SCOTLAND’S largest angling organisation has been accused of selling its green principles down the river after it emerged it has taken money from a corporate fish farming firm.
The Scottish Anglers National Association (SANA) has confirmed it has agreed a sponsorship deal, thought to be worth £12,000, with the Scottish Salmon Company (SSC).
The revelation has sparked outrage among members and has prompted one angling club, and a former SANA president, to resign from the Scottish Government-recognised body.
Many anglers claim industrial fish farming is having a devastating impact on wild salmon populations and that pesticides used by firms are polluting Scotland’s sea lochs.
SANA’s own website confirms its Migratory Fish Committee is committed to “campaigning against certain activities of the Scotland’s west coast marine salmon farming industry in the belief that these are endangering wild migratory stocks and the environment.”
However, this did not prevent trustees of the national governing body for game angling from agreeing a three-year sponsorship deal, understood to be worth a total of £12,000, with SSC for SANA’s International Youth Fly Fishing Team.
Bruce Sandison, the angling author, journalist and environmental campaigner, claimed the decision to accept the money was shameful.
He said: “SANA is the government-appointed representative body of game angling in Scotland where our West Highlands and Islands wild salmon and sea trout populations are being driven remorselessly to extinction by diseases and pollution from fish farms.
“What hope do those of us striving to end this nightmare have when those who should be on our side join the enemy? Shame on you SANA.”
David MacDonald, who acted as president of SANA for three years in the 1990s, revealed his disquiet over the deal has convinced him to reluctantly sever his long-standing ties with the organisation.
He said: “In my day it was always very, very difficult to make the books balance.
“However, as cash-strapped as we were, we would never have thought of approaching the Scottish salmon producers, or any individual fish farm, for finance because we recognised the damage they were doing. We should be guardians of our wildlife and, above all, we should be protecting our indigenous wild fish.”
The secretary of Stonehaven and District Angling Association felt his concern was shared by many other anglers.
He said: “We discussed this at committee level at our club and came to the conclusion that we could no longer support SANA. We withdrew our corporate membership and I have withdrawn my individual membership.”
The veteran angler stressed he would rejoin if the deal with SSC was terminated and an appropriate alternative sponsor could be found.
Perthshire-based Fly Fishing & Fly Tying magazine, claimed the issue was generating considerable controversy.
Assistant editor Stuart Letford said: “Is it really appropriate that the national governing body for game angling in Scotland accepts support from an industry which is actually damaging fishing in Scotland?
“Communities up and down the country are rejecting these polluters, most recently in Islay where the community there forced SSC to withdraw its plans for a fish farm at two sites. We think the SANA board should hang its collective head in shame.”
However, SANA president David Ogg insisted the sponsorship deal with SSC was solely to help meet the costs of the youth fly fishing team and there were no strings attached. He said: “I am content to defend the position while still recognising that in an ideal world this would not be a favoured source of sponsorship.
“I would challenge those who are unhappy with the SSC providing sponsorship to come up with an alternative with which we would all be more comfortable.
“There can be no question of buying influence here and SANA will continue to campaign unfettered as our environmental committees see fit.
“I understand how this may be seen as a conflict of interests, but I disagree wholeheartedly that it is so.”
Ogg acknowledged the issue had generated “strong feelings” and confirmed it would be discussed at the association’s AGM in March.
He added: “I could not look a parent of a member of the youth team in the eye were the SANA board to direct that this sponsorship is declined.”
Farmed salmon is Scotland’s single-largest food export and last year the industry was worth £540 million. Production has increased from 14 tonnes in 1971 to 154,000 tonnes in 2010. The industry employs about 1,800 people directly and another 6,200 in related industries.
SSC, which is registered as being based in Jersey and is listed on the Norwegian stock exchange, describes itself as the “leading independent producer of Scottish salmon”.
Stewart McLelland, the chief operating officer, said: “I am shocked that there is opposition to young fishermen being given the chance to compete.
“The funding we provide to the team supports them in the many costs associated with being part of the Scottish team. It is sad that out of something positive, an unnecessary negative angle becomes the focus.”
He added: “The Scottish Salmon Company has award-winning levels of environmental stewardship and we are continuously monitoring our sites to ensure we are protecting the environment.”