Scotland's Fishy Secrets BBC Scotland Investigates


Scotland's Fishy Secrets

Kenneth Macdonald investigates claims that fish farming may be responsible for a possible environmental disaster threatening Scotland's iconic wild salmon.


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Fishing for salmon and sea trout on a remote Scottish river. An iconic

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sport, but it relies on the existence of an iconic animal,

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Atlantic salmon. I'm present pren - - Kenneth Macdonald, BBC Scotland's

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science correspondent, I'm investigating whether hid none this

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idyllic landscape there's an environmental disaster that might

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mean salmon and sea trout could be disappearing from our seas, rivers

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and lochs. The sea trout are just not there. What effect will it have

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on the fish It will become weaker and easier for a predator to catch.

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It would be wrong to say, well, we don't know, we don't really like

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this, but we think you should go Loch Maree a freshwater loch in

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Wester Ross. I'm lucky enough to be getting a guided tour with the

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laird here, John McKinsey. As the landowner he owns the fishing. Tell

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me how far back your familiary goes with this land and this loch?

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we started. In - I think it was 18th great grandfather was granted

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the lands of Gairloch by James IV. So we've been here quite a long

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time. This loch was once world- famous. It brought anglers to

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Scotland from across the globe. That's because it used to have the

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best sea trout ange ling in Scotland. That used to support many

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jobs here, but trout stocks have crashed. It's hard to believe when

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you look at how beautiful this place is, but John believes that

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beneath the surface there's been an environmental disaster. The sea

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trout are just not. There the fishermen don't want to come. Who

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wants to sit in boat for a week when you're not likely to catch a

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lot to put it mildly. When you look around at what it's become now, how

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does that make you feel? It's sad, frankly. It's a pale, pale

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imitation. It's barely an imitation actually. It's a memory. What's

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responsible for that crash? John believes there is an environmental

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disaster caused by tiny parasites called sea lice. They don't live

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here, they live in the sea six miles away. Sea trout and salmon

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are found in freshwater lochs like, Loch Maree. They use rivers to go

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to sea to feed before returning to spawn. It's in the sea that the

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route of -- root of any crisis can be found. John's are based on the

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work of Peter Cunningham a byologist who works for the fishery

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owners much he offered to take us out and show us what is wrong much

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he use as 50 meter long sweep net to catch a sea trout. If they are

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lice carrying lice he will know there is a problem here. So on only

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the second cast of this sweep net we have lovely looking sea trout.

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That is the good news. It has sea lice. Just how much how many, we

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will have to wait for a wee while we need to anaesthetise, process it

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and take a proper scientific look at. It You can see tiny little lice,

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these are attached by a filament to the skin of the fish. If they get

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too many it creates an infection that is why the dorsal fin becomes

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eroded. It's not as perfect a fin as it should be. That many lice,

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what affect will it have on the fish? Weaker and easier for a

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predator to catch. This is what all the fuss is bfplt it's a sea louse.

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This is a female she has a spring of eggs coming off her tail. They

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are remarkable little creature. They are not aliens, they are

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naturally occurring thesh are little crustacean. They attach

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themselves to passing sea trout and salmon. Now, when a sea louse

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attach it isself to a sea trout it's a feat likened to somebody

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being able to jump on to a jumbo jet and hang on while the jumbo jet

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is in flight. The other problem, is although she doesn't look like much,

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it's how many of her kind that are on that single fish that we netted.

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There were 91 sea lice. Each one of them suckers on, if you like, and

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chew it is way slowly into the fish. Peter says sea lice numbers have

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increased in the last 20 to 30 years hech says there is one key

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reason for that. Out in the sea here, there is a fish farm. He says

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that lice from the farmed fish are infecting the wild ones. It's all

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about numbers. Sri Lanka -- salmon farm will have 500,000 fish in it

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or more. Around here if you have healthy sea trout population in the

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loch you might have 10,000 or 20,000. It's an order of magnitude

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of two more farmed fish. If there is a natural relationship between

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parasite numbers and wild fish, as there always was, you have ten

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times as many hosts with the parasite, you can easily have ten

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times as many parasites. Which is all it is to upset the balance.

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That compromises the health of the wild fish. There are also problems

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for wild fish in areas where there are no farms like the East Coast.

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Peter accept that is there are other factors like global warming

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and lack of food making life difficult for salmon and sea trout.

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He is convinced lice from farms are contributing to their decline. At

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the end of the day, Peter changes out of his wetsuit and brings us

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here, to the River Ewe, the link between the sea lock and Loch Maree.

