SSC Full Consultation. Really?

Following the letter published by Craig Anderson CEO of SSC in The Arran Banner (7 Oct 2017) I felt compelled to debunk some myths that he is perpetuating and expose his deliberate lack of detail (some might say honesty) and unsubstantiated claims and promises.I have highlighted 8 of the most obvious and dealt with these in turn as they appeared in his letter.

1. An offer of a full consultation process. This is disingenuous at best. Anderson acknowledges the level of local opposition but deliberately avoids any commitment to abide by the wishes of the local community. Bottom line? – The full consultation promised is nothing more than a PR exercise. SSC will go through the motions carefully avoiding any open public meetings where they can be challenged fully intending to ignore the wishes of the local community. Why? Money. SSC have made their plans and they involve expansion of their operations on Arran for profit. They have clearly stated (see The Arran Banner 9th Sept 2017) that ‘..Arran is an area where we wish to strengthen and increase our operations’. That is their stated policy and they are not about to give up the opportunity to make more money because of annoying local opposition which they consider more a nuisance than something to respect and take seriously. This is not a consultation process it is a fait accompli.

2. Anderson claims that SSC is 100% Scottish based. Again this is deliberately misleading. SSC is registered in Jersey (not even a UK tax payer) and listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange. A review of the top 20 shareholders reveals a list of large Scandinavian banks and large companies. Profits do not stay in Scotland and do not benefit the local community. Profits benefit big business in Norway. In reality there is nothing Scottish about SSC apart from its name.

3. Anderson then states that he is ‘..fiercely proud of its [SSC] heritage’. Lets look at that heritage in a bit more detail. SSC is a documented polluter. Exposed by data from SEPA after a FOI request (Freedom of Information) were labelled amongst the ‘filthy five’ fish farms in Scotland by environmental campaigners. The Lamlash site has breached EU environmental standards in the past and neurotoxins continue to be used here in a failing bid to rid the salmon of flesh eating sea-lice. Incidentally in a document recently published by Salmon and Trout Conservation Lamlash has been cited as one of the liciest fish farms in Scotland. Further the net cages also allow large quantities of raw sewage and other pollutants into our bay. This within our MPA and close to our NTZ. Let’s be clear – SSC has no interest in either because they make no money from either. ‘Fiercely proud’? What an affront to our island and our community.

4. Anderson is very canny about the size of the proposal to be lodged and implies that there is very little difference in scale and hence what’s all the fuss about? Well let me explain. SSC intends to increase the size of the net cages to accommodate the maximum amount of fish allowed under current regulations – 2500 tonnes to be precise (see previous Arran Banner article see above and also the letter from Dr Sally Campbell published on 23 Sept 2017). From her letter just take a moment to absorb the staggering amounts of pollutants being dumped untreated into our seas by fish farms in Scotland including Lamlash Bay – at no cost to the fish farms. His reference to ‘investing in modernising the equipment’ was used to placate concerns about the known problems of marine aquaculture but there was no mention of land based closed containment, a proven and viable technology, which eliminates all of the problems of sea net cages. The reason is obvious. Cost. Closed containment requires the polluter to pay. With net cages the polluter can dump and pollute at no cost. It’s all about profit.

5. Regarding the environmental impact of the proposal notice the vague promises made and significantly an undertaking by Anderson to only ‘minimise any additional impact’. What on earth does minimise mean? Is that as an absolute commitment?  No, of course not it’s more a ‘we’ll pretend to try and then fail’? And what of the current levels of pollution? Purposefully ignored in his statement. SSC are documented polluters who have had scant regard for our delicate marine environment in the past and nothing concrete to say about the future. How about a commitment to clean up every ounce of fish faeces and other pollutants which they have dumped in the bay? At this point the letter is at its most nauseous referring to the MPA and NTZ Anderson says ‘..we operate with utmost consideration and appreciation for this surrounding natural environment.’ The reality is quite different. Below net cage fish farms lies a layer of untreated rotting fish faeces and other pollutants covering the sea bed in an anoxic blanket which exterminates everything under it and no one actually knows how far this detrimental effect extends. Not to mention the pesticides used in ever increasing amounts in a vain attempt to combat the sea lice which plague fish farms in Scotland.

