Netflix 2hrs 20 minutes

Article by Sally Campbell

Featured image shows: The world’s second largest factory fishing trawler, the Lithuanian FV Margiris, was among 25 supertrawlers fishing in protected UK waters in 2020. Photograph: Greenpeace/PA

Seaspiracy is a 2021 documentary film about the environmental impact of fishing, directed by and starring Ali Tabrizi, a British filmmaker. The film premiered on Netflix globally in March and garnered immediate attention around the world. It highlights how damage is being done to the marine environment on which we all depend, through fisheries, plastics, salmon farming and the abuse of people through indentured servitude or slavery to multinational fishing companies often illegally fishing, even close to shore and in marine protected areas. The reefers, refrigerated ships that take catches off fishing vessels out at sea, results in many ships at sea for long periods, and meanwhile the fish is sold “legally” at markets around the world. There are disturbing film images of bycatch of sharks, dolphins and whales. Some critics say Seaspiracy is biased, that fishermen protect stocks and Marine Protected Areas. Others have said the facts are out of date; but what it has done is raise the profile of the uses and abuses of our marine, ocean environments. It has clearly been an eye opener for many people who see the ocean surface, yet cannot see what happens beneath the waves, unlike coal mining, road building or peat extraction on land for all to see!

The marine environment is about complexity, everything affects everything so natural ecosystems, climate, currents affect it as well as unsustainable resource depletion. We are the biggest, technology-led predators of the world’s oceans. Huge fleets of trawlers off the Galapagos islands and West Africa are ruining fisheries for local people.

We are at war with the Oceans and if we win this war, we are going to lose it all, as mankind cannot live on this planet with a dead sea”.

Over exploitation of fish resources continues to drive local coastal communities once dependent on abundant fish stocks off their shores to move away or risk hazardous journeys across the sea to try and survive somewhere new. Equally important in this complexity are those who have the power, and political will to change things; and finally, us the consumers with our power to buy or not, and to influence what products are sold in supermarkets and restaurants.

The Scottish government knows far more about our marine environment than even 10 years ago. Looking at a truly sustainable future we need to nurture nature so that the products of our seas sustain us in Scotland. For example, the Scottish government must do something very soon, and impose a 3-mile coastal fishing limit on dredging and bottom trawling as was the case until the 1980s, so providing an opportunity for sustainable static creel fisheries, sea angling and marine tourism to develop and thrive in inshore waters. The government also knows that ultimately salmon farming as presently practised is not a sustainable business. It is totally dependent on resources obtained internationally, in some cases at the expense of local people in those countries, and this includes fish, soya, and palm oil for feed and further the use of air freight to get the salmon to markets. Its sale price is only possible because its concentrated wastes and contaminants are simply released to our inshore seas without treatment

Last summer Greenpeace dropped boulders on Dogger Bank on the east coast of the UK, to prevent bottom trawling and dredging as the sandbanks are protected by a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Eleven trawlers were operating illegally with their AIS tracking systems turned off. Turning off the AIS tracking system is illegal under UK and International Maritime Law. Five of these vessels were believed to be owned by Scottish fishing companies.

Oceana estimates 200,000 hours of bottom trawling took place in offshore MPAs in 2019. 97% of UK’s MPAs are subjected to bottom trawling. “Out of sight, out of mind”? In a paper from Marine Scotland Science in 2020 looking at historical levels of fishing as a benchmark, management measures have been applied to <0.6% of the swept area of existing mobile fishing activity. Such disturbing statistics must raise the levels of concern for marine ecosystems and the future of truly sustainable fisheries.

England introduced IFCAs, Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities in 2011. There are 10 IFCAs in England, covering English coastal waters out to 6 nautical miles from Territorial Baselines. Although autonomous these 10 IFCAs have a shared ‘vision’ to “lead, champion and manage a sustainable marine environment and inshore fisheries, by successfully securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry”. Unlike these IFCAs, the Scottish Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups (RIFGs) in Scotland simply aim to improve the management of inshore fisheries in the 0-6 nautical mile zone of Scottish waters, and to give commercial inshore fishermen a strong voice in wider marine management developments. Scotland has five Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups where local fishermen come together to explore local fisheries management initiatives. The network was established in 2016 and succeeds the six Inshore Fisheries Groups that were formerly in place from 2013. There is no environmental or social input from other groups affected by inshore fisheries. The constant lobbying for the status quo by mobile fishermen is a problem that must be overcome swiftly. Further, Scottish Government’s Compliance activity is weak compared to England’s IFCAs.