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He he thinks he can show us one last bit of evidence. If they are

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have lots of lice they will head for the river because freshwater

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kills the parasites. Lice levels are high enough to make them feel

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unkosm comfortable. Judging by the damage on the fins a few of them

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have decided it's Bert coming back into freshwater where the lice will

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come off rather than staying out in the sea. So, campaigners want farms

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near the rivers that are used by wild fish moved far out to sea. The

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fish farm Peter blames is here in the sea loch, a few miles from

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where he took his neting. It's run by Scotland's biggest producer,

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Marine Harvest, they believe there is no proof to link them to what's

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happened to wild fish stocks. We are heading out towards the fish

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farm here on isle ewe, we have ten blast plastic tens each 100 metres

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in succumb frens. How many are we talking about? 500 and 600,000. At

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the moment, we are going to look at a pen which will have 42,500 fish.

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They are around about 4.9 kilos, they are ready for harvesting.

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farm cost over �2 million to set up. It employees five full-time and

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five part-time staff much across Scotland this industry employs over

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1,000 people and generates �400 million for the economy. We weren't

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sure what to expect on the farm itself. Would we see fish with lice,

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would it be obvious if marine har rest were to blame? Steve showed us

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some fish, anaesthetise them and prove his fish were clean of lice.

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What we are looking for here are any signs of lice on the fish. And,

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there don't appear to be. That's good. Very good. They are beautiful

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looking fish. We saw no lice. Steve says that us a's because lice

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levels are monitored and a range of chemical treatments is used to

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remove them if worrying numbers are found. If you came to the farm and

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you sea saw a will the of lice on the fish that would be a different

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matter. They work with nearby farms and wild fish groups to reduce lice

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and share some information. Can an operation this big really claim

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it's having no impact on the wild r environment? We are farming in

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nature. So, we can't say that we're not having an impact. It's knowing

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how much of an impact we've got I think it would be wrong to say,

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well, we don't know, we don't really like this, but we think you

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should go out of the loch. We don't think that is a reason for moving.

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Campaigners say the industry may not be admitting the scale of the

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problem. That's because sea lice levels are monitored by the

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companies themselves and information about how many lice are

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found on each farm isn't published. To the wild fish lobby, that is

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like asking the fish farmers to be poachers and gamekeepers at the

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same time. I think, if there was an issue on a farm, and there have

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been issues in the past, there is no getting away from that, I think

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it is important that we do have external, auditors, inspectors to

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look at the farm. I'm sure they would want to do that in any case.

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It is important. The staff here keep a close eye on their fish. The

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government does check up on the farms. Are they doing enough? We

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have used the Freedom of Information system to find out

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about those inspections. In the last three years, inspectors almost

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always simply looked at paperwork, rather than doing their own lice

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counts. They only counted lice themselves on about one in 20

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visits. Campaigners say that is pretty much self-regulation. If

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campaigners are right and the industry could be hiding the scale

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of the problem, what is the worst that could happen? There is

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We have come to Norway. A country whose fish farming industry dwarves

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that of Scotland. We are told things here are very different from

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back home. In what way? That is what we have come to find out. The

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Norwegian salmon industry is the biggest in the world, six or seven

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times bigger than ours. Recently the impact on wild fish has become

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a major political issue. I arranged to meet the Norwegian Environment

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Minister. It's not just his casual attire that differs from what I've

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seen in Scotland. Thank you for having us. Is there any doubt in

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your mind, and the mind of the Norwegian government, there is a

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link between sea lice and fish farms and sea lice and the wild

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population? No. I mean, we do not consider this is a scientific issue,

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scientists believe there is a connection. They have to take

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political action on the basis of science. I cannot invent science,

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that would be very wrong. How would you characterise where the fish

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farming industry is in Norway at the moment? Moving step-by-step in

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the right direction. What I normally tell the sea farming

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industry is that they should take lessons from what other industries,

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like chemical industries or aluminium industries did in the

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1970s, stop denying that there is a problem and spend all their time

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solving the problem. I wanted to find out what had driven the

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minister to a view that was out of step with what the industry in

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Scotland had told me. That meant an early start the next day on the

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other side of Norway. We are in Hardangerfjord, which is the fjord

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holding the highest density of fish farms in the whole world. They are

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all closed down for fishing. That's because wild stocks have all but

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disappeared. We travel to Granton, a village that had once depended on

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fishing. We met a man whose life had been bound up with the river

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from childhood, whose way of life had been lost. The whole community

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started living by the start of the fishing season in the river. And,

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the early catch of like 4,000 kilos. In this short river. This is a

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river that's probably, I think, it's like three kilometers long.

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Great capacity. Great production of You have not fished this river in

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how long? In 15 years. Why? Sorry. I am not able to tell you how it

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was. You would have to experience it. You won't believe me if I tell

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you. It means there is a whole generation now, more than a

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generation... May be two. And they have grown up thinking that the

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river as it is now is normal. You constantly have to remind

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yourself that, despite the stunning scenery here, there is a widespread

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belief that what lies beneath is an environmental catastrophe.

