“Organic” farmed salmon – let’s get real

“Organic” farmed salmon

Similar scenarios play out at dinner tables up and down the UK, particularly during the festive season.

Salmon, either smoked or “fresh”, is served and the host, feigning environmental awareness, announces along the lines of:

“Don’t worry, we are always very responsible – we only ever buy ‘organic’ salmon.”

But is eating “organic” farmed salmon really environmentally responsible?

The blunt and unequivocal answer is, no!

“Organic” salmon is a con. It is simply a marketing ploy‎, aimed at the naive and ignorant well-heeled, especially those who frequent the more prestigious supermarkets and food emporiums, to persuade them to pay a premium price for something that is almost the same as bog standard farmed salmon.

The only real difference is that “organic” salmon is stocked in open net cages at a lower density. There is no separation between the farmed fish and the wider environment; fish faeces, in vast quantities, still pollutes and destroys the integrity of the seabed.

“Organic” salmon farmers still use all the same chemicals, including lice treatments, thus killing other crustaceans in the vicinity.

The problems with lice and escapes are just as prevalent in “organic” salmon - hence the impacts on wild fish are identical.

The Soil Association’s indefensible endorsement of any farmed salmon undermines the credibility of, and indeed is an indelible stain on, the organisation’s reputation.

So, the next time you hear a smug announcement from your host that the salmon being served is so-called “organic” and therefore by implication “is ok to eat”, I suggest giving it a wide berth.

At the same time, you should tactfully explain that he or she is being duped and, if they give a damn about the environmental damage all salmon farming, including that purporting to be “organic”, causes (especially to wild salmon and sea trout in the west Highlands and Islands), they should not allow such dross of sham pedigree to besmirch and contaminate their table.

 

Views of our Scottish Director, AGS

Salmon farming industry blames wild fish for sea lice infestations

Sea lice on farmed salmon – the ultimate solution

In September, following months of media exposes of salmon farming’s dire environmental failures, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) announced the appointment of a leading political journalist to the newly created role of “Director of Strategic Engagement”.

In the SSPO’s news release, the appointee is quoted as “looking forward to playing my part in helping the industry cement its already excellent reputation for sustainability...”. One wonders just where he has been to reach such a view of the industry’s record!

Now it seems that his first strategic initiative is coalescing. The strategy, designed to deflect criticism when sea lice numbers on farms spiral out of control, is to shift the blame.

Salmon farming industry blames wild fish

Recently S&TCS have been forwarded emails from two industry luminaries, addressed to Scottish Ministers and other influential MSPs. They both make similar points:

Julie Hesketh-Laird, CEO SSPO:

"With respect to lice, our members operating in sea lochs can observe an increased sea lice challenge in an environment in which they coexist with returning lice burdened mature wild salmon."

Ben Hadfield, MD Marine Harvest Scotland:

"We associate returning (wild) adult salmon with a period of enhanced infection rates of farmed stock, which are placed in the sea without a sea lice challenge."

In essence the salmon farming industry blames wild fish. They are saying that wild mature or adult salmon are to blame, indeed that they are the cause of the industry’s sea lice woes.

They clearly imply that we should forget about poor management and/or husbandry on farms and the fact that hundreds of thousands of fish crammed into a confined netted area are a perfect breeding reservoir for sea lice, because wild fish are the problem.

The logical extension to Ms Hesketh-Laird’s and Mr Hadfield’s ludicrous statements is that, in order to eliminate sea lice issues on farms, all wild salmon in the salmon farming areas of the west Highlands and Islands should be exterminated; indeed, do away with wild fish and at a stroke you remove much of the opposition to salmon farming and its expansion.

Salmon farming PR machine

To the industry, sustainability is just a vague PR concept to which cynical lip-service has to be paid.

And, as for the fate of wild fish, on the evidence of recent events, they really do not give a flying fig.

Incidentally, Ms Hesketh-Laird and Mr Hadfield are the industry’s two representatives on Scottish Government’s new Salmon Interactions Working Group, yet another talking shop initiative designed to kick the real issues for wild fish deep into the long grass.

If their input is consistent with their quotes above, then it should be a very short-lived affair.

What next?

