Scottish Daily Mail


- by Char­lie Whe­lan Former Labour ad­vi­sor Char­lie Whe­lan is a pas­sion­ate fly fish­er­man and a Fish­ing Group Am­bas­sador for the Scot­tish Game­keep­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

ANY­ONE who doubts the im­pact salmon farm­ing is hav­ing on our pre­cious ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment should swim un­der these fish tanks and see for them­selves what oth­ers have al­ready found – acres of dead sea. Ev­ery­thing down there is dead.

When you have hun­dreds of thou­sands of fish swim­ming round in a con­fined space, then it doesn’t take a ge­nius to work out what the con­se­quence is go­ing to be. We have a se­ri­ous pol­lu­tion prob­lem that has been re­spon­si­ble for wip­ing out sea trout on the West Coast of Scot­land.

Wild salmon could be next, al­though the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is more in­ter­ested in push­ing to dou­ble pro­duc­tion to 300,000400,000 tons by 2030.

It seems to ig­nore how poorly reg­u­lated the present in­dus­try is. It is dif­fi­cult to know whether this is sim­ply out of in­com­pe­tence or some­thing more sin­is­ter.

Ei­ther way, the ev­i­dence is stack­ing up – prob­lems with sea lice, farmed salmon es­capes and pol­lu­tion of sea lochs around the farm tanks – and yet the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment can­not, or will not, act.

Now an in­flu­en­tial Holy­rood com­mit­tee has re­leased a with­er­ing re­port into the state of the in­dus­try, call­ing for ur­gent re­forms to pre­vent Scot­land’s ma­rine ecosys­tem suf­fer­ing ‘ir­recov­er­able dam­age’.

The farmed salmon in­dus­try has long ar­gued it has a vi­tal role to play in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, cre­at­ing a huge amount of jobs, but few peo­ple work on these farms and of­ten they are not lo­cal.

And what about the real, lo­cal jobs that are be­ing lost through the dec­i­ma­tion of wild salmon and trout stocks? I am con­vinced an­gling pro­vides more jobs and gen­er­ates more rev­enue than salmon farms.

There is a mis­con­cep­tion that peo­ple who hunt, shoot and fish are all toffs, but many are or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple who, like me, have a pas­sion for fish­ing.

I should stress that I am not against salmon farm­ing per se, just the way it is done. Why, for in­stance, have fac­tory farms been al­lowed to po­si­tion them­selves along frag­ile stretches of our West Coast, where wild salmon are ex­posed to dis­ease and pol­lu­tion from salmon farms? There are fears, too, that the ge­netic in­tegrity of wild salmon has been harmed through breed­ing with farmed fish that have es­caped.

The so­lu­tion is to site the tanks on land, so that there is a clear sep­a­ra­tion be­tween farmed and wild fish. That is what the Scot­tish Game­keep­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, with whom I work, have rec­om­mended. The tanks would not have to be far from where the nets are cur­rently sited and the same loch wa­ter could be pumped through the tanks so it would be the same prod­uct but pro­duced in a safer, cleaner en­vi­ron­ment.

It would re­quire a de­gree of in­vest­ment from the in­dus­try, which prob­a­bly ex­plains why they are drag­ging their heels. The world’s big­gest land-based tank for grow­ing mar­ket-sized salmon is al­ready up-and-run­ning at the former air base in Machri­han­ish, near Camp­bel­town, Ar­gyll. As far as I can see, such a sys­tem would be a win-win sit­u­a­tion for every­one in the High­lands.

As an an­gler, I see an­other im­bal­ance that should be cor­rected. While the Gov­ern­ment al­lows fish farms to ex­pand with a speed that seems al­most crim­i­nal, an­glers are fac­ing a clam­p­down with a strict catch and re­lease pol­icy on more than two-thirds of rivers where salmon are in de­cline. We might keep the odd one for the pot, but it is not the an­glers’ fault there are so few fish.

On the Spey where I live, for ex­am­ple, an­glers have done a mas­sive amount of work restor­ing burns, mak­ing sure that ev­ery­thing is right for the salmon to spawn and then the fish go out to sea and they don’t come back. That is where the prob­lem lies. Stop­ping an­glers from tak­ing the odd fish is just a drop in the ocean.

Salmon and sea trout are re­mark­ably re­silient but we have to act now. Very soon, it will be too late.

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