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cannot show you industrial pollution or anything like that.

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This is a slow death beneath the surface. The scientists can prove

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that this is a disaster. Norwegian government has responded

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to these concerns. Now farmers have to report weekly lice figures and

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farms can be forced to slaughter their fish if levels are

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persistently high. Anyone can see statistics from any individual farm,

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in stark contrast to Scotland. The Norwegian government is even

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thinking of banning fishing in certain areas. That is at least in

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part because Norwegian trout like these ones face a new problem. In

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2009 there was an outbreak of lice which scientists believe was caused

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by them becoming resistant to the chemicals used to kill them. The

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implications are huge. Potentially it could mean that farmers could

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not do anything to control infestation of their fish and wild

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ones nearby. Back in Scotland, the key question was: His resistance

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happening here? By one of our great salmon rivers, the Tate, I arranged

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to meet a man who speaks for the industry here. We are regulated by

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the Environmental Protection agency, SEPA. They keep a close eye on what

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is going on in the industry, as did the Fish Health Inspectorate. The

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reports are open to all to see. They are regularly reported on and

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are regularly inspected. industry body says there is no

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significant problem. On our travels around Scotland, rumours of Purse -

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- resistance persisted. We wanted to find out how big a problem it

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was so we submitted a detailed Freedom of Information request of

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our own. Some of the answers were very interesting indeed. When we

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asked a Government, we found notes of private discussions between

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Government officials and drug In another document relating to the

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Veterinary Medicines Directorate, That sounds like the Government

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knows it is not being told everything. Guy Linley-Adams is a

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lawyer. He has been hired by campaigners. He has discovered no

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single body here is recording all the instances where resistance is

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happening. If we're getting resistance sea lice we need to know

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where the populations of those are. If it does spread, you will get

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multiple resistance in sea lice and you could have this awful scenario

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with farms having huge burdens of sea lice.

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And it could have even more worrying effect. I have a

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Government report that we have obtained that says that regulators

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are explaining the UN -- investigating the unexplained death

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of 6,000 fish on a farm at Hoganess in Shetland. We contacted us

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sources identity we cannot reveal who has direct knowledge of

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Hoganess and the industry more widely. He told us that resistance

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to medicines is a real problem and some farmers have been turning to

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illegal pesticides. We have been passed any male which it is claimed

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was written by a concerned member of staff and which was sent to

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management early in September of Staff are clearly worried and we

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know that chemicals banned from using the marine environment were

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seized from a boat at a farm. The company told us it took the

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allegations, including the e-mail, seriously and were investigating.

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Due to a confusion about which part of the law covers this area, the

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company will not face any consequences. The minister in

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charge, who is working on a new bill on aquaculture, agree to meet

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me. His resistance an issue that you recognise as being a problem in

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Scotland? At the moment, there is not evidence of resistance to the

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various treatments that there are. Some other countries have found

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that there is resistance if you continuously used the same

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treatment. Do you not think we are in roughly the same position as

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with sea lice in a hall, namely that the Scottish Government does

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not know how big the problem of resistance is because, as it says

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here, some fish farms are holding back from telling you? I think we

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have a pretty clear idea of where these problems have historically

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been. In any event, if there is a difficulty that is affecting one

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fish farm, I think there is a certain pressure in the industry

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for bat farm to deal with it because, of course, if one part of

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the industry is showing poor performance, that affects the

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marketability of all products. you know what is going on with fish

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farms, how come we the public cannot find out about it? We cannot

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find out what is happening farm by farm. If we were in or we could

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find it on the wet. That is a good point. I have discussed it with

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Norwegian ministers and Norwegian fish farming interests. We have

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pose the question of whether there is adverse effect through public

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disclosure of information. We should be looking at that in

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Scotland and it will be part of what we expect to consult on in the

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aquaculture bill. There is nothing to fear from disclosure of

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information that we believe tells a good story about our industry.

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are also looking at marine protected areas. To what extent

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might that extent, perhaps adding areas where there is no fish-

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farming? We will consult on that. Could we see a position, as in

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Norway, where fish farming is not allowed to protect wild fish

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stocks? Everything is open for discussion. We have to have the

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consultation and you have to understand what the effects of

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different options would be. That was quite surprising. There

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was a quick look -- a commitment to greater transparency so that we,

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the public, can find out more about what is going on in fish farms. And

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there was agreement on the idea of having areas where fish farming is

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banned completely. It looks like we are not the only people who have

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learned from what is going on in Norway.

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Some people have taken matters into their own hands. I have come to the

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Isle of Lewis to meet Peter Urpeth. A fish farm was proposed here at

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Broad Bay but locals object to because they were worried about the

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impact on the wild fish coming up this river, the Gress. You went

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into this campaign to try to stop this fish farm being developed.