We await the report from the current Parliamentary Inquiry into the industry, and wonder what the committee members might think of this seemingly desperate attempt by salmon farmers to lay the blame for their lice issues at the door of wild migrating salmon, a species that has been returning to Scottish west Highland and Island rivers since the Ice Age.

Meanwhile, be assured that S&TC Scotland will continue to fight to protect these fish, and their sea trout relatives, from the ravages of Scottish open-net salmon farming – an industry with an appalling environmental record and an increasingly desperate list of lamentable excuses.

- AGS

Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018: Winner announced

Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018: Winner Announced at Arundell Arms

S&TC are proud to announce that their prestigious Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018 has been awarded to PHD student William Davison, of Exeter University.

The award was presented to William on the 10th of October at the Arundell Arms, by proprietor, and Anne-voss Bark's son, Adam Fox Edwards and S&TC Executive Vice-President Tony Bird, in a lunch attended by award partners, the Fario Club and West Country Rivers Trust.

Above: Adam Fox Edwards (Arundel Arms), William Davison and Tony Bird (S&TC)

Set up by S&TC in 2014, in collaboration with the Arundel Arms and Fario Club, the Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award provides successful applicants with invaluable work experience with the West Country Rivers Trust; learning catchment management and water science from the trust's eminent scientists, including a fly fishing course and complimentary stay at the Arundell Arms hotel.

The award is open each year to young fisheries or aquatic students and offers an unbeatable opportunity to learn the practical elements of river restoration and management.

 

Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2018 Winner

William Davison, a first year PhD student from the University of Exeter, with a background in ecological physiology, is this year's lucky winner of the award.

He brings his extensive field skills to the placement, gained during his research career at the University of Exeter and associated study abroad year at the University Of Queensland, which took him to remote Heron Island. He says,

“This placement allows me to see first-hand how local charities are working on the front line to restore and protect the aquatic environments around which I grew up, and the animals on which I have chosen to focus my research studies."

William has recently finished the placement and has now returned to his PhD in aquatic biology, working specifically on land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) for salmonids. Such work aligns closely with S&TC's vision and campaign for closed contentment salmon farming in Scotland. William says,

"The opportunity to learn about management of wild salmon and trout allows me to take a more holistic approach to my PhD by including a wider understanding of management strategies for wild populations.

This experience puts me in a better informed position to help promote aquaculture techniques that allow farmed and wild salmonids to both thrive and perform the vital services we require of them."

Wild fish and their habitats were of great importance to Anne Voss-Bark, and the award recognises and nurtures the same passion in it's students. Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science at S&TC, says,

“William demonstrates why this award is so important and offers such an amazing opportunity for someone just starting their career and are passionate about making a difference for our wild salmon and sea trout. The award offers unbeatable work experience and invaluable exposure to all our organisations' campaigning and projects”

 

Anne Voss-Bark

Anne Voss-Bark was a dedicated conservationist and prominent hotelier. Her love of fly fishing made her aware of changes in the countryside detrimental to our rivers and fish, which she worked tirelessly to combat.

Anne will also always be well-remembered as the perfect hostess at the Arundell Arms in Lifton, Devon, which was rather run down on acquisition but developed by her over nearly 50 years into today’s eminent fishing and country sports hotel.

S&TC are proud to honour the memory of Anne Voss-Bark through the award, nurturing the next generation of aquatic scientists and conservationists in the process.

River Itchen damage below Alresford Salads: Autumn 2018 photos

New photos show damage in River Itchen below Bakkavor's Alresford Salads factory.

At S&TC we have long been campaigning to stop Bakkavor discharging their salad wash effluent into the headwaters of the River Itchen.

The Itchen is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and we fear that the chemicals in their discharge are harming the environment.

Read more: Chlorine in our conservation areas?

Read more: Toxic chemicals keep coming

Our latest autumn samples of invertebrates and algal growth, from a site just downstream of the Bakkavor factory, reinforces our concern.

Our autumn river bed photos, and samples of invertebrates and algae, taken on 5 October 2018, immediately downstream of the Bakkavor salad washing factory (Alresford Salads), show the Itchen headwaters remain heavily polluted. This is in stark contrast to the condition of the Upper Test.

 

Excess algal slime demonstrates damage

The bed of the Itchen headwater stream at our sample site is covered in algal “slime”.

This is a short distance downstream from Bakkavor’s salad washing factory’s discharge point.

