Public Relations in the Salmon aquaculture industry

Sally Campbell contemplates the irony of the PR machine in the aquaculture industry, with prizes and awards for ‘the best’ salmon, when disease, pollution, and morts, characterise the reality of this industry, highlighted no more clearly than in the last few days with reports of total loss of stock due to contaminated water at the Scottish Salmon Company’s Loch Fyne farm.

It seems to many in western Scotland that the worse the reputation of the salmon aquaculture business becomes, the greater the acclaim is for “Prizes”, “the best”, “The most Scottish” from the industry. One of the habitual offenders as applicants for awards is the Scottish Salmon Company, despite its dubious reputation over the past year about salmon health, sealice populations eating their fish alive, tonnage of morts (dead in the cage salmon), disease, use of neurotoxins especially emamectin and tankers of hydrogen peroxide being emptied into Clyde farms. In Lamlash Bay alone in 2018, over 44 tonnes of morts were removed and over 1/2kg of emamectin used. We know from SEPA’s recently documented research that emamectin persists in the marine environment much longer than previously recognised. SCC husbandry on their 14 farms in the Clyde has also been poor with heavy infestations of sealice. The vain hope is that the judges will look at the whole life cycle of the products it is judging.

But still the prizes are applied for: In the summer of 2018 On Landward, the Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) declined to come clean and discuss the appalling sight of salmon damaged with raw flesh eaten by parasitic sea lice at their Loch Roag salmon farm in the Outer Hebrides. The following day the SSC announced that it was in the awards competition for The Drum B2B Brave Awards in America; it had already reached the short list and was making lots of noise about their nominations in three categories at the awards following the launch of new “Premium Scottish farmed salmon brand Lochlander” into the North American market earlier in 2018. The three categories were would you believe : Best Brand Campaign, Best Product launch, Best ROI campaign. It seemed remarkable at the time that this company, after all the problems and adverse publicity with sea lice infestation, was attempting to sell itself as pristine and with care for their fish with the following customer soothing words :

Now SSC has been named a finalist in the “prestigious” Seafood Excellence Global Awards (SEGA) which “recognise the best seafood products from around the world”. SSC has been shortlisted in the Retail category with its Tartan Salmon Label Rouge Royal Mile Cut, the newest product in the premium range. The latest award promotion is that SCC has been named as a finalist in three categories at the prestigious Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2019, shortlisted in the Primary Producer of the Year, Business of the Year and Export Business of the year categories at the annual awards. “The shortlist recognises the company’s achievement in growing its expert business through a commitment to provenance guaranteed (my bold) and the development of its clan of brands including Lochlander Salmon, Tartan Salmon Label Rouge and Native Hebridean Salmon.” The Director of Sales and Communications at SSC is on the Board of Scotland Food & Drink and Julie Hesketh-Laird, CEO of Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) is a partnership Board Member. At least the merits of the applicants were judged by an independent panel.

Winning Awards suggests by extension that a company is excellent in all ways, particularly in husbandry of stock, low disease patterns, and most important of all, no pollution of the environment. We now know that SSC wants a new, huge salmon farm off the North east coast of Arran. The size of the coastal site will be over 1.5 km in length, some four football pitches in area occupied by cages and the industrial scale farm will in operation discharge uncontained and untreated excrement and food wastes equivalent in tonnage to sewage from a town of 14,000 humans. Does any of this pollution of the environment get taken into account by the judges I ask myself? I should say at this juncture that the awards industry is just that, a profit generating business in its own right so perhaps we should take no further notice of the accolades.

Whilst talking about waste, a new sign has appeared on the west coast of Arran. Another “prestigious” company Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd, now producing its first whisky at the new south end distillery, and expansion of its north end distillery has completed its effluent discharge pipe for untreated distillery waste to be pumped into Kilbrannan Sound. It has been granted a licence by SEPA to discharge up to 60,000 litres per day of mixed distillery effluent (mostly alcohols and phenols) over 2 x 3 hour periods each day. The effluent from Lochranza is transported to the outfall head by road tanker. This sea outfall is located at Rubh Airigh Bheirg near Catacol. In a way it is surprising from a reputation point of view that the company is prepared to advertise so prominently what it is doing.








All companies that use the sea to discharge untreated waste into the marine environment rather than treat it on land, and maybe utilise as an energy source, must realise the day is coming when such behaviour for the sake of short term profit will be proscribed, or that the reputational risk to companies will be such that adverse publicity will lead to change, not before time.

Timing is all as they say. This article is no exception following reports yesterday 28 April of salmon deaths in Upper Loch Fyne, so the Scottish Salmon Company suddenly finds itself in deep water or at least contaminated water in Upper Loch Fyne in the Marine Protected Area. Just wait to hear what their PR team have to say about the apparent total loss of mature salmon stock at Quarry Point, Crarae, their worst fear delivered on their doorstep and ours. We are told that a toxic algal bloom in the sea was responsible. Blooms of this sort occur when a combination of both elevated temperature and trophic growth promotors, nitrogen and phosphorus, are present. Eutrophication, as it is called, drives biomass production of microorganisms, occasionally specifically toxic, but which can also lead to markedly reduced dissolved oxygen levels, a natural phenomenon and life threatening risk in many water bodies, all this promoted in many cases by human activity from agricultural drainage for example. But hold on a minute aren’t fish farms through faeces and waste food also major sources of nitrogen and phosphorus?

Just bear that in mind when you read the reporting of this incident. The jury is out but I think it is almost inevitable that as global warming manifests itself even more in periodic extremes of weather such as we have experienced over Easter this year, we will hear of more and more algal blooms in our coastal waters, particularly in sea lochs and estuaries such as the entire Firth of Clyde. Does open cage aquaculture have a doubtful future in restricted waters and increased risks to fish mortality render the industry uneconomic? I think so! Yet another reason why this industry is unsustainable going forward and Scottish Government policy on open cage aquaculture desperately needs a rethink before it collapses into oblivion. Remember all this when the discussion turns next to the proposed maxi-farm development in North Arran.

Sally Campbell
May 2019