What does Silent Spring tell us about our marine environment in Scotland?

Following on her article about the life and work of Rachel Carson in this issue, Sally Campbell looks at the lessons we can learn from Silent Spring in order to address the damage that is being doing to marine ecosystems today. Featured image shows a Kelp forest. Credit: George Stoyle SNH.

Out of sight and out of mind? Any potential cumulative impacts of damage to ecosystems are hidden initially, whether the damage is through overfishing, bottom trawling or dredging, disease or sea-lice control, or large farmed salmon feedlot pollution are hidden beneath our waters. What are the unintended consequences? Many individuals, and groups have worked over the years to look at the immediate and longer term cumulative consequences of these pressures in Scottish waters.

An Informal consultation exercise which ended last week on the development of the National Strategy For Economic Transformation asked for suggestions for a 10 year National Strategy which will drive Scotland’s economic transformation as the country recovers from COVID-19 and transitions to a net zero economy. Looking at the marine environment it is sustainable seas and ecosystems as the very first PRIORITY: not the falsehood of Marine Protected Areas, and misleading label of “sustainable” to fit expectations of government in order to sell to the public. Marine Scotland must fulfil a remit to genuinely protect our marine ecosystems. Vital too for climate change. Below are some suggestions for action!

• Blue carbon is the term for carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems. It needs to be placed at the top of strategy, resulting in protection of sea grass and kelp beds, with no dredging or bottom trawling in inshore waters. Reinstate the 3-mile limit on dredging and bottom trawling. We have one of the most degraded marine environments in the Northern North Sea and around the west coast, an appalling indictment of the “status quo” pursued by those in power in Scotland’s marine environment; these include mobile fishery sectors, salmon farming multinationals, SEPA, Marine Scotland, NatureScot and Scottish politicians.

• Encourage the re-emergence of businesses, such as sea angling, dismissed as unimportant in the removal of the 3-mile limit in 1984, which had previously brought investment in boats, and tourism to Scotland. As a result of abandoning the 3-mile limit a huge loss of successful businesses, employment, fishing competitions, tourism around the coasts of Scotland. Sea angling collapsed as fish populations collapsed, ruining many previously healthy businesses. This demise can be reversed if there is the political will, bringing job opportunities and sustainable businesses once again. Good for the economy, social interaction, well-being and environment.

• Stop the cumulative impact of salmon aquaculture in inshore waters in Scotland. Do as ECCLR Committee at Holyrood in March 1918 reported. Cumulative impacts of chemicals, faeces and food waste has already damaged inshore waters and sheltered sea lochs.

• All the research shows that our Scottish wild salmon fishery has been severely damaged by salmon aquaculture. This was a great asset for Scotland with many ghillies, hotels and high-end tourism encouraged; much lost around the west coast. Get it back to its former glory for the future, as British Columbia is doing. Not on My Watch (2021) by Alexandra Morton describes efforts in British Columbia to bring salmon farming to a halt to save wild salmon; a stark lesson for Scotland.

• There is now a huge Democratic deficit in Scotland, especially around our coasts, which is harming the long-term survival of Scottish inshore waters and the communities. No matter what communities request, and despite receiving support through their statutory, democratically elected County Councillors and Community Councillors, they are frequently overruled by the Scottish government through a distorted marine planning system. This has to change. Multinational salmon companies hold too much power over the Scottish Government which must be stopped. Local County Councils, Community Councils must be in the forefront of planning in the sea, and Crown Estate Scotland, which has great power over the Commons, in the way leases are granted, must adhere to the needs of marine facing communities first and foremost.

• The Scottish Government has been denying the rights of its citizens to use the democratic decision-making process. This has caused disillusion across communities in coastal communities over recent years. If the intention is to even more centralise, with more control over salmon farming for example with the Scottish government, then Scottish politicians and Marine Scotland, need to tell their public in Scotland, especially coastal communities and islanders, that the rules of Scottish Democracy are now put aside, defunct, and responsive only to the will of multinational salmon farmers and others which damage ecosystems and blue carbon in our inshore waters, and with more power than local democracy.

• It cannot be “business as usual” over the marine environment. We have no second chance to change things. We all know what needs to be done. Is there the political will to do it? Or is the Scottish government banking on Professor Russel Griggs in the recently announced Scottish Government investigation, to come up with the policy answers they want to hear in dealing with the salmon aquaculture industry planning?

Halpern et al. in 2008 produced a global map of the results of research into the Human Impacts on Marine Ecosystems. It clearly shows the impacts around the northern North Sea and NW coast of Scotland, due to fishing, oil extraction and ship movements. That area is one of the most impacted areas in the world. It is about time we did something about it!

Global map (A) of cumulative human impact across 20 ocean ecosystem types. (Insets) Highly impacted regions in the Eastern Caribbean (B), the Northern North Sea (C), and the Japanese waters (D) and one of the least impacted regions, in northern Australia and the Torres Strait (E).

Halpern, B et al. (2008) A Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems Science Vol. 319, Issue 5865 948-952
Morton, A. (2021) Not on My Watch. How a Renegade Whale Biologist took on Governments and Industry to Save Wild Salmon. Random House

Sally Campbell
August 2021