River Itchen photos

The bed of the stream should show clear, un-sedimented gravel like this photograph of the Test headwaters at Polhampton taken last Autumn:

Dr Nick Everall of Aquascience has analysed this sinister algal growth. This is what he reports:

“There was extensive area coverage (over 90%) of the river bed area with the thick biological growth or slime which upon microscopic examination was, aside to a bit of chalk and sediment adhesion, entirely composed of filamentous and attached algal and lesser fungal growth…

The dominant and major composition of the biological growth covering metres of the bed of the River Itchen below Alresford Salads was, often filamentous, algae (diatoms, blue-greens and green algae) with some fungal component…

It was typical of organic and nutrient enriched benthic ‘slime’ or sewage fungus’ (Fjerdingstad, 1964 and Hellawell, 1986).”

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

Invertebrates (or lack thereof)

The invertebrate sample from the Itchen headwaters was devoid of insects sensitive to pollution. There were no mayflies or gammarus.

The associated biometric measurements indicate an impact from pesticides, siltation, nutrient enrichment (phosphates) and organic pollution.

In short, the lack of invertebrates signifies the water quality is extremely poor in general – and exceptionally so for the headwaters of a Special Area of Conservation chalkstream.

Read Dr Nick Everall's October 2018 report here

The Upper Test sample taken in autumn 2017 was dramatically healthier. There were over 1800 gammarus and two species of mayfly, for starters. The biometrics indicated no impact from siltation, phosphates or organic pollution.

 

What are we doing about it?

We were so horrified by the invertebrate sample taken in May 2018 from the same Upper Itchen headwater site that we formally notified the Environment Agency (EA) to investigate the problem.

Read more: Alresford Salads EDR

That investigation is continuing; meanwhile we will share our latest findings with the EA, whom we are also fighting to stop Bakkavor discharging its salad wash effluent into the headwaters of the Itchen.

Read more: Will Alresford Salads end use of their chorine-free cleaning products?

In response, the EA is seeking a variation of Bakkavor’s discharge consent, but progress is painfully slow.

Overall, our data is providing strong evidence for the EA to insist Bakkavor stops pumping its effluent into the river. This is the only environmentally acceptable outcome.

As Nick Measham, Deputy Chief Exectuive of S&TC, summarises:

"It is a nonsense that biocides are discharged into any watercourse, let alone the headwaters of an SAC.

Such chemicals can be highly toxic to aquatic life, negatively impacting the health and abundance of wild salmon and trout in our waters - as well as all the other creatures that live there and together sustain freshwater's delicate ecology.

Has the EA got the courage to say no, or will industry triumph over one of Britain’s natural wonders?"

S&TC response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018

S&TC's EFRA response

S&TC respond to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee consultation over the Agriculture Bill 2018.

Our Head of Science and Environmental Policy, Dr Janina Gray, recently wrote about the Bill, stating that, while we cautiously welcome the Bill, the devil will be in the detail and especially in the amount of commitment to resources by the Government to enforcing the legislation for the minority of farmers who persistently pollute our rivers and streams.

Read More - Our view: Is a Green Brexit possible?

Read More - View our full response to EFRA

 

What does the Agriculture Bill 2018 propose?

The Bill basically proposes that farmers should still be paid subsidies and grants from Government, as they have been under the EU Common Agricultural Policy, but that public money in future should only be distributed in return for public goods.

In our case, that means genuine protection for our rivers, fish and waterlife, which, under the current system, is by no means assured.

Sediment from poorly managed soils, excess nutrients (especially phosphates), slurry and dry manure from dairy farms and agricultural chemicals all currently pollute waterways and, while it is a minority of farmers who are responsible, it is a significant minority. Furthermore, the connectivity of rivers means that just a few irresponsible farmers in a catchment can negate all the good work of their responsible neighbours.

 

Enforcement required

In our response to EFRA, our legal adviser, Guy Linley-Adams, has highlighted that, far from being  a significant advance in the protection of watercourses from agricultural pollution, the new Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018, passed earlier this year, merely repeats the codes of good practice dating back as far as 1985.

True, the new Regulations make certain poor agricultural practices a criminal offence; but previous codes and legislation were not all voluntary, and yet enforcement has been sadly lacking for three decades. Many of our rivers have steadily declined in health over that time.

