The End of the Line for Salmon Aquaculture?

Salmon aquaculture in Scotland: is it coming to the end of the line?

by Sally Campbell

2018 has been the year, so far, when the Scottish Parliament has taken a long hard look at salmon aquaculture in the sea lochs of western Scotland. First the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLR) took evidence on the damage being done to the environment. Then more recently the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee (REC) took evidence on the effects of the industry on communities and Scotland’s economy. You can read in more detail the evidence presented on the Scottish Government website under the two committees’ reported work.

So what key issues came out of these deliberations?
• Severe problems of accumulated waste as there is no pollution control. Saves money if there is permission to dump waste food and faeces directly into the sea …bigger profits for the multinational companies, cheaper products on the shelf of the Co-op
• Use of chemicals to contain sea lice, a parasite which settles behind the gills and causes bleeding, and these chemicals it is now shown also affect the life cycles of prawns, crabs and lobsters which are all similar to lice in their development
• Sea lice are becoming resistant to these neurotoxins
• Sea lice infections having serious effects on wild salmon, picked up on passing the cages on their way to their sea migrations, decimating the smolt populations, and affecting the economy of salmon rivers on the west coast
• Use of antibiotics in feed to keep infections in check in the densely packed salmon cages, just when we know antibiotic resistance is becoming an immense problem for human populations
• Salmon feed depends on krill, mostly from the Antarctic, so damaging the feeding grounds of iconic species such as penguins and whales, and whilst attempting to use more vegetable oil in salmon feed that is also problematic
• Shooting seals on the grounds that they may damage nets and steal fish
• Using acoustic noise deterrents around farms, which we know disturbs marine mammals such as dolphins with their sensitive hearing
• Whilst a significant employer, the industry is slowing or even compromising growth in other sectors such as river fishing, marine tourism and obstructing access to fishing grounds in areas where creeling supports isolated communities
• We do not yet understand how the presence of these farms are affecting spawning grounds, or how the waste, high in uneaten fish feed and faeces, is influencing the planktonic food chain. But The Precautionary Principle (if in doubt of effects, don’t do it until evidence showing it is OK) is not being employed by planners or SEPA
• The sea is a “Commons” in theory for use by us all. Yet the unintended consequence of salmon aquaculture is the Tragedy of the Commons, the term used to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users act independently according to their own self-interest and behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.
• It is up to the public, that is you and me, to insist our politicians enact policies that protect the Commons

The sad sight of the Cabinet Secretary of REC, for the SNP Government, appearing before his own REC Committee in May 2018 and almost acting as chief PR Agent for the salmon aquaculture industry was very depressing. The ECCLR Committee produced a report that clearly showed the damage being done to the environment. It appears that the Cabinet Secretary wants to water down recommendations for real change from the ECCLR Committee. In December 2017 a Working Group had been formed to deliver the Farmed Fish Health Framework for Scotland, chaired by the MD of Marine Harvest and the Head of Science, Marine Scotland. Their report has just been published and had many laudable objectives but strikingly no immediate clear action to halt the decline in environment. Many believe that if the Scottish Government, Marine Scotland and SEPA do not act quickly to place a moratorium on further development, the industry will extinguish itself, reaching the end of the line. But even then sadly still leave a legacy of continuing damage and future problems for our inshore marine environment as a result of its neglect of responsibilities and absence of waste management in pursuit of maximising short term financial return. This is not the way to secure our future food supply.

Photo: Don McNeish

Sally Campbell
May 2018