Paxman: Fish farms ‘battery hen sheds that f loat on water’
TV PRESENTER Jeremy Paxman has called for an overhaul of the salmon farming industry – which he likened to ‘floating battery hen sheds’.
He said the move was necessary to protect wildlife as ‘salmon farms have done enormous harm’.
The keen angler, who regularly fishes in Scotland, said many fisheries traded on the image that salmon arrived at the table ‘fresh from the wild seas’ when, in reality, most has been bred in cages in the sea.
There are now 250 salmon farms on the west coast of Scotland, but this has coincided with a collapse in the number of wild salmon in the area. Fish cages are mostly sited near the shore, or in estuaries for easy access, but the crowded conditions are said to be a breeding ground for sea lice, which infect wild fish when they begin migrating a up rivers.
Although consumers are left with the impression their salmon has been caught in wild lochs, the stock is actually kept in 130ft cages of around 70,000 fish, Paxman said in an editorial for the Financial Times Weekend section.
‘It’s like a series of floating battery hen sheds,’ he said.
‘Salmon has long been sold on the prospect of cleanliness and health. The impression is fraudulent. Salmon and trout migrating to the sea or returning to their natural rivers to spawn must swim through clouds of sea lice.
‘Salmon farms have done enormous harm.’
By 2015, the Scottish salmon industry was producing nearly 180,000 tons and hopes to double production by 2030.
But Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) says the upsurge has come at ‘considerable environmental cost’, by triggering a huge increase in sea lice. The problem has forced many fisheries to add chemicals to holding cages which are harmful to the environment, conservationists warned.
Dr Janina Grey, head of science with S&TC UK, believes it is time for a positive change, saying: ‘The long-term goal has to be closed containment, which biologically separates the farmed fish from wild fish and the farms from the wider environment, preventing the spread of sea lice and other diseases.
‘Supermarkets are failing in their environmental obligations by selling fish from regions of Scotland where sea lice are not being adequately controlled.’
Figures from the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) released in June show that in 2016-17, £14million was spent on ‘biological’ treatments for salmon, mainly through cleaner fish, which eat sea lice. The previous year the figure was £5.2million.
Spending on controversial ‘medicinal’ treatments fell from £18.5million in 2015-16 to £13.8million last year.
Last year also saw £21million invested in the use of mechanical methods to remove lice.
A spokesman for the Scottish government said recently: ‘Scotland has a legislative and regulatory framework which balances growing aquaculture sustainably and protecting biodiversity and the environment on which aquaculture and wild fisheries depend.’
SSPO chief executive Scott Landsburgh said: ‘It is a shame that Mr Paxman has such a negative view of the Scottish salmon farming sector. It is the high-quality environment in which our fish are grown which makes Scottish salmon one of the most sought-after food products in the world and why it is used in top-end restaurants around the globe, so it is the sector’s own interests to ensure our environmental impact is as small as it can be.
‘Indeed, in a number of areas around Scotland we work with wild fisheries groups to protect river systems through the sharing of data and regular discussions about how our members might be able to assist and we hope to announce more of these kind of joint initiatives in the coming months.’
‘Have done enormous harm’
‘Work to protect river systems’
Danger: Cages are said to be a breeding ground for sea lice
Keen angler: Jeremy Paxman