Read our response to EFRA

 

Moving forward

The Agriculture Bill now gives us all an opportunity to make sure the new 2018 Regulations are met on all farms, by ensuring that, in future, farmers who do not meet the new Regulations cannot be given public money.

As Guy says,

“To deal with the stubborn problems of agricultural diffuse pollution, the new system must combine the ‘stick’ approach of regulation, inspection and enforcement, with the ‘carrot’ of public money for public goods.”

Please read our full response, together with our analysis of past codes of good practice - codes which failed sufficiently to protect our rivers and streams from that minority of poor-performing farmers.

S&TC hopes that the 2018 Bill becomes a progressive act, setting a baseline minimum performance for all farmers, as well as dangling the carrot of public money for public goods.

S&TC joins 100 NGOs in Europe-wide #ProtectWater campaign

S&TC is one of 100 NGOs[1 ] joining forces across Europe to tackle proposed weakening of EU freshwater protection laws

As part of #ProtectWater, we are uniting to launch a campaign calling on the European Commission to defend the law that protects all sources of water, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater, during its current review.

Such laws are integral to the future health and abundance of wild fish, especially salmon and trout who urgently need their waters better protected from over-abstraction, barriers to migration and all forms of pollution. To weaken these laws further would certainly speed up salmon and trout's disappearance from our waterways, primarily through a loss of important habitat and a degradation of their water quality.

It is essential to support this law in the UK, as any weakening of this EU legislation will be transposed into UK law post-Brexit and will mean weaker protections for our waters.

Working together to protect water

The #ProtectWater campaign encourages people across the UK and Europe to participate in the European Commission’s public consultation on the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which is running until 4 March 2019.

This is the only opportunity for the general public to express their support to keep water protections strong and effective. To get involved people can simply and quickly sign-up here.

 

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office, said:

‘Member States’ half-hearted implementation of the EU water law is a crime in itself, but their desperate attempts to weaken it - and before the Commission’s fitness check has even concluded - is a step too far.

We urge citizens across Europe and beyond to join forces through the #ProtectWater campaign and make their voices heard.

We all need clean water, and without the Water Framework Directive, this will be under serious threat. Act now to defend the EU water law!’

 

Dr Janina Gray, S&TC’s Head of Science & Environmental Policy, said,

“The Water Framework Directive gives a basic protection for our rivers and waterlife, and has resulted over the years in millions of pounds of investment, mainly from water companies.

Any weakening of the WFD standards would have catastrophic implications for our waterways.

We are looking for Government commitment for greater protection for rivers, streams and wild fish following Brexit, and so ensuring that WFD’ standards remain as they are is of paramount importance to drive this.”

 

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Chair of the Blueprint for Water group in the UK, said: 

The Water Framework Directive has had a massive impact in the UK, including getting water companies to invest billions in cleaning up our rivers and restoring our aquatic habitats.

Protecting this law is essential to defend our basic human right to clean water and for all nature to thrive.’

 

Why are such laws important?

Freshwater ecosystems are the most threatened on the planet [2].

Sixty percent of EU waters are not healthy today because Member States have allowed them to be exploited and damaged for example by unsustainable agriculture, and destructive infrastructure, such as dams.

Shockingly, only 14% of rivers in England are classed as healthy. [3].

Through the WFD, Member States agreed to achieve “good status” for their waters by 2027 at the very latest. 2027 is also the year which the #ProtectWater campaign playfully poses as the fictional ‘expiration date’ for good beer.

Where political will exists, the WFD provides an effective framework for addressing the main pressures facing our waters [4], but Member States need to significantly step up their efforts and funding if the 2027 deadlines are to be achieved.

Results to improve the health of their waters have been few and far between, and Member States are now discussing how the law can be weakened to introduce greater flexibility for themselves.

More information about the #ProtectWater campaign is available at: www.livingrivers.eu or on the S&TC website:

Notes to editors: 

1. The #ProtectWater campaign is led by WWF EU, the European Environmental Bureau, European Anglers Alliance, European Rivers Network and Wetlands International, who together form the Living Rivers Europe coalition and have more than 40 million supporters between them. More than 100 organisations are backing the campaign.

