Andrew Flitcroft reports on Scottish Government’s latest attempt to protect polluting fish farmers
Andrew Flitcroft reports on another Scottish Government fudge
IN THE MAY ISSUE I WAS PLEASED TO report – at long last – progress in the perennial “salmon farming debacle”. Politicians were starting to “get it”, that salmon farming is far from a shining beacon of excellence. The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee had just issued a truly damning report, unanimously signed off by MSPS from all parties, on the industry’s environmental impact and record. This report concluded the industry is largely incapable of addressing sea-lice and disease, that if current issues are not addressed, then any expansion will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage, that “the status quo is not an option”, that farms should be relocated away from wild fish migration routes and that there should be a mandatory requirement for farms to keep lice numbers within those of the industry’s own Code of Good Practice. This report was the first part of the Parliament’s Inquiry into salmon farming. The second part is being conducted by the Rural Economy Committee, with its wider remit. It’s due to issue its report, with recommendations, in “early autumn”. In what is clearly a desperately cynical move designed to head off calls for real action, which the Committee is likely to advocate, the Scottish Government, employing the classic politicians’ get-out-of-jail-free card, has announced the setting up of a working group “to examine… the interactions between farmed and wild salmon, and make recommendations on how any associated impacts can be minimised”. In other words, another talking shop, aimed at kicking issues deep into the long grass; over the years there have been several such initiatives (eg, the Tripartite Working Group), all of which have made zero progress. Meanwhile, the industry continues to expand, decimating Highlands and Islands’ populations of wild salmon and sea-trout. So, who are the worthies on the working group? They include Marine Scotland, SEPA and Scottish Natural Heritage, all of whom have been complicit (in deference to their Government masters) in prevaricating about the deadly consequences of open-cage salmon farming, thus supporting the status quo. Then there are representatives from aquaculture, with their glib tobacco industry-style assertions that there is no evidence of any damage to wild stocks. Scottish Government trumpets that the group will be “chaired independently”. One would hope that he or she would have impeccable credentials. However, search engines reveal that the chairman-designate, John Goodlad, was a director and subsequently chairman of Shetland Catch, when over a three-year period it knowingly handled black fish (fish which are caught, retained and sold illegally, usually in excess of permitted quotas) worth some £47 million, believed to be the UK’S biggest-ever such scam. After it was busted, the company was ordered, under the Proceeds of Crime Act, to pay back £1.5 million in profits and the Solicitor General said that the company “sought to make huge financial gain with total disregard for the law… in a web of deceit with their sole motivation being greed”. It gets worse – Mr Goodlad used to own and operate several salmon farms! Just how can a former salmon farmer be deemed in this context to be genuinely “independent”, let alone impartial? We have no doubt that Mr Goodlad was the preferred choice of the Minister for salmon farming – Fergus Ewing MSP, whose support for the industry is recklessly blind. At the recent Seafood Expo in Brussels, Mr Ewing is reported to have told Scotland’s salmon farmers that “I’m determined to give what leadership I can to make sure that no matter what challenges are thrown at it you double growth… Let’s do it… Let’s go, Scotland!” Clearly that includes the setting up of glorified talking shops. The best we can hope is that those representing fishery boards and trusts on the working group have the nous to get up and walk as soon as it is apparent that the initiative is indeed a charade. That is the very least we should expect.
I WAS IN IRELAND at the end of June. Would you believe the weather on Corrib was the same as the rest of the UK. Temperatures in the high twenties, flat calm and trout as fussy as I’ve ever experienced. I fished the challenging caenis hatch. To tempt a trout I had to fish a single size 20 fly on a 20ft leader and 7X tippet. To land fish on 2.2lb tippet, you need a rod with a soft action. Nail-biting stuff when a 3lb trout tears off with the whole fly-line and backing. Tourists were enjoying the heatwave, in contrast to local anglers, who’ve a battle on their hands. Their fight is with Inland Fisheries Ireland, whose top brass have decided to step away from the hands-on conservation of fisheries and have passed the buck to clubs and individuals. In effect, costcutting. T&S contributor Dennis Moss brought me up to speed on this serious concern in a letter, published on p75. He’s also started a petition, which I encourage you to sign.
“A desperately cynical move designed to head off calls for real action”