime. Having four leading salmon conservation organisations working together through the Missing Salmon Alliance is hugely encouraging.” Now, it is just three!

Three days after leaving the Alliance, S&TC announced that they had appointed a new Chief Executive. Any hope that new management might bring a new view was soon dashed as it became immediately obvious that it was business as usual.

Mr Nick Measham said in the news of his appointment that S&TC were seeking “salmon farm reform to prevent open-net salmon farming harming salmon and sea trout. In-shore open-net salmon farming kills wild salmon, sea trout, other fish and crustaceans. Lethality results from sea lice infestation, escaped farmed fish breeding with wild ones, and coastal waters being seriously polluted by fish waste and also ironically by the quantity of chemical needed to keep caged farmed fish parasite and disease free.” He also said that “we champion effective regulation to control sea lice parasites and eliminate escapes; we also seek relocations of open cage farms away from sensitive salmon and sea trout migration routes.”

(I would mention here that I hope to be uploading a new video soon that considers the specific question of salmon migration routes. Keep a watch out for details in the next reLAKSation).

Mr Measham also stated that he “came to angling through a love of water and that he has always believed that fishing is a dividend, albeit a big one, of our stewardship of wild fish and their habitats.” He added that “you can’t fish too happily without catching fish..” Mr Measham is pictured standing in a river with a rod and line.

Whilst Mr Measham expresses concern about the impact of salmon farming, he makes no mention of the impacts of angling, but given his love of fishing, this is not surprising.

However, the anti-animal cruelty Charity Onekind might be surprised by his admission. S&TC told them when they agreed to work together to fight against salmon farming, that S&TC had nothing to do with angling even though most members of S&TC appear to be anglers.

I would end this commentary by saying that if salmon farming has such an impact on wild fish why did Andrew Graham Stewart, director of S&TC Scotland, choose to take a salmon fishing holiday in the Grade 1 River Ewe despite the close proximity of the most contentious farm in Scotland. This was detailed in a past issue of Trout and Salmon magazine!


Pictured: the photo of the sea trout I posted recently seems to have created interest in other sea trout catches from around the Aquaculture Zone. I have heard of other sea trout being landed of not only a decent weight but also in great condition. However, there has been a reluctance to highlight specific fish and the area from where it was caught. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, some anglers simply don’t want to publicise their catches because they don’t want other anglers to come along and spoil their fishing by increasing the fishing pressure. Secondly, the anti-salmon farming message is so strong amongst the angling community that any admission that larger fish in good condition are being landed might undermine the underlying message.

For those of us who monitor catches, the problem is enhanced when catches are eventually published, they are now so compromised by lumping two or three river systems together that it will be impossible to know if larger fish are being caught and from where. Certainly, the new statistics arrangement will mean that once the farm in Loch Ewe is removed, it will be impossible to monitor any recovery in Loch Maree without specific access to the raw data. S&TC will be able to say what they like about Loch Maree and no-one will be able to challenge them.

It is sad that rather than increase the availability of data for wild fish, the new reporting system will make it very difficult to understand what is happening to wild fish except on regional basis.

Fortunately, there are some people who are happy to share details of their catches. Bob Kindness from the River Carron tweeted that “sampled by rod and line 10 sea trout and more than 150 finnock from the Carron sea pools during July. Most of the fish had no sea lice and no fin damage. The small number with lice had only background levels with only the odd ovigerous louse present. All in good condition”.


Recording: I recently noticed a couple of other postings on social media. The first related to another video posted by Don Staniford of him filming himself at the crack of dawn standing without permission on a set of salmon cages. In his commentary he says that ‘the mortality on salmon farms is staggering – maybe 20 to 25%.’

I have been monitoring salmon mortality data and whilst there are a handful of occasions when the mortality on one site is in the region he states for one month, there are thousands of other records showing extremely low mortality. The average monthly mortality for the industry as a whole is typically between one and two percent.

Mr Staniford was interviewed in 2017 by John Vidal of the Guardian whom he told “I am a trained scientist. I use peer reviewed science and use the industry’s own figures.’

