By Sally Campbell, marine scientist and environmental campaigner.
We all make choices, sometimes in a very logical process and sometimes emotionally, and even sometimes both. But however we come to a decision about a brand, a product, our evening meal, we make a judgement, and usually, I hope, that includes that it has been produced safely, with care for the environment, as well as cost considerations. Brand publicity will play a big part if we believe all the hype on the wrapper.
So Arran residents and visitors are now talking about the Scottish Salmon Company’s (SSC) application for an enormous salmon farm of 5,000 tonnes in 20 huge net cages on the North Arran coast and we have our chance to comment on the application before it will come before North Ayrshire Planning Committee. Arran Community Council as a statutory consultee, will feed in a collective view to the Council. The other statutory consultees, Scottish Natural Heritage, Marine Scotland, SEPA and others will have already made their comments and recommendations and these will be taken into consideration in the Council’s decision to allow or not this enormous salmon farm proposed for North Sannox. A company that whilst hosting a thoroughly Scottish name, is an off-shore company registered in a tax haven, with private shareholders outside of the UK, also minimizing exposure to UK tax. So telling us about the economic footprint and benefits to Arran (=Scotland) is disingenuous since it to some extent avoids directly contributing to the UK tax coffers that benefit us all. The NHS, schools in North Ayrshire and Arran, even social services and care for the elderly are all short changed of support by these companies that deploy legitimate tax avoidance through complex holding structures which we might term morally and ethically questionable.
Klondiking is the way in which individuals and companies come, take, exploit , make loads of money, and leave, without paying to remedy the harm caused to environment, communities and heritage. So how do we prevent our North Ayrshire Council being seduced by SSC’s PR, socioeconomic spin, promises of economic support around the Clyde from Kilbirnie to Ardyne to Cairndow and maybe 10 jobs on Arran? If you look carefully at the application, 10 jobs are possibly coming to Arran, but by no means definite. Plus of course BioMar, a Danish Company, the salmon feed producer with one of its global plants in the east of Scotland, hauliers, including the yellow tankers of Billy Bowie which have been carrying dead salmon away from Lamlash farm with increasing frequency over this year, smelling of rotting fish; such that CalMac has requested they use an open ferry and not Caledonian Isles because of the smell. But at the same time as these mass mort events were happening Scottish Salmon Company was awarded a three star Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) certification for sourcing its feed from the BAP certified supplier. SSC accepted its third star in Boston in March where is was showcasing its Lochlander Salmon. The USA is a big market for them. Yet even at that time morts (dead salmon) at its farms in the Clyde were rapidly increasing.
To read the environmental statement all is sustainability and good: no mention of the mass morts, 100s of tonnes of dead salmon in their cages, as recently as this spring and summer in both Loch Fyne and to a lesser extent Lamlash Bay. Besides which the reputation of Scottish Salmon Company is not all they make out in their PR.
The serious problems with dead fish in Loch Fyne, and in Lamlash Bay, showed by the appearance of the yellow Billy Bowie tanker and the smell. Below a picture of a yellow Billy Bowie tanker being loaded with dead salmon at Quarry Point near Crarae Gardens on 29 April 2019 and the news report by the BBC.
There is talk about the size of the farm and damage to the marine ecosystem, most of which is hidden from the public, unless you are a diver. This pollution damages the complexity of our inshore waters. The “seal scarers” also compromise the waterworld of marine mammals, dolphins and porpoises because sound travels much further under water. Lamlash Bay salmon farm has a maximum biomass of 1154 tonnes, and below is listed the discharges from that farm over 8 years. Now imagine what will originate from a farm almost 4 and a half times larger, up to 5,000 tonnes of biomass (weight). And that is before chemicals to contain disease are added to feed or used to dose the fish. Consider the amount of faeces and waste food underneath the farm and its spread to beaches north and south.
There is also a suggestion in the socio-economic report that because the age profile of Arran is skewed to older age groups, economic capital has been undermined by the eco-environmental concerns of these older folk! I think the younger people of Arran are also tuned into our environment, and the need to protect it in many ways. They are enthusiastic supporters of TAP, the initiative to limit plastic waste in supermarkets. Perhaps Scottish Salmon Company should also have done some economic assessments on how those over 50 year olds contribute to Arran’s economy, with the decently paid jobs in house building and renovation of homes, maintenance, tourism, and indeed in many of the small companies making specialist products. In addition this group uses their human capital to contribute themselves, to run clubs, societies, charity ventures, the Museum, the Agricultural Show, mostly unpaid. Setting one group of Arran residents against others is not good PR for a company whose farm employees do not earn the figures quoted so liberally in the socio-economic report. More like £18,700 per year fulltime, not the £35K suggested.
The Arran sense of place is one reason so many people wish to visit or to live here, either part or full-time. The beauty, the walks, the seascape, the sense of community. The wild, northern coast is exceptional for the landscape and seascape views, at sea level and from the surrounding hills. The chances of seeing the marine mammals, basking sharks, the birds, the heritage, the magnificent geology are key to that beauty and wilderness value. These are especially important to our tourism industry. That industry incidentally generated £61M for the island economy in 2018. In that year over 400,000 tourists came to Arran. Lose only 10% of this income to the island, due to reputational risk to the tourism trade, and salmon farming will cost the island dear.
As each of us makes a choice about salmon farming, and eating its products, it is worth thinking also about the ecological consequences of salmon feed…ask yourself where does it come from? BioMar is going to be the supplier from one of its global factories based in Scotland, but much of the fish oils and fish content comes from areas of the world where inshore communities are losing their livelihoods to rapacious trawlers, often fishing illegally; these are ultimately fishing for us, from afar, scooping up their fish, for the aquaculture industry, including the salmon farmers. Much of the rest of the fish food produced is vegetarian, often soya, often from megafarms which have been created by multinational interests depriving people of their land. Common land has been “bought” by companies to grow soya and as we have seen even this week, the Amazon is on fire with forests being cleared for more soya and running cattle. All so we can eat inexpensive salmon. It is a conundrum for us all…cheap food costing others much more in their loss of their truly sustainable fisheries and their often beautiful habitats for rare and beautiful creatures in marine and terrestrial environments, be they – think of sharks and rays, dolphins and turtles- and on land–think of orangutans, jaguars, river dolphins and sloths, displaced by plantations of cash crops. That ultimately will mean many small isolated coastal and indigenous communities unable to support themselves. It is therefore ironic that Scottish Salmon Company crows over its efforts to “save isolated Scottish coastal communities”!
www.voiceforarran.com September 2019