In the UK a coalition of 11 organisations coordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link are supporting the campaign including: Angling Trust and Fish Legal, British Canoeing, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Institute of Fisheries Management, Marine Conservation Society, The Rivers Trust, RSPB, Salmon and Trout Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), WWF-UK and ZSL Zoological Society of London.

2. Living Planet Report, WWF, 2016
3. European waters: Assessment of status and pressures 2018, EEA, 2018
4. Bringing life back to Europe’s waters: The EU water law in action, 2018

 

About the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Living Rivers Europe

  • The WFD is one of the EU’s most progressive pieces of environmental legislation. It requires the protection, enhancement and restoration of our rivers, wetlands, lakes and coastal waters, but Member States are currently failing make it work on the ground.
  • Under the WFD, EU governments have committed to ensure no deterioration and achieve good status for the vast majority of all water bodies by 2015, and at the very latest by 2027.
  • Where implemented, the WFD has proved to be effective in achieving its goals of good water status and non-deterioration, successfully balancing environmental, social and economic requirements.
  • The WFD is currently undergoing its standard review in the form of a ‘fitness check’. Every piece of EU legislation goes through this process. The fitness check will look at the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added value of the WFD (and its 'daughter’ directives) and the Floods Directive. It includes the ongoing stakeholder consultation and public consultation.
  • As the Living Rivers Europe coalition, we are working on safeguarding the EU WFD and strengthening its implementation and enforcement. Click here to read the full Living Rivers Europe vision statement.

Hardy partners with S&TC to help conserve wild fish

Hardy partners with S&TC

Salmon & Trout Conservation are proud to announce an exciting new partnership with leading tackle manufacturer, Hardy.

The collaboration will see the two organisations work together on various projects to conserve wild fish and their waters, including the production and auction of two truly bespoke Hardy outfits for S&TC’s glittering Annual Auction this November.

The flagship lot at this year’s auction is an extremely generous contribution from Hardy, with whom S&TC are proud to announce an exciting long-term partnership. Defined by their 1800's heritage and English-made, top quality tackle, such a collaboration combines not just Hardy’s and S&TC’s expertise and heritage, but their mutual passion for protecting wild fish and their habitats.

Conserving wild fish together

As the UK's leading wild fish charity, S&TC has been protecting and preserving our wild fish and freshwaters for over 115 years. Originally tackling the environmental pressures of the Industrial Revolution, S&TC today continue to achieve important successes for wild salmon and trout driven by three highly actionable conservation focuses: water quality, water quantity and protection from salmon farming.

This vision is defined and delivered through S&TC’s independent, science-led and action-driven campaigns. The charity receives no government money, their important work funded entirely by private donations, memberships and fundraising initiatives, such as their Annual Dinner and Auction at Fishmonger’s Hall in London, now in its 10th year.

As prominent wild fish conservationists, Hardy are proudly committed to protecting salmon, trout and the UK's waterways, which their partnership with S&TC is integral to achieving.

 

Exclusive auction lots

In an act of support for the cause, Hardy have generously donated two exceptional lots to the S&TC Annual Auction this year, which are expected to achieve handsome sums for S&TC’s important work:


Unique S&TC Hardy Complete Angler Outfit

  • One of a kind, 001 of 001
  • 1 x Hardy Salmon Smuggler 14'6"#10 rod with limited edition Hardy 'Perfect' reel
  • 1 x Hardy Trout Smuggler 9'0"#5 rod with limited edition Hardy 'Perfect' reel
  • Both to include matching fitted fly lines
  • 1 x Richard Wheatley handmade fly box with assortment of trout flies
  • 1 x Richard Wheatley handmade fly box with assortment of salmon flies
  • Presented in a custom-built leather case by Casecraft UK (case valued at £3k)

Bespoke S&TC Hardy Trout Smuggler Set

  • 1 of 115 S&TC units, to celebrate our 115th year
  • 1 x Hardy Trout Smuggler 9'0"#5 rod with limited edition Hardy 'Perfect' reel
  • 1 x matching fitted fly line
  • 1 x Handmade Richard Wheatley fly box with an assortment of trout flies
  • Presented in an aluminium flight case with laser cut foam liner

Bespoke collector's items

The Hardy Complete Angler Outfit is an entirely unique, never to be repeated, bespoke item, which is currently being handcrafted for S&TC at Hardy’s headquarters at Alnwick, England.

