Salmon Farming Update: Inquiry progress from our Scottish Director…
As someone who has done PR to a greater and lesser extent for wild fisheries interests for almost two decades, I am invariably pleased, when asked, to spend time explaining the issues to journalists. This approach often pays dividends as it maximises the chances of a story being informed and accurate from a wild fisheries perspective.
In February 2017 I received a call out of the blue from a freelance journalist called Joe Crowley, seeking information on the issue of the impact of sea lice from salmon farming on wild fish. We spoke for the best part of an hour and I sent him a wealth of material. Over the following months this correspondence continued as he immersed himself in the subject with the aim of him producing a documentary for BBC or Channel 4 – neither of which transpired. He did, however, persuade BBC1’s The One Show to commit to producing two short films, fronted by himself, on the massive scale of disease, parasites and mortalities on Scottish salmon farms. I was interviewed by Joe and The One Show team on the sea lice factor on a bitterly cold November morning in Wester Ross.
Joe’s two four-minute films, entitled “The Dead Salmon Run”, were aired on The One Show on consecutive evenings in mid-December. I confess that prior to this, because I never normally switch on the television until 8 pm at the earliest, I had not previously seen an episode of The One Show. The programme on the first evening opened with the spectacle of Robbie Williams up a stepladder affixing a fairy to the top of the Show’s Christmas tree. Immediately I was at a loss to understand how such celebrity culture could possibly blend with hard-hitting environmental material but seconds later the scale and reality of the disposal of thousands of tonnes of putrefying dead salmon was being beamed out across the UK as the intrepid reporter followed leaking waste trucks from one end of Scotland to another.
With an audience for The One Show of some 5 million the impact of the two films was seismic. For the next fortnight or so everyone I met or spoke to seemed to have seen them – and, more important, they were universally horrified as regards what actually happens in industrial-scale salmon farming. Critically the films seemed to touch a nerve amongst politicians.
I have no doubt at all that The One Show was a pivotal factor in what I can only describe as a sea change in attitude amongst the great majority of MSPs – they no longer believe the glib assurances of the industry that it is environmentally responsible and that disease and parasites are under control, they are appalled by its lax environmental standards and record, they are adamant that regulation must be tightened significantly and that closed containment must be positively investigated and embraced.
This all set the tone for the first stage of the Scottish Parliament’s Inquiry into salmon farming which kicked off in January with the Environment Climate Change and Land Reform Committee considering the environmental impacts. In early March it published, signed off unanimously by MSPs from all parties, a truly damning report (“The status quo is not an option”).
This report is underpinning the second stage of the Inquiry, now being carried by out the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee with its wider remit to look at the future of salmon farming. Wild fish interests, including S&TC Scotland, gave oral evidence on March 14. Clearly the Committee members were entirely accepting that salmon farming damages wild salmon and sea trout and the issues (particularly sea lice) must be addressed.
The REC Committee is inviting written evidence up to April 27. See http://www.parliament.scot/S5_Rural/Inquiries/REC_Salmon_Inquiry_CFV.pdf
We are certainly not complacent but the last few months have produced very significant political progress towards ending the harm being done to wild salmon and sea trout by radically changing the salmon farming industry for good. Stay tuned for the next salmon farming update.