Can we solve the problems in the farmed salmon industry? Is it Good, Bad or Ugly?
I asked myself recently – What are the main problems facing salmon, not just the species, but more particularly, “salmon angling”? A simple, but far reaching question. “Understanding Woman” would be less complex, well, maybe not!
However, the subject is important and certainly requires addressing, so, over the coming months I’ll break it down, focusing on what I feel are the main threats to salmon fishing and offer some possible solutions.
Right up there on the list of problems is Aquaculture! What do we know? Almost every angler I know and I’m sure most reading this are aware of the damage caused to wild migratory fish by this industry, we also know the food produced is a long way off the “high standards” claimed by both the industry and the Scottish Government, so what’s the truth, how should, or can, we tackle the issue? To find a more definitive answer and certainly to tackle this we must first look at those people ultimately making decisions regarding regulations and best codes of practice. Unfortunately for the wild Atlantic Salmon, the real decision makers are Government, and, as most of us know, “all” Governments, irrespective of political persuasion, duck and dive, evading the truth in favour of their own particular agenda. Basically it’s part of the territory! However, being liberal with the truth requires scapegoats as no one in public office like to be found lying, or “liberal with the truth”. Enter the politicians puppets, which in the case of Fish Farming is Marine Science Scotland; scientific spin-doctors providing the government with all the “required data”. An incident on the riverbank summed them all up perfectly – A friend was making breakfast and asked a prominent MP, “Would you like butter on your bacon roll”? Mmm, errr, was the muttering for around 10 seconds before my friend shouted, “Typical MP, you can’t even provide a straight answer to that”!!
Figures suggested by the Scottish Government and Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) suggest that salmon farming is worth £700 million annually and, depending on how figures are interpreted, supports between 2800 and 4500 jobs. So this is a substantial industry and one with many heavyweight political allies in Hollyrood.
Now here’s the real problem. Not only is Farmed Salmon the UKs most popular seafood but for the past 24 years it has also held the French Government’s top quality award [Label Rouge]. It also tops the RSPCA assured chart for animal welfare. Irrespective of what we feel about this product, quite simply it’s loved by the British public and has a global demand.
Could part of the answer be to bring this business onshore and create a premium product?
The public perception is, this is a wonderful industry, green, healthy and ticks every box.. In fact, the only group noting problems are angling related, and frankly, as long as it remains that way, then the “truth” regarding this industry and its product will never become known to the consumer.
And that takes me nicely to – Lies, damned lies and statistics! A phrase much used in politics and scientific debate. Although 99% of people reading this know the Sea Trout and Salmon rivers of the West Coast of Scotland have been ruined by those farms, incredibly, after all this time, the “experts”, Marine Science Scotland cannot say “conclusively” if there is a link. This must be music to the ears of both the industry and their political friends. However, after 40 years of questions without answers, a ten year study into this is about to begin! The sad thing is, after this study, we all know the answer will still not be conclusive, so round and round we go, answering questions with yet more questions.
So what can be done? What can “we” do? The only way I can see of dealing with this problem is to expose the truth about the environmental damage and the product itself. Scotland always had a reputation for producing the best quality food so for me it’s all about Jo public, the message must be presented to them in video format, endorsed by celebrity or provide a nice scare story. Remember mad cow disease and Edwina’s eggs? In the past politicians and their puppets could be liberal with the truth, hiding it in long winded reports read only by a few. Let’s face it, it’s easier for us to simply agree with the “expert”! However, when it comes to exposing anything in the 21st century, the camera and convincing presenter, along with You Tube are King! But remember. This war “cannot” be fought by the angling fraternity alone. All we’d do is spend time, energy and money preaching to the converted or massaging the ego’s of a few inept politicians and their puppets. If we want to force change in this industry, the campaign requires proper planning, the help of strong allies and a clear objective.
Divide and Conquer.