6. We as a community cannot, must not accept in any way an environmental impact assessment produced unilaterally by SSC and without rigorous scientific scrutiny. Our government has already shown itself willing to hide information from the public which it considered detrimental to the interests of fish farmers and elsewhere (Loch Eishort in Skye for example) our regulators have also shown themselves unwilling to act and woefully incapable of understanding and critically analysing an EIA produced by the fish farming industry. A study framed to suit their own agenda. The fact that guide lines were flouted was ignored, shoddy construction and bad science were not commented upon leading to skewed and possibly wrong conclusions being drawn in the Eishort case. SEPA and SNH have been entirely culpable in sacrificing the environment for the benefit of big business. To rework an old adage for SSC ‘ with enemies like these who needs friends!’ The Screening and Scoping process at North Ayrshire Council is the point where we as a community – private individuals and organisations – must note interest and be registered as recognised consultees to the process. This will ensure community involvement in the procedure. Our voices must be heard and only we can do that. Do not expect government or regulators to look after our interests – they have manifestly failed to do so in the past and will do so again here in Lamlash Bay.

7. Another myth to debunk is the boastful claim by Anderson that fish farms are a ‘vital driver of the Scottish economy’. There is no evidence to support such a claim and of course the statement ignores the negative impact of the industry on local fishing, recreational and tourist activities as well as long term damage to the local environment which all play a part in the health of the local economy – especially one which is tourism dependent. Fish farms have no interest in a clean environment because it would cost them money – the polluter should pay principle. Anderson conveniently ignores such uncomfortable truths but we must protect our environment because it is of commercial and recreational benefit to us. Certainly the commercial objectives of SSC are at odds with the wider goals of our local community in our MPA and NTZ which have long term community based strategic objectives. These are not directly profit driven but a clean and healthy environment will bring commercial benefits. Exaggerated employment claims by fish farming elsewhere have also been shown to be just that …exaggerated. Do not be deceived. The fish farming industry desires one thing – profit. And that profit does not stay in Scotland and does not benefit our community. Remenber, SSC is not a UK registered company so there will be limited, if any tax revenue benefitting the Scottish economy and trading profits leave the UK.

8. Finally and perhaps the most morally cynical part of Anderson’s letter. When their bad science and profit motives are exposed the morally reprehensible tack of ‘we’re your friends in the community routine’ is used. Do SSC really think they can buy our acquiescence with a few ‘alms for the poor’ with the sponsorship of a few local events? And even more sinister his statement ‘working with schools on health ad wellbeing’. Just what work are they doing in local schools and who is scrutinising the integrity and honesty of the content? Are they teaching our children the facts about how much untreated sewage they are dumping in the bay or the neurotoxins being used in the waters they use for recreation? I doubt it. Are they alerting our children to the fact that neither the FSA (Food Standards Agency) nor MS (Marine Scotland) test the salmon on our supermarket shelves for neurotoxins? Seems unlikely. Are they alerting children to the link between the crash in populations of wild salmonids and siting of fish farms. Mmm probably not. I have faith in our children and I believe they are more globally aware than previous generations and so I’m sure they’d also be interested to learn about the unregulated ‘bait fish’ catch from poorer parts of the world which goes not to feed a poor local population but which goes into making fish meal to be fed to salmon for the luxury western market. No local suppliers involved in that process and just think of the carbon footprint! I wonder how many of the children know how many kilos of bait fish are used to produce 1 kilo of farmed salmon? Farmed salmon maybe nice but we don’t need it and certainly not at the expense of poorer local communities in the developing world who use this bait fish as their basic source of fish protein. Given the whole story of SSC and industrial aquaculture in general I have confidence that decisions the younger generation make would be environmentally sound. SSC have good reason to hide the truth from them.

To conclude. It is our duty and in our interests to educate ourselves about fish farming and what is happening beneath the waves of our seas. Let the battle to SOS (Save our Seas) commence and let us stand up for our delicate eco-system and for our clean water against those who would pollute it for profit. This is a battle we must win. SSC have made it clear if they are successful in Lamlash they will look to expand their operations around the shores of Arran causing further pollution and environmental degradation. We must not stand idly by and allow this to happen. Not on our watch. I would urge Arranites to unite in the face of a common threat and make our opposition known. We must contact our local MP & MSPs to demand support for our cause; make it known to North Ayrshire Council that we want to be consulted; make our school heads aware of the insidious propaganda being fed to our children by SSC and scrutiny and balance in our classrooms; to voice concerns at local meetings and not to be bought off and to resist the expansion plans of SSC to the best of our abilities. We are not in this for profit but SSC are.

Stephen Brown

Ed: For more information about St. Molios Salmon Farm in Lamlash Bay please click on the picture below.