Puffins sand eels and other wild claims
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