An example of compliance in action in English waters was recorded this month in Yorkshire, when North East IFCA won a case in court. One of Scotland’s biggest scallopers is facing record fines after admitting a series of fishing offences. Star of Annan OB50 and the owner of scallop dredging vessel Qvarl BM 29 were fined for multiple breaches of local scallop dredging regulations and national fisheries legislation, detected off the Yorkshire coast. The business of John MacAlister (Oban) Limited has been ordered to pay penalties and costs of more than £187,000 for illegal dredging off the coast of Yorkshire. The Master of the Star of Annan OB50, from the Isle of Lewis, was fined £2,908 and ordered to pay £555 costs and a victim surcharge of £170. MacAlister also appeared as a director of Torquay-based Q Varl Fishing Co Ltd which was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,140 and a £170 victim surcharge relating to two similar offences which were committed by the fishing vessel Q Varl BM 29 in 2019. The court heard how the offences included operating in a closed season, using scallop dredges, failing to operate a fully-functioning vessel identification system as well as landing undersized scallops.

More effective compliance, combined with adoption of a similar model in Scotland similar to England’s IFCAs would be a powerful way forward in better safeguarding our Scottish inshore waters. At present it is clear that MPAs are a mirage in Scotland, purely “paper parks”. Present fishing practice is affecting spawning beds, and small fish replacement stock as evidenced in Scotland with its seabird nesting which has seen a 38% decline in Scottish breeding seabird indicator between 1986 and 2016.

“Humanity is waging war on nature, said the UN secretary general in December 2020… which is in danger of destroying our future before we have fully understood the risk.”

What about the Election and Salmon Farming in Scotland?

An issue during this election period that is looming large, especially in the west of Scotland, is salmon aquaculture.

“Business leaders, politicians and officials in Scotland have conspired to perpetuate the myth that salmon farming has no impact on the environment. The reality about salmon farming’s impact on the environment is rather different.”
Charles Clover

This week, on 29 April, in time to raise public awareness before the election on 6 May, a film has been released which I highly recommend. James Merryweather of Scottish Salmon Think Tank has used the time made available by the Pandemic lockdown to reflect on this industry over the last 50 years. His film guides the viewer through the processes of this industry, pointing out the flaws in this feedlot aquaculture.

HOLES: Scotland’s Salmon Scandal
By James Merryweather (on Youtube – click above for link)

James first reviews some of the avoidable horrors from developments in society, hailed initially as excellent in the past and which subsequently proved to not be so: examples include blood-letting, early surgery, early electricity and even asbestos and ultra violet lamps, and how we learned lessons, gained knowledge and consequently changed course and behaviours. He moves on to pesticides and the knowledge gained from mistakes which resulted in changes. But one industry stubbornly resists change and that is open cage salmon farming. It constantly resists reform, and denies problems it has created in the marine environment.

James goes on to describe how the salmon farmers ignore the learning described above. Experience leading to Knowledge and Understanding of systems but salmon farmers then follow this by denial of learned Wisdom, create more Intransigence and an utter lack of further Progress to improvements. James describes 15 of these deficiencies and problems associated with farming in open net cages in Scottish sea lochs. Short film clips illustrate the effects of faeces and waste food on seabed and ecosystems, sea lice infestations, health of farmed salmon, toxic therapeutic chemicals, cleaner fish, toxic chemicals in feed and their dispersal, impacts on wild salmon, cruelty and deaths in nets over the 2 years of growth, producing the same amount of waste as half Scotland’s human population but without any treatment, premature deaths, between 10-20 million dead fish in the life cycle, escapes, salmon feed by overfishing small fish and consequences for coastal communities, and the planning system’s inadequacies. The real problem is the holes in the nets! This industry is stagnating in the lochs of Scotland. Profit protection and sheer stubbornness of salmon farmers prevent innovation. Meanwhile land-based salmon farms are being developed around the world, close to markets.

“You show me pollution and I will show you people who are not paying their way, people who steal from the public, people who are getting the public to pay their costs of production. All environmental pollution is a subsidy.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Sadly, and disgracefully, Policies for the Future in the Scottish National Party (SNP) Manifesto for the Scottish election makes no change to its commitment to doubling farmed salmon production by 2030. Scotland’s salmon farmers have welcomed another manifesto pledge by the SNP for a swifter and more streamlined regulatory system for fish farming. If re-elected, the SNP will look to establish a “single determining authority” modelled on the system in Norway. The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation is delighted, judging by their PR, believing this will speed up the process for new farms and bypassing most local community responses. No mention of our marine environment which has paid the price of 50 years of salmon cumulative waste, without any statutory obligation and payment for clean-up, international salmon companies reaping the benefit in profits of inadequate regulation in Scotland, even though the ECCLR Committee at Holyrood considered there should be a moratorium on expansion of salmon farms, clearly rejected by the SNP government. Maybe this centralised approach could be made inclusive of wider consultation over future strategy and more harmonised approach and leadership. We will have to wait and see.

“We have become predators on the biosphere- full of arrogant entitlement, always taking and never giving back. And so, we are now a danger to ourselves and the other beings with whom we share the planet.”
Carl Sagan

Sally Campbell April 2021