The Hardy Trout Smuggler is equally special; 1 of 115 to celebrate the 115 years that S&TC has been actively conserving wild fish in the UK.

Official photographs of the exclusive lots, which are expected to appeal to collectors and keen anglers alike, are expected soon. In the meantime, you can find out more  on our Hardy page.

 

Find out more and make a sealed bid

The lots are part of S&TC’s exclusive live auction on the 14th November 2018, which is now sold out. However, S&TC are accepting private sealed bids.

Please follow the link below, or contact S&TC’s fundraising manager, Guy Edwards, to find out more and/or submit bids: Guy@salmon-trout.org | 01425 652 461.

Agricultural Bill: Is a ‘Green Brexit’ possible?

The first major Agriculture Bill for over 70 years has now been published, promising a cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit

Currently farmers receive €4 billion in subsides each year, which is divided up related to the total amount of land farmed. For current subsidies farmers do not need to ‘do’ anything.

The new Bill proposes farmers are paid for delivering public goods; things we cannot buy in a shop, like clean water, flood attenuation, thriving wildlife and healthy soils.

 

Funding a 'Green Brexit'

The headlines are good. But as with everything, the devil will be in the detail.

This new approach will need substantial investment and coordination to ensure the right public goods happen in the right places for people and wildlife.

And the big elephant in the room is the funding. How do the Government plan to fund their ‘Green Brexit’? No details have been given on this so far.

 

Carrot vs Stick

The Government reiterated at the launch that they were committed to:

“maintaining a strong regulatory baseline, with enforcement mechanisms that are proportionate and effective”.

This is where we at S&TC have the greatest concern.

Current enforcement is just not fit for purpose. It is totally under-resourced.

We are all for having a big juicy carrot for farmers, but it must be accompanied by an equally proportionate stick where required.

The data from our own Riverfly Census indicates that many rivers in England and Wales are suffering from the impacts of excess phosphates and fine sediments from poor agricultural practices. This impacts wild fish populations, from smothering their spawning redds, to reducing the invertebrates they feed on.

For the small minority of farmers which do pollute, sometimes repetitively, strong action must be taken.

 

What happens next

The Bill proposes a long timetable, where the current system of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy will continue until 2021, then a seven-year transition period to the new system, where the old payments will gradually taper off.

Like most environmental charities, we have lobbied for years for this vision where farmers are rewarded for delivering for the environment- creating a sustainable future for farming and the environment alike.

We will see over the next few months, as the Agriculture Bill makes its way through Parliament, if that vision can survive.

However, in order to achieve a truly cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit, enforcement, or the current lack of it, must be addressed too.

To help us take action against agricultural pollution visit our ‘see it, photograph it, report it’ campaign.

-

By Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science & Policy at S&TC

Loch Roag Sea Lice: SSPO Defence Falls Flat

Mea culpa……mea what?

On September 3 we issued a news release detailing the deaths, in the Blackwater River (Isle of Lewis), of a substantial proportion of this Hebridean system’s wild adult salmon run.

Wild Adult Salmon Run Decimated By Sea Lice

 

The tip of the iceberg

The corpses removed from the tidal Sea pool were likely just the tip of the iceberg with many more dying out in the sea loch.

The underwater video of a moribund wild salmon, infested with and being eaten alive by many hundreds of sea lice and gasping for oxygen, made for disturbing viewing.

A week later, on September 10, BBC TV One’s The One Show aired a short and graphic film linking the deaths in the Blackwater to very high numbers of lice and mortalities, again recorded on video, at the nearest salmon farm to the river in Loch Roag, the sea loch into which the river flows.

The BBC programme and our earlier news release triggered widespread media attention – and rightly so, as this was undeniable evidence of catastrophic sea lice infestations of both farmed fish and wild fish.

 

Loch Roag sea lice

The only reasonable explanation for the wild fish deaths is that the sea lice, numbering up to 700 on each wild fish, had reached such high levels in the loch because the huge number of lice-infested host fish on the salmon farms had released an epidemic of sea lice larvae into the loch.

The Fish Health Inspectorate, a Scottish Government agency, carried out tests on affected fish and concluded that no other factor was involved.

There can be absolutely no doubt that the source of the infestations was local salmon farms.

