NO doubt we shall soon learn, if we haven’t already, what the salmon farming industry managed to do with the 13,000 tonnes of diseased fish it killed last year – almost double the 2011 total.
We can accept that probably they didn’t all die at once, so getting rid of a few tonnes at a time is not like trying to shift a year’s supply at once. Still, it’s a lot of fish – about 8.5 million or 10 per cent of the Scottish salmon farming industry output.
In some ways, I am inclined to rejoice because it strongly suggests that if the industry goes around losing 10 per cent of its production, it is not going to last very much longer.
With the fish cages removed from the West Highlands and islands we may see the return of wild salmon and sea trout to the rivers and lochs. As things stand, the wild fish continue to be eaten alive by plagues of sea lice that emanate from the fish cages anchored, too often, in the migratory routes. The industry is nothing, if not innovative, in its attempts to keep on top of the disease problem. It will probably devise a method of feeding rotting fish into biomass power plants and charge us for the resultant electricity, while picking up wind farm-sized subsidies. To presume the industry will fold and take its disease somewhere else is probably wishful thinking.
Last year’s disasters were a result of the relatively new (to fish farms) amoebic gill disease, brought on, it is thought, by a combination of natural factors: lack of rainfall leading to increased salinity in the water combined, with increased water temperatures. It may, or may not, be repeated in future. Who knows? That’s the problem. No-one does.
Some of the anti-fish-farm lobby led by tangle-haired eco-warrior Don Staniford want every cage dragged into the north Atlantic and sunk. No fish farms – full stop. His website www.gaaia.org/fishyleaks is awash with all sorts of damning information, gleaned largely from official documents.
The pragmatists, made up by most of the West Coast salmon river boards and trusts who have seen their wild fish and anglers disappear, are going about things the “proper way”. They are amassing enough presentable scientific evidence to ensure that if fish farms are to be located anywhere, they will be put in places out of harm’s way.
I suspect disease will, in the end, do the job for everyone. And the cocktail of chemicals increasingly required to stave off disease will make even the Scottish government queasy. We shall be left with a few niche producers of high-value luxury Scottish salmon. And the wild fish will return. Possibly.