Puffins sand eels and other wild claims

Fish Farmer - - Contents - Phil Thomas

WHEN an ar­rest­ing news­pa­per head­line or ar­ti­cle catches my eye, I am prone to search out the un­der­ly­ing in­for­ma­tion sources. This some­times re­veals that things are not quite what they seem.

Let me take two ex­am­ples from last month, both, as it hap­pens, from the Sun­day Times and writ­ten by Mark Macaskill. The first re­lates to aqua­cul­ture and the sec­ond to fresh­wa­ter fish­eries.

On March 5, there was a story headed Fac­tory farms are a threat’ to pu n num­bers’, based on a soon-to-be re­leased book by con­ser­va­tion­ist Phillip Lym­bery.

The head­line re­ferred to a sen­tence which said Lym­bery ar­gues that the com­mer­cial ex­ploita­tion of sand eels a cylin­dri­cal fish which is a cru­cial part of the pu n chicks’ diet has been driven by the rapid ex­pan­sion of aqua­cul­ture for which mil­lions of tonnes of smaller fish are hoovered up and pulped as a feed for farm salmon.’

In­trigued by this, I down­loaded the book to my Kin­dle as soon as it was re­leased. Dead one Where the Wild Things Were’ com­prised 16 chap­ters, each on a se­lected species for which the au­thor pre­sented his case that hu­man ac­tiv­ity had led to species re­duc­tion or demise.

There was no chap­ter on pu ns but Chap­ter 12, on pen­guins, of­fered a five-para­graph sec­tion on which the Sun­day Times ar­ti­cle was based.

This stated that sand eel catches in the North Sea had re­duced be­tween 1994 and 2003 due to over­fish­ing. It then quoted a re­port sug­gest­ing that in­creased in­ten­sity of sand eel fish­ing was associated with a re­duc­tion in sea bird pop­u­la­tions’.

And, fi­nally, it com­mented that sand eels were fished to pro­duce fish­meal and oil, with a lot of fish­meal be­ing used to feed farmed an­i­mals, not least salmon’. So, it was this last state­ment that ap­peared to be the source of the Sun­day Times claim.

Hold on, you might ex­claim. Hasn’t the ton­nage of fish­meal pro­duced been static or slightly de­clin­ing for many years, and not in uenced by the growth of fish farm­ing And doesn’t salmon farm­ing use only slightly over a fi h of the to­tal fish­meal pro­duced about the same com­bined as pig and poul­try farm­ing

Well, yes’ to both those facts- but let’s not al­low the facts to get in the way of a good story!

On March 26, the head­line Wild fish­eries probe wasted pub­lic funds’’ was the fo­cus of my at­ten­tion. This ar­ti­cle was based on com­ments by Sir Ed­ward Moun­tain, the Sco sh Con­ser­va­tive spokesman on land re­form’, com­bined with ex­tracts from the ed­i­tor’s let­ter in this month’s Trout Salmon maga ine, writ­ten by Andrew Fl­itcro .

The gist of the ar­ti­cle was that the Sco sh gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of its wild fish­eries re­form process had been shame­fully in­com­pe­tent and rep­re­sented a squan­der­ing of about 500,000 of pub­lic funds and an es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion of fish­eries in­dus­try money, used to de­fend in­dus­try in­ter­ests dur­ing the evo­lu­tion of the gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­als.

Now, the back­ground facts to this story are not re­ally in ques­tion. Sco sh wild fish­eries re­form was promised in the SNP elec­tion man­i­festo of 2011 and that led to the Thin Com­mit­tee re­port (with its 53 rec­om­men­da­tions) which was pub­lished in Oc­to­ber 2014.

Therea er, the Sco sh gov­ern­ment held an ini­tial con­sul­ta­tion in May 2015 with anal­y­sis of re­sponses pub­lished in Jan­uary 2016.

Next, in Fe­bru­ary 2016, a ma­jor con­sul­ta­tion was launched on the Dra pro­vi­sions for a Wild Fish­eries (Scot­land) Bill and a Dra Wild Fish­eries Strat­egy’ and the anal­y­sis of re­sponses was pub­lished at the start of Fe­bru­ary 2017.

In par­al­lel with this last pub­li­ca­tion the Sco sh en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, Roseanna Cun­ning­ham, an­nounced that all the rad­i­cal parts of the pro­posed bill, in­clud­ing rod li­cences, wild fish­eries levies, re­quired writ­ten per­mis­sion for fresh­wa­ter fish­ing, and the over­haul of the District Salmon Fish­eries Boards, would be ruled out.

The bill would in fact be evis­cer­ated. So, surely this must rep­re­sent some fail­ure of process or a lack of po­lit­i­cal will.

But are there any mit­i­gat­ing facts Well, it might have helped if Moun­tain, Fl­itcro or Macaskill had com­mented on the find­ings of the con­sul­ta­tion anal­y­sis on the dra bill.

The re­sponses 81 per cent of which were from in­di­vid­ual an­glers, an­gling clubs, fish­ery own­ers and fish­ery man­agers- were de­press­ingly against any change or re­form of the present sys­tem.

That al­most cer­tainly would have heav­ily in uenced Cun­ning­ham’s de­ci­sion al­though I am sure it will be to the con­tin­ued detri­ment of Scot­land’s fresh­wa­ter fish­eries re­sources.

Fi­nally, as a foot­note, Macaskill might have men­tioned that Moun­tain, as well as be­ing Sco sh Con­ser­va­tive spokesman on land re­form is also a pro­pri­etor of Del­fur Fish­ings on the Spey, since many peo­ple might re­gard that as ger­mane in­for­ma­tion! .

“Let’s not al­low the facts to get in the way of a good story!” Above: Sand eel

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