S&TC complains to BBC on biased programming

Paul Knight, S&TC CEO has sent the following letter to the BBC after the corporation aired its Christmas Supermarket Secrets programme:

We were appalled to hear the promotion given to smoked farmed salmon by Gregg Wallace in the recent BBC programme, Christmas Supermarket Secrets.  Ironically, this came at the same time as Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), the Scottish section of Salmon & Trout Conservation UK, issued a press release challenge to certain supermarkets to stop buying farmed salmon from Scottish companies with an unacceptable record of parasite control.  I am enclosing the press release with this letter but to summarise:

There is now a host of incontrovertible peer reviewed scientific evidence showing that sea lice emanating from open net salmon farms are having a lethal effect on migrating wild salmon and sea trout.  As the fish farming industry expands, sea lice are becoming increasingly difficult to control in Scotland. The hard facts, based on the quarterly data produced by the industry’s own trade association, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), are that:

  • Between July and September 2016, regions representing 52.9% of Scottish farmed salmon production were over industry’s own criteria of one adult female louse per fish, for at least one of these three months.
  • Over the year to September 2016, regions representing a staggering 80.1% of the Scottish production of farmed salmon have been over industry criteria for at least one month in the last year.
  • Over the year to September 2016, regions representing 66.4% have been over three adult female lice per fish for at least one month, the level at which the Scottish Government now requires individual farms to produce a “site specific escalation action plan”.
  • Over the year to September 2016, regions representing 18.2% have been over 8 adult female lice per fish for at least one month, the level at which the Scottish Government announced in May 2016 would result in enforcement action, including the potential to require reduction in biomass.

To date, S&TCS understands that there has been no such enforcement action from the Scottish Government.

We note that the BBC has something of a history in promoting Scottish salmon farming, but like the Scottish Government and fish farming industry, plays little more than lip service to the proven environmental damage being done by open net salmon farming.  Besides its awful lice record, this also results in farmed fish escaping to breed with wild fish and so destroying vital individual river stock gene pools built naturally since the end of the last Ice Age, and all the waste products from the industry being dumped into the marine environment.

Back in February 2016, Donald Rice met with Bill Lyons, Executive Editor of Countryfile, following a December 2015 Countryfile programme which again gave scant regard to the environmental damage from salmon farms and, as such, was widely regarded within the wild fish conservation community as very poor journalism.  Both Messrs Rice and Lyons felt they gained a great deal from that meeting, but the results have obviously not permeated through to your area of operation, which is extremely frustrating for those of us fighting to save wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout stocks from plunging even further than they have already.

You may not realise that Atlantic salmon are classified as an endangered species, and so any activity that adversely impacts their wellbeing should be outlawed.  The fact that the BBC continues to promote products sourced from the aquaculture industry is simply unacceptable – you should instead be in the forefront of journalism that puts pressure on salmon farmers to clean up their act.  We are not against fish farming per se, but it must be made environmentally sustainable by establishing a biological barrier between farmed and wild fish, which can easily be achieved by moving production from open nets into closed containment tanks.  These closed units, which are now economically viable, provide far greater control over the farming operation, preventing sea lice drift onto wild fish, escapes of farmed salmon and the dumping of waste products into the marine environment.

We urge the BBC in the strongest possible terms to undertake some more in-depth journalism around the salmon farming industry, so that in any future programmes you produce on the subject, you can give a truly balanced position to your viewers.  In so doing, you will help put consumer pressure on supermarket retailers and, therefore, fish farming companies to invest in the new technology necessary for their industry to become environmentally sustainable and, in particular, to protect wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout from further decline.