On the nearest farm, adult female lice numbers in August reached 13 times the industry’s Code of Good Practice. Incoming wild Blackwater salmon, held back by low water on the river, had been forced to wait in Loch Roag, close to the farms and exposed to sea lice larvae in numbers many orders of magnitude higher than any natural background. They never had a chance.

 

Salmon industry reaction

Two weeks after we broke this story it is perhaps opportune to consider the reaction from the salmon farming industry to this evidence of the devastating impact on wild fish when on-farm lice numbers explode.

One might imagine there would at least be a formal admission by the local farm’s operators (The Scottish Salmon Company, with its registered office in Jersey) that they were at fault, indeed something of a mea culpa.

But no, not a chance.

They and their industry’s spokespersons have shown not the slightest hint of contrition, rather they have fallen back on the usual response of denial and obfuscation.

The industry’s response was encapsulated in an SSPO press release on September 6, containing the following gem:

“Lice occur naturally in places like river mouths, where there is low water flow and a lot of returning wild fish”.

In other words, the SSPO was trying to suggest that the wild fish deaths were simply a natural phenomenon and nothing to do with them!

 

SSPO and The One Show

When the SSPO was formally challenged by a wild fish representative on Lewis for any evidence of similar sea lice infestations, past or present, on wild salmon in rivers, but outside the salmon farming areas, there was stony silence.

On The One Show on September 10 the SSPO’s CEO maintained that only “one or two” fish on the Loch Roag farm were badly diseased and lice-infested. At this point the drone footage of the farm, playing behind her bland assurances, showed a multitude of fish in the cages with white heads, the classic sign of massive sea lice damage!

Interestingly, the only industry voice showing any kind of recognition of the gravity of the situation has been a Norwegian online salmon farming news-site, which castigated The Scottish Salmon Company and the SSPO for their  failure to respond adequately to “proof of such appalling practice”, accusing them of ,

“Weak judgment at several levels, which should necessitate appropriate consequences for the perpetrators”.

It seems, however, that major parts of Scotland’s salmon farming industry still have fundamental issues with truth and integrity. Plus ca change.

-AGS

River Itchen pollution: Alresford Salads trial chlorine-free cleaning products

Is the end of chlorine-based cleaning products at Alresford salad washing plant finally in sight?

Finally, it appears Alresford salad washing plant is planning to stop using chlorine-based cleaning products.

This would mean that there would no longer be any products used to wash the site’s equipment that could react to form chloramines, which are highly toxic to water life even in very low concentrations in water.

 

A small win for S&TC

At S&TC we have been campaigning for this for a long-time.

Our own Riverfly Census invertebrate data and phosphate monitoring on the Itchen in recent years indicate that the river is far from a pristine chalkstream.

We feel it is extraordinary that chlorine products are ever allowed to be discharged, insufficiently treated, into any UK river, let alone a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) such as Itchen, the most protected under EU legalisation.

This, however, would only be a small potential win. It is important to remember that any chemicals used to disinfect and clean are, by their nature, toxic.

We do not believe any of these chemicals should be discharged into an SAC river.

 

More sustainable solution still needed

Applying the precautionary principle, the solution is easy- connect the discharge to the main sewer, as nearby competitor, Vitacress, has already done on the Bourne Rivulet.

Yes, this would be at a cost, but should a multi-million pound industry really be allowed to use an SAC to dispose of chemical waste?

 

Next steps

On the 10th September, Alresford salad washing plant began a 6-week trial into the new chlorine-free cleaning products for its night-time washing; during which time the EA has requested monitoring of the discharges. Following this:

  • The EA envisage that the updated risk assessment will be submitted to them by the end of October
  • The EA will then undertake consultation with Natural England in mid-December
  • The EA plan to consult the public on their position in February 2019

As always, we will continue to provide updates via our website, social media and email.

 

Imported pesticides in our chalkstream?

It is worth noting that we have wider concerns beyond the nighttime washing effluent.

We also have concerns about whether pesticides, which may be washed off imported salad that is being processed and bagged at Alresford, could also be ending up in the Itchen.

We plan to do more monitoring to assess this risk and will be requesting to see the EA’s official policy on protecting our rivers from the risks of chemicals washed off imported goods and discharged directly into our watercourses.

In the meantime, I’ll be washing my own salad!

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Words by our Head of Science & Policy, Dr Janina Gray