06 February 2019

S5M-15677 Salmon Farming

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15677, in the name of Edward Mountain, on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, on the committee’s inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I start by thanking Tavish Scott’s constituents for the excellent products that they produce at their salmon farms; indeed, I thank constituents all round Scotland for that. That produce supports industries in my constituency—Sutherlands Of Portsoy, for example, has been smoking salmon for a hundred years. It originally smoked wild salmon, but now we have the salted salmon being smoked with shavings from whisky casks to produce that marriage made in heaven that is the taste of whisky on smoked salmon, which I so enjoy—particularly if it is anCnoc, Glen Deveron or Glenglassaugh whisky from my constituency.

Fiction has been running through the debate a lot—the fiction that the producers of farmed salmon like sea lice on their fish. No: if there are lice on the fish, its commercial value goes down because it looks ugly in the fishmonger’s display. There is a fiction that the fish farmers are indifferent to mortality, but every time a salmon dies on a fish farm, that is income lost to the salmon farmer. We must not pretend that the industry does not want to engage on the genuine and properly expressed challenges that it meets.

Donald Cameron referred to Loch Fyne in an attempt to show a link between fish farms and reduced salmon runs. Martin Jaffa’s book refers to Loch Fyne in relation to sea trout, which is essentially the same species. Of the three rivers that run into Loch Fyne, the one in which there has been the greatest reduction is the one in which the fish have not swum past the fish farms. The river in which the fish have to swim past all the fish farms has had the smallest reduction.

There are many causes of reductions in numbers of salmon in the wild environment, and many things affect both salmon farms and the wild environment. When my brother and I were water bailiffs for the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board in 1968, the talk of that and previous seasons was the reduction in fish. Why did it happen? There was illegal exploitation: as bailiffs, we experienced dynamiting, hangnets and sniggering. I arrested somebody for sniggering, which is an illegal method of catching fish, on the island in Perth.

We had the Klondikers from Russia sitting in their vessels in Loch Broom catching salmon offshore. That was when the limits were 3 miles and 12 miles, rather than the 200 miles that we have today. We had predation from, for example, seals. The closure in the 1970s of Wee Bankie, which was a sprat fishery out in the North Sea, caused quadrupling of the number of seals in the North Sea. Guess what? Seals like eating salmon.

It is not just one thing that causes reductions in salmon numbers, but a complex environment of different things. I first saw sea lice in the 1950s. While standing on the bank trying to catch salmon with rod and line, I, unlike Jamie Greene, look in the mirror when trying to find the cause for my failures. I am an indifferent fisherman; my failure is not because there are no fish in the river. I have never seen Jamie Greene fishing, so I cannot judge his confidence. However, I saw sea lice in the 1950s.

In our rivers, we have crayfish that consume almost anything in the river, and there are some rivers in which there is nothing left but crayfish. We have acidification of rivers from the artificial fertilisers that run off our farm land. We have rising temperatures in rivers. We have the clearing of vegetation from the edge of rivers, which allows pollution and cattle—and what they produce—to go into the rivers. There is dredging of rivers, which makes it more difficult for salmon.

There are good examples, too; there are dams and weirs. There is the Pitlochry fish ladder, which is famous for supporting proper up-river passage of salmon. There are other examples elsewhere.

Let us not turn this into a simple-minded battle between the fish farms and the wild fish industry, because the issue is much more complex than that.

I wish our industry every success in the future. I will continue to enjoy eating the industry’s products and I will watch with interest as we regulate in an appropriate way.


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