Perhaps as a trained scientist, Mr Staniford would like to show exactly how he calculated the 20% to 25% figures because no matter how I look at the data available, I am unable to arrive at such a high mortality figure as being typical for the salmon farming industry in Scotland.

In a Facebook post, Corin Smith, founder of ‘Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlots’ says that he has spent hundreds of hours in the water around salmon farms. He continues that ‘the water is toxic. I have experienced a range of skin and eye reactions to spending time in this water, which I believe is the result of pollution’.

Mr Smith’s comments raise a number of points. Having spent hundreds of hours in the water around salmon farms, I would expect Mr Smith to have hundreds of hours of video footage of horrific examples of the conditions in which salmon are raised. However, I watched an hour-long presentation by Mr Smith hosted by OneKInd, in which the examples he showed were the same ones that I have seen many times over. This includes the picture of the one fish which is regularly used in any attack on the salmon farming industry. This begs the question as to whether Mr Smith has exaggerated the time he spends around salmon farms or that the farms he has visited have nothing out of the ordinary for him to photograph or video.

I would also suggest that if Mr Smith has experienced skin and eye reactions, he should have had  them validated by a doctor or at least photographed them to show to SEPA as examples of the consequences of the poor conditions in which he swam.


Signing off: For the last six years, the Tweedbeats website has posted a weekly commentary, something I feel some empathy with however the beginning of July was the final posting. The unnamed author says that he ‘has had enough and that repetition of the same issues, year after year, is boring’.

The commentary is primarily about the salmon fishing on the River Tweed on the Scottish English border. The final commentary makes three points about the fishing. These rea:

  1. Tweed anglers spin too much especially in low clear waters when it should be banned
  2. Anglers kill too many fish after July 1st. The number is significantly higher than in any other river in the UK
  3. The river authorities do not give any protection to the dwindling numbers of autumn fish after 1st September even though numbers are much less than Spring fish which are protected.

What is interesting about these comments is that there are clearly more issues affecting the wild fish sector than just salmon farming. Its just that they rarely emerge to the surface because the narrative is so firmly focused towards the impacts of aquaculture. What is surprising is the venom against those who spin for salmon. This Is not usually apparent because the usual impression is that most of the salmon caught are landed by those who fish with a fly. This is seemingly not the case but there is no data to show the divide between spinning and fly fishing.

Tweedbeats says that it is impossible to know how many of the 350 plus salmon caught at the end of June were caught by spinning. He says that there was no need to spin for salmon as the water was ideal for using the fly but spinning still continued. He describes this as fishmongering not angling which I take to mean that there is little skill involved and that the chance of a catch is much improved. Apparently, there is a difference between upstream and downstream spinning and an angling friend who fishes the Tweed tells me that upstream spinning is a sure- fire way of catching a fish. Tweedbeats says it should be banned and that downstream spinning only be allowed under specific circumstances. Tweedbeats says that it is a disgrace that spinning should be allowed to happen and that so many owners continue to allow it. He says that it is a numbers game for them and nothing else seems to matter.

I discussed this situation with my angling friend. He agrees it is all about numbers and not the sport. The reality is that, as always has been the case, the value of any riparian ownership is dictated by the number of fish caught. High numbers boost the value of fishing. In addition, anglers want to fish to beats that produce fish, so the more fish landed the better.

My angling friend says that there are other implications to boosting catches than just the value of the fishing. Tweedbeats alludes to the fact that the river authorities, in this case the River Tweed Commission, are reluctant to take action and this is because they represent the owners. In turn, the various fishery boards used to be represented by the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards which has now evolved into Fisheries Management Scotland.

I am reminded about the battle between netsmen and the anglers. The netsmen were accused of catching and killing fish that could have been caught by anglers. The debate has moved on to those who spin for fish as opposed to those who fish with a fly. The argument is the same. Perhaps, as a first step, the data collected by Marine Scotland Science should identify how the fish were caught to understand whether this is a local or widespread problem.

At the end of the day, the wild fish sector should decide what is more important, the conservation of wild salmon stocks or the protection of the value of the riparian ownership. In my opinion, it is unlikely there will ever be an answer simply because organisations like FMS and S&TC would rather deflect attention away from such issues and instead discuss the alleged impacts of salmon farming.