In last month’s edition of Fish Farmer, you will have seen a report on the serious decline of wild salmon, not just on the West Coast of Scotland as it was previously mooted.

I describe it that way because there are too many statistics challenging the notion that the coasts are fundamentally different. There never was a clear case for that theory. I have spent many fruitless hours over the years arguing with a good number of the leading lights of the wild salmonid crowd. Having never believed the sea lice theory, I would ask them so many questions that they simply couldn’t answer, such as:

  • How come the declines on each coast match?
  • Why does the River Polla on the North coast not fit the pattern if the salmon travel up the West coast as suggested?
  • Why is the decline so patchy on the West coast and often where salmon farming does not occur?
  • If the problem is so severe why not stop fishing on the West coast for 10 years and give the fish a chance?
  • How will you ever recover these rivers if you refuse to use their own wild stock in a restocking program like the Carron?

In every single way, any response or positive action was blocked. The argument was always that it was someone else’s fault. Whatever was suggested was ignored because the blinkers which blamed salmon farming were on. We were to blame and no piece of science which conflicted with that view was allowed.

Genetic studies were ignored, statistical analysis rejected, and any anomalies dismissed, unless they supported the theory that salmon farming was to blame. In truth, at the end of a number of these arguments I lost my cool and pointed out that the whole response was emotional, not logical. I used to point out that these people had a romantic conception about salmon as “the king of fish” and could not bear the idea of it being farmed. Few argued I was wrong. There were a few other culprits, they admitted, that might have had a small effect. The netting was removed from many rivers, allowing huge colonies of seals to build up in the estuaries. Some discussion occurred about the impact of forestry and nitrification. Occasionally more abstruse things like road salt cropped up, but generally the decline was the fish farmers’ fault.

Now these loud-mouthed critics have to answer a much more basic question: why has the decline on the East coast been so terrible? They cannot blame this on us however hard they try. So come on guys, let’s see your mettle. After being wrong for so long, with no answers as to why the decline has occurred, maybe some of you could actually do the decent thing and resign, to allow people with differing views and a willingness for dialogue to step in. In any other industry, having got it wrong consistently for decades, the people responsible for policy would either fall on their swords or an Ides of March would occur. How can the wild salmonid industry defend its appalling record in protecting the species they make so much so much noise about caring for?

Will they now change tack before it’s too late? How about an even riskier strategy of talking with people who know how to look after salmon and grow them? They might even find that our industry is willing or even keen to help them return their fisheries to their heyday.

What might surprise the wild lobby is that a lot of us who came into this industry so long ago have a deep love of, and interest in, fish. I know personally that I would love to see the salmon and sea trout returning as they used to, but for that to happen there has to be serious change at the top of the wild salmonid lobby. Don’t hold your breath!


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Fish Farmer magazine June 2024 cover

The June 2024 issue of Fish Farmer magazine is out now online