Last week, Scottish Government minister Mairi Gougeon announced new measures to “improve relations” around fish farming by, among other things, streamlining the process of granting new consents. The warnings that came from the Parliamentary inquiries a few years ago are now ancient history and it’s clear that our leaders are keen to keep expanding the industry, despite mounting evidence of declining wild fish stocks and devastating quantities of fish mortalities on farms.
Meanwhile, Loch Linnhe is threatened by a proposal to try a huge environmental experiment involving two “semi-contained” units, each to contain an astonishing 8,000 tonnes of salmon. And this in a largely enclosed stretch of water already hosting conventional farms. At five kilograms per mature fish, this means that if consent is granted for the new units, they will contain a total of 3,200,000 salmon. Can anyone possibly believe that this makes environmental good sense? What has happened to the Precautionary Principle, which simply states that if you’re in doubt about the damage a new idea may cause, don’t do it?
Time after time, we see small local communities having their local businesses threatened by industrial aquaculture and having, at short notice, to get themselves up to speed on complicated matters, while coping with normal living and working. We must support them in their efforts, and there follows my message (coincidentally timed with the government one) to Loch Linnhe.
A message to Long Live Loch Linnhe
I’m writing to offer some moral and a little practical support to those worried (as we all should be) about the virtually uncontrolled expansion of fish farming on the west coast, with Loch Linnhe now under the most dreadful threat from units many times the size of anything we’ve seen to date.
Some of us have been there already. Our areas have been earlier victims of an alien, cruel industry that has taken commercial hypocrisy into the stratosphere by marketing products on the back of images of a wild, native species that is verging towards extinction. In this article, I’ll offer some brief pointers (as someone who lives in one of the first inshore areas to have been threatened, the interconnected waters of Seil, Shuna and Melfort, most of which planners treat as open sea, despite it’s very obviously being one largish sea loch).
When the farms first came to our area we felt isolated and ignorant, but soon learned that we weren’t alone. I was a founder of the save seil sound campaign group, which campaigned for ten years from 2011. Although our original target, a fish farm at Port na Mòrachd near Ardmaddy, no longer exists, the area is now suffering under tonnages we could never have anticipated would be given consent. There are now a number of groups, linking together, sharing research and networking online.
A magic solution?
The first thing to understand is that Scottish politicians of all parties (including nowadays most of the Greens) see fish farming not only as a magic solution, but almost the only one, to address employment issues on the west coast. During my time campaigning, only a very few took the trouble to inform themselves – in particular, Claudia Beamish and perhaps one or two Tories, who outside politics sometimes actually own salmon rivers. In this game, pick people with knowledge regardless of their political colour!
Our MPs and MSPs have got their briefings from literally generations of civil servants totally sold on the industry. “Feeding the World” is the totally dishonest slogan often used. Try telling that to residents of African coastal states, whose local fisheries have been destroyed by supertrawlers hoovering up what the industry terms “trash fish”.
Don’t believe for a second that Marine Scotland are an independent body; their officials are mainstream civil servants, whose next promotion will depend on not upsetting the leaders. I have sat in meetings where they patently controlled scientists itching to tell us the truth. This isn’t guesswork; our group received confidential briefings from two former government scientists, pensioned off when their research didn’t suit the agenda.
Currently SEPA aren’t much help to the environment, either. After their entire computer systems were crashed, by someone still untraced, they had to stop inspections during covid. Losing the boss suddenly didn’t help. For a while we had high hopes, when they invited local resident groups for meetings and I felt we were developing good relations.
While SEPA have no idea who crashed their system, one has suspicions. For example in tracking cars of two prominent, very skilled and courageous activists, Don Staniford and Corin Smith.
And the biggest company here, MOWI, have taken a SLAPP (strategic law suit against public participation) court case against Don, which he’s vigorously defending with help from an extremely decent bunch of hard-working young lawyers and supporters. You’ll find my articles about SLAPPs on Yours for Scotland and Bylines Scotland. MOWI is an international giant, largely owned by John Fredriksen, Norwegian by birth and a Cypriot passport holder, who lives in a ‘castle’ in Mayfair. Google him!
A twentieth century land grab
We are witnessing a twenty-first century land grab, effectively the sale (in legal terms long term leasing, as they aren’t allowed to sell public property) by our guardians, Crown Estate Scotland. The only thing Scottish about this industry is the seabed, the public asset which they allow to be used as a dumping ground for fish faeces, toxins such as pesticides, copper and zinc, and antibiotics. Not to forget Emamectin Benzoate, marketed by its American makers as SLICE, which stays active on the seabed for years and kills all crustaceans, lobsters, shrimps and crabs as well as the target sealice. Industry apologists, such as laird in waiting Tavish Scott, blame troubles, such as declining wild salmon numbers and the massive deaths of caged fish, on increasing sea temperatures, but shouldn’t that itself be a warning that the industry can’t last?
But what we can do?
So, be warned, it’s not just the water around the cages that’s murky! We mustn’t give up on our environment, but what can local residents do?
For anyone wanting to get involved, first look at what you can contribute. As one gets drawn more into the horrors of industrial fishing practices and finds fish farms deliberately poisoning the seabed, more and more time gets taken up in reading and research. Learn enough to understand what’s happening, but don’t try to reach the standards set by some of our champions, such as John Aitchison of Friends of the Sound of Jura, whose efforts and depth of knowledge are amazing. Leave the diving and image taking to those who can do it, but look at what skills you have, with computers, with words, whatever.
Most important is simply – spread the word! Over the years, I’ve become brave enough to tell people that I’d rather not eat farmed salmon (the real stuff is virtually unaffordable). A ten-minute conversation with a friend pointing out that Lochmuir is fictional like Brigadoon, that “sustainable” doesn’t mean anything, works wonders. We see the word “sustainable” used constantly – check if it means “environmentally”, “socially” or just “economically”. Believe it or not, the industry mixes all three. Nor does “organic” mean anything when farmed salmon are concerned. Successful complaints have been made to the Advertising Standards Authority about that. The biggest joke is RSPCA Assured; this huge English charity doesn’t operate here in Scotland, apart from raising funds, with huge subscriptions to this scheme from the aquaculture industry.
We need your help!
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