One sided

Wild salmon

A new podcast on the future of wild salmon features numerous guests, but only one narrow viewpoint, argues Dr Martin Jaffa.

Aquaculture UK at Aviemore was a celebration of the aquaculture sector and especially the Scottish salmon farming industry. However, not everyone is keen to applaud salmon farming, especially those from the wild salmon sector.

The Last Salmon is a podcast hosted by “renowned actor Jim Murray and award-winning producer Daire Whelan” which is claimed to offer hope and solutions to the tragic story that is unfolding for this iconic species.

Sadly, the majority of the 11 episodes are nothing but an attack on the salmon farming sector. Each episode features a special guest or guests who are encouraged to talk about the perils of salmon farming for wild salmon.

In the episode featuring Alexandra Morton, Jim and Daire begin by saying that “the whole point of this podcast is to get people talking, to get people discussing Atlantic salmon and if we are going to ‘prod a few bears’ with the odd guest with contentious opinion then so be it”.

Yet, the podcast is only interested in one side of the story; that from the angler’s perspective and thus any hope for the future of this species will be extremely limited. Despite offers to provide another view, Jim Murray doesn’t think that, for his intended audience, having someone appear from the salmon farming sector would be a great fit. This is because his views on salmon farming come from an extremely restricted knowledge base. It is only necessary to look at the qualifications of some of his guests, especially those with an opinion on salmon farming, to understand the narrative.

Guests include: Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and angler; Jesper Pääkkőnen, actor and angler; Alexandra Morton, salmon scientist and activist; Matt Harris, angler, activist, photographer; Mikael Frődin, angler, guide and activist; Elvar Friőriksson, North Atlantic Salmon Fund and angler; Dominic West, actor and angler (although he has yet to appear); Paul Whitehouse, actor and activist; and Simen Saetre, co-author of the Patagonia-published book The New Fish.

The Last Salmon podcast

The Last Salmon podcast

The reason that the angling sector has such a negative view of salmon farming is, of course, down to the fact that they only hear their own view. It is a view that developed in the early 1980s and has never changed although the understanding of what is happening to wild salmon has much improved since then.

What is more concerning is that Mr Murray is not just an actor and now podcaster, but also an ambassador for the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Angling Trust. Clearly, these organisations are happy to involve people with extremely blinkered views. However, my experience with the Atlantic Salmon Trust is that even this supposed science-based organisation isn’t interested in discussing any science except their own science.

There is far too much to cover from over 11 hours of podcast, so I am just focusing on one episode. This features Mikael Frődin, someone I have come across in person. The podcast describes Mikael as a Swedish salmon maestro who used to fish 250 days each season in his younger days but as well as being an expert angler, he is an ardent conservationist who says he will never stop fighting for the wild salmon.

Mr Frődin attended the London premiere of the Patagonia film Artifishal in which he appeared. He sat on the panel along with Corin Smith and Andrew Graham Stewart and to my shame I never asked any questions. I had been stopped at the door with a request to desist from speaking out which I agreed to in exchange for a meeting with Patagonia. Sadly, Patagonia reneged on this agreement, although later their European manager agreed to speak to me on the phone, but he wasn’t interested in the slightest in hearing what I might have to say.

Mikael Frődin said on the podcast that it’s obvious that the biggest threat to wild salmon is from fish farming. He came into public awareness because he swam out to a salmon pen in Norway to take photos. He was sued by the farming company as he contravened the Norwegian Aquaculture Act preventing anyone moving within 20 metres of a pen. The case received a great deal of publicity as did Mr Frődin. It doesn’t seem to matter that he has done little else against salmon farming since as he continues to ride on that wave of publicity.

In the podcast, he says that if every salmon farm was taken out of the water, then within two decades, the salmon population will fully recover, but if the salmon industry is allowed to continue then within two decades, then all wild salmon will be gone. He says that the answer is to get all salmon farms into closed containment.

Mr Frődin reaches his conclusion from his experience in Norway where salmon farming can be found across almost all the coastline. In Scotland, the east coast rivers are free of salmon farming although some critics say that the decline on east coast rivers seen since 2011 is due to the fact that salmon smolts migrate north past salmon farms in Orkney and Shetland. Yet, prior to 2011, the east coast rivers were having their most fruitful years, and no-one suggested then that Orkney and Shetland farms were causing problems. These east coast rivers are now seriously under threat and blaming salmon farming will not stop the declines.

Removing salmon farms will not make any difference to wild salmon stocks, not just in the east but also in the west. This is because salmon farms are not the problem. The latest catch statistics published mid-May certainly don’t give any hope for a recovery of the Loch Maree sea trout fishery even though the farm in Loch Ewe closed three years ago.

Sadly it has proved impossible to correct any of the misconceptions spread by this podcast. Jim Murray sees any attempt to challenge his narrative about salmon farming as the work of an industry with a highly paid publicity machine that is ready to bend the truth to suit its own cause.

Podcasts are an extremely useful platform to provide open discussion of the issues but when that discussion simply becomes an echo chamber of unproven views, then all they are doing is hastening the prophecy of the last salmon.

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