A GROUP of MSPs from the Rural Economy and Connectivity committee visited salmon farming operations on the west coast yesterday, as part of an ongoing inquiry into the industry in Scotland.
The five politicians also met anglers during the day-long tour, and heard about the ground-breaking work of a hatchery using genetic profiling to restock salmon rivers.
Committee convenor Edward Mountain, Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, was joined by John Mason (SNP, Glasgow Shettleston), Peter Chapman (Con, North East Scotland), Richard Lyle (SNP, Uddingston and Bellshill) and Jamie Greene (Con West Scotland).
The committee’s deputy convenor, Gail Ross (SNP, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross), toured a Marine Harvest site in a separate visit last month.
The whole committee meets tomorrow morning for the penultimate session of its salmon farming inquiry, when it will hear evidence from producers.
Yesterday, the MSPs were shown around Marine Harvest’s Gorsten site in Loch Linnhe, where they learnt how the fish are fed and how nets are cleaned, as well as discussing seal deterrent measures, according to John Mason’s twitter account.
Before that, they had seen Marine Harvest’s state of the art Lochailort recirculation hatchery, opened in 2013 and with capacity for 11 million salmon. They heard how water is cleaned and re-used as smolts are prepared for sea pens.
Mason tweeted: ‘Never seen so many eggs or fish in one place. And very nice salmon for lunch!’
Earlier in the day, the committee members were taken to the River Lochy, where they met local fishery stakeholders, including ghillies, local club anglers and local fishery biologists.
They then heard about the ground breaking work of Drimsallie hatchery in Lochaber, where a project is underway to replenish Highland rivers with wild stocks.
Mason tweeted: ‘Much discussion on whether salmon farms are a major cause of wild fish depletion.’
Marine Harvest’s business support manager Steve Bracken said: ‘We were very pleased they had taken the time to come and visit, not just the Lochy Drimsallie hatchery, but Lochailort recirculation hatchery and Gorsten sea farm. I think they would have had a good overview of the relationship between wild fisheries in the Lochaber area and ourselves.
‘It was a great opportunity for them to ask lots of questions, which they did, and we hope they felt that the whole visit was useful. It was also very good to have Dave Cockerill, the vet from the Scottish Salmon Company, and Rebecca Dean, head of sustainability at the SSC, joining us as well.’
The Drimsallie hatchery is using genetic profiling for the first time in Scotland as part of a wild fisheries management operation, backed by the Ness and Beauly Fisheries Trust, Marine Harvest and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, as well as Scottish and Southern Energy.
And the Press and Journal reported today that the first hatchery reared eggs from the Upper Garry Salmon Restoration Project have been stocked into the river by the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board.
Wild River Garry salmon smolts were captured as they made the journey downstream to the sea in spring and were then grown on to maturity at the Drimsallie Salmon Hatchery. Advanced genetic profiling ensured the fish used in the project are of the ‘correct’ stock.
Because salmon numbers are so low, the eggs of smolts are being planted in the river in a four-year bid to kick-start the salmon population.
Chris Conroy, director of the Ness board, told the P&J: ‘We’ve introduced 23,500 eggs across eight sites this year and we’ll be stocking up to 150,000 eggs each year for the next three years.’
Tomorrow’s REC committee is in Committee Room 2 at the Scottish parliament, from 9am. Giving evidence are Ben Hadfield, managing director of Marine Harvest Scotland, Craig Anderson, CEO of the Scottish Salmon Company, Grant Cumming, managing director of Grieg Seafood, Stewart Graham, group managing director of Gael Force Group, and Scott Landsburgh of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation.
Next week (May 9), Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, will be the final witness before the committee.
(live on Scottish Parliament TV)
Picture: Jon Gibb, of the Lochaber District Salmon Fishery Board, talks to the MSPs at the River Lochy