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Did you expect to win? No. There is a presumption in favour that these

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things are good. They are fishing in the river is

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owned by local people and, in a first, the council he rejected the

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application, at least in part because of advice from government

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agencies that a farm would not have an impact on wild fish. The local

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authority here scrutinised that and looked at the new evidence we

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presented and came to the conclusion, which I think what --

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which I think was unique, that the link is there, is proven and

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undeniable. I think that has huge implications for the future of fish

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farming and planning for Scotland. When you look out here, this cannot

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be undone if it is damaged. Once it is gone it is gone. So there will

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be no fish farm here in Broad Bay. While the refusal of planning

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permission is remarkable enough, what is even more remarkable is the

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way the campaigners think they won. They won by winning the scientific

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argument. The firm that wanted to build a farm was the Scottish

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Salmon Company. You are not concerned that it might set a

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precedent? Not at all. Were you surprised by what the Government

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scientists had to say about the proposed development? I don't

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really know what the Government scientist said about the proposed

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development. What I do know and what we're doing is for kissing in

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on salmon farming within their Hebrides. We created 75 jobs when

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we opened a process facility last year. It was a �4 million

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investment. We have and use site at so -- at Loch Eport.

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Consumers may be facing a battle on a new front. Guy Linley-Adams has

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his eye on what retailers are doing. He knew that some supermarkets were

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selling salmon that was described as responsibly sourced. That took

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in concerns about siting farms butt we have been out shopping but this

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is not a scientific sample. There are some supermarket chains that do

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not make any kind of claims about their salmon at all. Let's have a

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look at these three bagfuls and see what we have got. Right, Tesco

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responsibly farmed. That sounds good. They are warm words. It gives

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the impression that they have done something right. No-one would claim

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to irresponsibly Falla anything, would they? Sainsbury's tells you

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the loch that it comes from. Loch Linnhe has problems because of its

0:25:370:25:45

salmon farms. It is a long, narrow loch. Salmon reared to the highest

0:25:450:25:47

welfare standards with care to the environment. That doesn't really

0:25:470:25:53

tell you what they're doing. We sent a member of our production

0:25:530:25:57

team to talk to fishmongers in the supermarkets to see if they could

0:25:570:26:02

shed any more light on the matter. The first was Sainsbury's. They are

0:26:020:26:06

by far the most helpful. The woman came out from behind the counter

0:26:060:26:10

and showed me through the various packaged fish and explain the

0:26:100:26:16

labelling. At the end she said, I cannot give you categorically

0:26:160:26:26
0:26:260:26:27

assure you that our fish comes from farms. -- from farms that meet

0:26:270:26:33

certain standards. Waitrose assured me that the only source the very

0:26:330:26:38

best. I asked if I could be certain that there fish was not interfering

0:26:380:26:45

with wild stocks. He said yes. At Tesco, no-one was behind the

0:26:450:26:50

counter and I had to wait for five minutes. Someone from another

0:26:500:26:54

counter came to speak to me and asked me to come back in 20 minutes.

0:26:540:27:00

I came back and waited around again but there was no sign of anyone.

0:27:000:27:04

Having visited these stores, are you any less confused than you

0:27:040:27:13

work? No. It is a fairly mixed message. The women at Sainsbury's

0:27:130:27:17

seemed to me, as a consumer, the one he knew most.

0:27:170:27:21

Tesco said it complied with the law when choosing farm sites and that

0:27:210:27:26

it has created a code of good practice on earth farming,

0:27:260:27:35

including measures on lice. Sainsbury's said: We recognise that

0:27:350:27:39

there could be lice impact on while fish but our actions and work with

0:27:390:27:44

suppliers aim to keep impact to a minimum. Our producers have

0:27:440:27:49

structured lice treatment plans and we have jointly funded controls

0:27:490:27:53

tournament -- to minimise further impact.

0:27:530:27:57

Waitrose said it did insist that farms are not sighted at the mouths

0:27:570:28:01

of rivers used by wild fish but admitted that claim on its website

0:28:010:28:04

that farms were far from many natural salmon rivers was not

0:28:050:28:09

strictly accurate. They also said they would contact the branch we

0:28:090:28:14

visited to clarify the firm's position with staff. Science cannot

0:28:140:28:18

yet answer the question of whether fish-farming is causing an

0:28:180:28:23

environmental disaster. The results are not all-in. Such results as we

0:28:230:28:29

have a very hotly-contested. Serious questions have been raised.

0:28:290:28:33

Kenneth Macdonald investigates claims that fish farming is responsible for a possible environmental disaster threatening Scotland's iconic wild salmon. The industry is a major contributor to the Scottish economy - generating hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue. But some say that problems caused by farms are destroying valuable stocks of wild salmon and sea trout in Scottish lochs and rivers. This investigation reveals new evidence and looks at the science behind the claims.


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