West Highland Free Press 2012
Editorial, 30 November 2012
We might disagree with a lot of this, but there is one rash statement that should not be allowed to slip uncriticised into the reader's mind: "We notice no obvious environmental degradation in, say, Loch Ainort in Skye, where one of the largest salmon farms in Europe has floated for 30 Years." Where have they looked? What have they looked for? Did the editor don wetsuit and aqualung to check out the marine environment of Loch Ainort? Have they really looked so that they are able to 'notice no obvious environmental degradation'? Has anybody performed ecological surveys of Loch Ainort before and after the fish farm, providing evidence to support this reckless assertion? Of course, they might be right, but I doubt they can provide any observations that prove they are right. Peer reviewed research suggests that they are almost certainly wrong.
Also: "... there is a debate to be held about the future direction of fish farming in the Highlands. That debate should not be dominated by fanatics." Who are they getting at? Is it us? I don't see myself, or those with whom I agree, arguing against net-cage salmon farming, as fanatics, but the WHFP editor evidently does. I think we're just just concerned people with a contrary point of view backed up by what those with whom we disagree find to be a uncomfortably well-argued case.
Like it or not, fish farming is here to stay
Fish farming in the Highlands and Islands is a young industry. Over the past 40 years it has made many mistakes and - as recent events prove - even more enemies.
It has also provided, and continues to provide, thousands of jobs and millions of pounds to the economy of the north-west of Scotland.
There are many things to regret about the development of salmon farming in this region during the last three to four decades. The Crown Estate issued leases like confetti, without consulting local communities let alone sharing the profits.
An original dream of small cages owned and run by individual crofters quickly died, not least because most crofters who tried it preferred to sell their assets on to large companies.
There have undoubtedly been mistakes made by aquaculturalists in the treatment of fish diseases. So much attention continues to be paid by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate to those diseases and their medication that the industry would be foolish to ignore the FHI’s criticisms and recommendations. Apart from anything else, the marketing of Highland and Hebridean farmed salmon largely depends upon this region’s unpolluted reputation.
But we are where we are. Even the Atlantic Salmon Trust, which is devoted to the promotion and wellbeing of wild salmon and sea-trout, accepts that “salmon-farming is here to stay in Scotland”.
The same is not being said by some of fish farming’s zealous foes. They fall into several camps, most of which are to be found in the current controversies around newly-proposed fish farms in Skye and Harris.
Some objectors want every single fish gage pulled out of Highland waters and destroyed. Some want those which might get in the way of creel or net fishing to be removed. Some object chiefly to the Norwegian owned companies. Some riparian interests want to protect wild salmon runs. Others want only to protect the view from their living room.
The sensible opinion is, we suspect, the broad consensus. Most of us have come to live more or less happily with fish farms off our coast. We see them at worst as a part of the working landscape, and at best as a major employer. We notice no obvious environmental degradation in, say, Loch Ainort in Skye, where one of the largest salmon farms in Europe has floated for 30 Years.
Most of us have come to enjoy the ready availability of salmon as part of our diet - something that, 30 years ago, was not possible without running the risk of being mugged by a paramilitary estate bailiff. Most of us believe that any tensions between creelmen, anglers and fish farms should be resolved in a civilised manner, and not by one side demanding the extinction of the other.
And many of us, a good many, think of those thousands of local jobs, and of the ancillary benefits delivered by aquaculture. To take just one example (and there are many others) Salar hot-smoked salmon from South Uist, an internationally renowned delicacy which is now part of the Loch Duart group, would never have emerged without Uist fish farming.
As the letters columns of this newspaper have reflected in the past few weeks, there is a debate to be held about the future direction of fish farming in the Highlands. That debate should not be dominated by fanatics. And nobody should imagine that fish farming can, or should, be made to disappear.