Informative discussion follows up screening of ‘Artifishal’

The view of a member of the audience

A screening of the powerful film ‘ARTIFISHAL’ took place on Arran on July 9th, hosted by trustees and staff members from the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST). Described by promoters as an “illuminating 75-minute documentary film which explores the high costs – ecological, financial and cultural – of our belief that engineered solutions can make up for habitat destruction”, it clearly outlined the plight of wild fish, endangered as a direct consequence of the ever-expanding development of hatcheries and fish farms.

Nearly ninety people came along to view the film, which was produced by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and film producer Laura Wagner. It was co-written and directed by Josh “Bones” Murphy, an award-winning nature film director.

ARTIFISHAL recounts the inside story of hatcheries in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, with graphic pictures of the conditions of factory fish farms as well as the genetically inferior salmon they churn out in massive numbers. We saw the underwater destruction and disease caused by an open-water fish farm in a beautiful fjord near Alta, Norway. Many aspects of these stories are now being echoed in the current ways in which fish farms across the west coast of Scotland are being developed.
The film celebrated the special relationship between Native American peoples and wild salmon and the veneration which these beautiful and determined creatures engender. Alongside the ugly reality of the processes of hatchery plants and fish farming we learned about the amazing qualities of wild salmon and the resilience they show in returning to and thriving in their natural environment in the face of natural disasters such as the Mount St Helens volcano in Washington State in 1980.

Watch the Artifishal below here and see what the film reveals about salmon breeding practices.

Post-screening discussion

A majority of the audience stayed on to take part in the post-screening discussion with a panel of three experts, Dr Sally Campbell from Arran, Dr Bryce Stewart from the University of York and Corin Smith from Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlot. The discussion was informative and wide-ranging. Some of the main points made were:

  • There are fish hatcheries in Scotland, albeit on a smaller scale than in the US; these primarily exist to boost wild salmon stocks for recreational fishing. Their operation does however raise some of the same issues raised in the film, particularly their impact on wild fish populations.
  • Fish farming mainly takes place on the West coast of Scotland because of the powerful land-owning lobby on the East coast who know the effect farms can have on their wild fishing interests.
  • Sea-based fish farming has significant effects on the whole marine ecosystem. Over three years the following pollutants entered the Clyde: 38 tonnes of total copper from the feeding nets, 4 tonnes of zinc, 1539 tonnes of nitrogen, ammonium and urea, 210 tonnes of phosphorous/phosphates and 4939 tonnes of organic carbon. The industry uses neurotoxins to get rid of the sea lice which grow on the salmon and this impedes the lice’s ability to shed their skin allowing them to grow bigger. Sea lice are crustaceans and these chemicals have the potential to cumulatively affect and stunt our wild crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs. And there is a 17-20% mortality rate amongst the salmon themselves.
  • The salmon farming business has had large amounts of money pumped into it, primarily through governmental support. Commercial short-termism and boosting the economy is the overriding priority and there is a big push to exploit the Chinese market with its high potential revenues. However, consumers are fickle and the tide may already be turning on the cheap salmon food fad. The socio-economic benefit doesn’t lie with the community, it lies with massive multi-million dollar organisations outside Scotland. Before we know it, in 20 to 30 years’ time we will have been consumed by open-cage salmon farming.
  • There are many claims made about the importance of fish farm-based jobs for the rural economy although the numbers of those employed are very hard to pin down. The reality is probably about 3,000 people in total with just half of those in rural areas.
  • The salmon farming industry, despite many statements to the contrary, is largely governed by a voluntary framework of guidelines, a code of good practice. The industry regularly breaches the guidelines and so part of the fundamental part of the campaign which Corin has been working on is about bringing voluntary guidelines into a statutory framework and enforcing those. Enforcement is, in itself, challenging unless well-resourced.
  • The findings from recent parliamentary enquiries into salmon farming are damming although recommendations from them, as from many similar enquiries, may well not be taken up.
  • There are alternatives to open-cage fish farms such as self-contained inland models – however, these are expensive and ultimately salmon farming is about making money. It costs a lot of money to heat up the system or run closed containment. This potentially reduces production so the fish will be much more expensive. But you have to think with any food production system ‘what is the real cost?’
  • There is a lot of media interest and public awareness of the disadvantages of salmon farming. As individuals and organisations we need to lobby politicians and those who the fish farming industry are selling to. The industry has a strong PR machine which puts them at great advantage. However, there are hopeful signs of communities fighting back.

Russell Cheshire, COAST Chairman, commented: “It was excellent to see 88 people attend this salmon industry exposé film. COAST are exceedingly grateful to Patagonia for producing the film and allowing us to host a screening, which sparked a lively discussion placing issues raised into context on Arran. Our thanks are extended to our panellists on the evening, for taking the time to lead the discussion and answer the audience’s questions. We hope that attendees gained as much from their input as we did, and look forward to working with all interested to tackle the Scottish Salmon Company’s proposal to build a new farm off Millstone Point between Lochranza and Sannox.”

Local campaigning

2019 is the International Year of the Salmon, when we should be celebrating our wild stocks. The truth is far from a joyous affair. Communities in Scotland, and indeed across the planet, are campaigning hard against the ever-expanding damaging salmon aquaculture industry. Sir David Attenborough has called for our wild salmon to be protected from the sea lice infestations, disease and deliberate untreated pollution from open cage salmon farms, which threaten their continued existence in Scotland and other parts of the world. The Scottish Government is supporting a doubling of the aquaculture industry in Scotland by 2030.

With the impending application by the Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) for a mega salmon farm off Millstone Point on the north-east coast of Arran, the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) are encouraging people to become more aware of the detrimental impacts that the industry has on our precious marine habitats and the species that rely on them.

Many people on Arran, including COAST and their supporters, are opposed to any open-cage fish farms in any of the waters around Arran; many organisations and individuals, including the National Trust for Scotland, have called for the Government to halt the expansion of the industry across Scotland until it can be proven to be sustainable. There are calls for a transition to closed containment systems by the industry and for a move to shellfish farming, or other forms of non-polluting sustainable aquaculture, to ensure employment is maintained and grown sustainably.

The amount of untreated salmon sewage entering our seas beggars belief; ‘A moderately large fish farm will dump the same amount of sewage as a town twice the size of Oban’, says Dr Luxmoore, ‘and, unlike human sewage, it is entirely untreated.’ The official government figures for sea lice infestation in Scottish salmon farms has the SSC holding the top four places as the most lice-ridden salmon company in Scotland. This is not a good advert for the company planning to expand their feedlot open cage farms in the seas around Arran.

Please sign the petition to oppose the proposed Millstone Point development. A farm here will not only spoil the enjoyment of an undeveloped part of the island, but also disturb the native wildlife such as otters, seals, porpoises and basking sharks.