BBC’s ‘Fish Farms of the Future’ – Our Comments on Closed Containment

The recent BBC Costing the Earth programme – Fish Farms of the Future – centred around the issue of farming salmon in tanks on land, many miles away from the sea, and how this could be the answer to the environmental impacts of traditional open net farming prevalent off the West Coast and Islands of Scotland. The programme is 30 minutes long but well worth a listen!

S&TC has been calling for closed containment farming for years. Whether in land based units or in tanks in the sea, as shown in the header photo, these units create a biological barrier between farmed and wild fish, so that sea lice cannot transfer to wild salmon and sea trout smolts and eat them alive, diseases stay in the tanks and are easier for farmers to treat, and waste products can be harvested and processed for fertiliser rather than be dumped on the sea bed.

The cost of these units is coming down very quickly and soon it will make economic sense for farmers to switch to closed containment. When that happens, supermarkets will be able to market genuinely sustainable farmed salmon products, and we will be spared the sort of inane comments uttered in the BBC programme by the representative from M&S – suffice to say we are challenging the supermarket over their totally unacceptable attitude.

The future

The Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into salmon farming and its impact on wild fish, which is the result of S&TC’s recent petition on the subject, is scheduled for early next year and we will be presenting a great deal of evidence from around the Northern Hemisphere. The move towards closed containment in other countries will form an important part of that evidence trail.

So, what seemed a pipedream just a few years ago now appears to be coming down the track rather quickly. Closed containment is indeed a reality, and when it happens, wild salmon and sea trout may once again run Scotland’s West Coast and Island rivers and lochs in the profusion that historically lured anglers from all over the globe. That will support local communities and their economies with genuine jobs for local people – something the fish farmers boast about at the moment, but research suggests that salmon farming employees have a more widespread European component to them than the ghillies, boatmen and hotel staff who used to rely on visiting anglers for their pay packet.

10 thoughts on “BBC’s ‘Fish Farms of the Future’ – Our Comments on Closed Containment

  1. Stocks of wild sea trout have collapsed in Shetland in recent years . 40% of Scottish farmed Salmon is farmed in Shetland’s Voes .

  2. can we be told where the farms get their smolts from, as they seem to have an endless supply. If they are so good at rearing them lets have some pure atlantic progeny reared to put into the rivers. Q. Could the many disused gasometers in the uk be made into rearing tanks ?

  3. Here is saveseilsound’s response;

    The Future of Fish Farming – Inshore Inland Offshore?

    This post was triggered by a couple of items on BBC Radio Four in the last week. It’s absolutely great that some very competent people within the BBC are taking a serious interest in fish farming, although sadly I haven’t come across anyone in BBC Scotland who has shown an interest. These recent items illustrate on one hand how informative a properly researched programme can be and on the other how how easy it is for an industry representative to fool an ill-prepared presenter.

    Turning to the latter first, this morning’s (31 October) Farming Today carried a piece following the publication of the “Fifty Liciest Farms” data, which, don’t forget, only emerged after the Scottish Government lost its long battle to conceal those devastating figures from us plebs who live in the polluted areas.

    You might have expected one of the campaigners who fought that battle to be interviewed, but it wasn’t to be. The interviewer gave a brief presentation, then interviewed Mr Landsburgh of the SSPO, who confirmed that sea lice are a problem, but stated that it had arisen in the last eighteen month or so and was attributable to rising sea temperatures. He went on a state that the industry was developing feeder fish to clean the salmon, implying that all would then be fine. In other words, blame global warming, claim it’s a temporary blip and that a solution has been found, problem solved, what’s the fuss? There was apparently no time to find anyone to put another point of view.

    It’s difficult to believe that the same team had the week before put out an extremely interesting and informative piece on closed containment, which for the next thirty days or so can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099yh86

    Please listen to the programme if you have time. Claimed benefits included extremely high production figures, with units producing 40,000 tonnes and production ratios of 500 kg per square metre, production of Omega 3 fish oils from genetically modified plants and recycling of all waste, for example faeces creating energy to power the water pumps.

    Environmentalists have recently been discussing closed containment and arguing about whether groups like Scottish Salmon Think – Tank are going down the right route in promoting it as a solution to the undoubted problems that inshore industrial fish farming is creating for fragile local environments and micro-economies. The programme has certainly made me appreciate that it is a very serious contender for the future, although I retain doubts about how appropriate it is for us as campaigners to propose any solution. In saveseilsound our campaigning is based on the personal experience of the ongoing eco-disaster before our eyes plus years of research and first class scientific input from our private group of experts. In contrast our knowledge of closed containment has to come from its promoters, who have as much of a vested interest as the industrial fish farmers themselves.

    The programme also touched briefly on the possibility moving fish farming offshore,with an interview with Ben Halpern http://msi.ucsb.edu/people/faculty/benjamin-halpern.

    The main benefits in deep water production were widespread waste disposal and the potential for fish to grow faster in more dynamic environments.

    Clearly there are major engineering problems, but it would seem that in principle nothing that can’t be overcome. Norwegian investors are already charging ahead, with at least one gigantic unit in existence. The units had better be strong, as the arrival of a 45 stone Pacific tuna inside a cage at Colonsay demonstrated last week.

    That the industry itself is investing heavily in alternatives confirms that it is fully aware of what campaigners have been saying for years, that placing huge industrial fish farms in sheltered inshore locations is destructive, unsustainable and sometimes illegal, at least in terms of EU Directives on the environment, habitats and waste disposal.

  4. A while back I listened to a report on the radio about fish farms on the west coast of Ireland. They were I think a mile off shore and that was an advantage as the current kept the immediate environment clean and the fish had to swim against the current through the nets, which made for cleaner and stronger fish. I don’t know, but perhaps Scottish netted farms are to inshore

    1. Research has shown that wild fish can be impacted by lice from salmon farms up to 30 kms away under the right tidal and current conditions!

  5. As has often been said before ‘Follow the money’ and answer the 3 questions:
    1)Why have Scottish politicians been so reluctant to pursue and punish dirty salmon farming companies? and
    2)Why have Scottish politicians been so reluctant to impose methods of controlling or eliminating sea lice? and
    3)When will the same people take positive action instead of trawling through yet another time consuming investigation, while large numbers of our salmon and sea trout continue to die horribly and unnecessarily?

  6. “…but research suggests that salmon farming employees have a more widespread European component to them than the ghillies, boatmen and hotel staff”.
    What’s the issue with people living and working in the local area having a “more widespread European component” about them? Surely if they are contributing by paying their taxes, and are working and living as part of small communities, there shouldn’t be an issue?

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