The nation’s favourite fish

Nick Joy plus cartoon

By Nick Joy

I may be suffering a little bit, not as you may think from overindulgence for a change but because I went for a long hill walk with friends on New Year’s Day (suffering from the effects of overindulgence).

So today my old bones are feeling rather sore from reminding myself just how beautiful Scotland is. The outcome is that when I sat down to write my article, my brain refused to kick into its normal gear.

In a moment of madness, I decided that I would Google “farmed salmon” to see if it gave me any inspiration. If there is anything more maddening than seeing a bunch of well-meaning know-nothings lecturing everyone on the standards they perceive in the world, I don’t know what it is.

Of course, the first two pages of the search were full of: “Is farmed salmon, ethical or sustainable?”

Which would have been interesting if they had the slightest interest in actually discussing those issues or even understanding what they are talking about. Instead, every page is full of lectures on the perceived poor behaviour of salmon farmers. I should mention that the Global Salmon Initiative does get a look-in but its gentle headline doesn’t butt in amongst the screamers.

Maybe they should try some of these headlines:
• Do all mainstream media journalists lie about salmon farming?
• Can the world actually do without salmon farming?
• Would we be better plundering the seas than farming fish?
• Are most marine biology departments in universities full
of idiots?

Now before all the marine biologists in the industry start writing to me to protest, let me say that I would answer “no” to that question – but I would want to debate it. Trust me, no journalist will ever come back at me on the first one, not in the mainstream media. Truth has long gone from that industry if it was ever there. The point, of course, is that I really enjoy debating with people who have the opposite view to me. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to disagree, as long as we start by agreeing that we are all human and we have a right to our views.

A friend of mine, who spent New Year with us, is rather high up in a quango in Scotland. This organisation claims to be reasonable and has a clear view of the countryside. On many occasions, my friend has asked me about salmon farming and how I would answer this or that criticism. He has always maintained a reasonable and open view, and I have enjoyed explaining and pointing out anomalies in his arguments. He has on several occasions asked me if I would come and talk with this organisation but each time when he discusses it in the office, they will not countenance the idea that someone should disabuse them of their prejudice.

This is all too prevalent in our civil service as well, partly because of the likes of the campaigning organisation Common Purpose, but also from a general feeling of superiority, which has become prevalent. We can no longer influence thinking in our civil service because “they know better”. Neither the quango nor the civil service want to be challenged in any way.

Having vented my spleen sufficiently at our industry’s perennial problem, perhaps it would be better to spend a little time on the future. New Year is a time of hope and dreams so I will look forward and hope for better times. The Marine Conservation Society, with whom I have worked on many occasions, start their piece on salmon with: “There’s a saying in the seafood industry: the West eats cod, the East eats mackerel and everyone eats salmon.”

The article continues: “Did you know that farmed salmon produces a fraction of the carbon generated by the beef industry?

The carbon footprint for farmed salmon is 2.9 carbon equivalents per kilogram of edible product, compared to as much as 30 for cattle.”

So it is possible for an environmental organisation to actually have a reasoned view and make balanced comments. It’s just so rare but it gives me hope.

Maybe we could try to find as many environmental organisations that are open-minded and work with them to get a more balanced view. I certainly tried in my time but I also worked with the wild lobby and that didn’t work out too well!

Anyway, I wish you all a prosperous and successful 2024. The world will never be worse for having dreamers who hope for more sensible and reasonable times.

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Fish Farmer February 2024 cover, net pens in winter with snow

The February 2024 issue of Fish Farmer is out now online