Parallels between fish farm issue in U.K. and B.C.


Alexandra Morton asks North Vancouver Island Mayors are they not curious as to why people are saying that the salmon farming industry is accused of destroying wild salmon (letters Jan. 14th). For the last ten years I have been asking the same question.

RELATED: Salmon farm decision did not come out of the blue

I thought your readers might be interested in a perspective from the other side of the Atlantic. In 1988, the world-renowned sea trout sports fishery in Loch Maree, Scotland collapsed. (Sea trout are similar to salmon but don’t migrate as far). The collapse was blamed on the arrival of a salmon farm in the adjacent sea loch (Loch Ewe) the previous year. The fact that sea trout stocks had been declining in rivers across Scotland for up to thirty years before seemed to have been forgotten. Sports fishermen now had a scapegoat to blame and they have maintained an almost constant attack on the salmon farming industry in Scotland ever since.

As in B.C., sea lice were the cause of the fishermen’s ire and even as late as last December, they have persuaded the BBC’s major countryside TV programme to air their concerns yet again.

Ten years ago, I started to look at the issue in depth. I concluded that there is not a shred of evidence to support claims that sea lice from salmon farms are to blame for the collapse of Loch Maree sea trout nor for the decline of wild salmon stocks across the salmon farming areas.

As Justice Cohen said there is no smoking gun but likely to be several factors involved in the declines. In the case of sea trout, it seems that fewer fish are migrating to sea to feed because the food in rivers and lochs appears to be increasing. With salmon, fish are failing to return from their migration. Recently, HRH, Prince Charles told the guests at a fish charity dinner that in the 1980s, 20-25 per cent of wild salmon returned to their home river. Now the figure is less than 5%. This is thought to be due to changes in their feeding grounds caused by climate change. This is happening to rivers across all of Scotland, not just where salmon farms are located.

At the same time, sports fishermen have caught and killed 5.9 million wild fish over the last fifty years and now they wonder why there is none left. Rather than accept some of the responsibility, they blame salmon farms.

Fortunately, there is now a realisation amongst the Government regulators that salmon farming is not the reason why wild stocks are in decline. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency told a meeting of a Scottish Parliamentary Committee in November that sea lice are not the problem. The sports fishermen have since remained silent.

Returning to Loch Maree, by coincidence, the salmon farm closed a few months ago as it was now considered too small and production was moved to a larger offshore site. The fishermen now expect Loch Maree to return to its former glory but it’s likely they will be disappointed. Sea trout stocks have not recovered in any other river in Scotland so why should loch Maree be any different?

The big question for Alexandra Morton is what is her Plan B when the sockeye fail to return as she predicts?

Dr. Martin Jaffa

Manchester, U.K.