Look This Salmon In the Eye Then Ask Your MSP to Ask Questions During the Parliamentary Debate on Salmon Farming (6th Feb 2019)

Look into the eye of a salmon, get eye to eye, then ask yourself, do you want this king of fish, this iconic species, this muscular adventurer of the high seas, so symbolic of the former magnificence of our oceans to become the stuff of myth?  Do we want our rivers leaping with these masterful silvery creatures to become a distant memory lost in the mists of time?

Large scale industrial salmon farms cannot be blamed for the loss of all wild salmon and sea trout on the west coast but they do have a lot to answer for. We need Parliament to demand reform before any more expansion. The Parliamentary Committees said “the status quo is not an option”. …Yet we still need answers to many unanswered and in some cases un-asked questions. This is a duty of care.

If you have no time to read on then skip to the bottom of this blog for the questions we want our MSPs to ask Ministers. We want research on salmon farm impacts as well as innovation. We want a culture where scientists are able to seek the truth and be listened to by politicians,  even if it is not what politicians want to hear. We want more answers. But we do not want what appears to be industry capture of our Government by Norwegian Salmon Farmers. We need everyone who will listen to understand how close to the edge things are in the sea,  and ask their MSPs to stand for change…

Words fail at the suffering of these caged and magnificent creatures,  looking to humans for their care.  I’d not want to give the impression that all fish in cages suffer like the fish above – or all fish farmers are as negligent, that would be unfair to those that do their best. I’d also like to point out that the opinion in this blog is mine – for it seems to me that this poor salmon’s suffering is not only real – it is symbolic. It reflects back at us how something essential in us has died as a culture, how our inner worlds have become separated from nature, and some at least have severed their empathetic connection to our fellow creatures. This disconnection underpins the mistreatment of animals  as and for  ‘supermarket product’. Not just animals but the ecosystem as a whole.

This magical fish of folklore, so central to Scotland’s natural history is telling us something. Look in its eye.  I feel shame as I imagine a possible future situation in which the salmons wonderous former existence is recounted in reverent whispers at the bedsides of children. In hushed tones a cautionary tale is shared of how our blindness lost this silver beauty from the west coast. On our watch.

Industrial scale fish farming is a symptom of a deeper problem and not the root cause. The root cause is what I think of as separation consciousness. Theories suggest that as human consciousness evolved  we yearned to transcend our mortality and Nature and the fear this creates.  Seeking a way to transcend the fear of our embodied separation we attempted to reach for the stars – seeking transcendence – producing a great flowering of mind-propelled technological innovation, manifesting as rockets and starships and satellites. Yet now this separation consciousness needs to be married back to the earth and our hearts so we can embrace the Natural world as part of ourselves once more.

This poor fish’s suffering reflects back at us the trouble we are in. As well as our own imbalance.   We need to wake up to how our fates are entangled, not just for the salmons sake but for ours too. We need to remember we are Nature.  The salmon’s suffering is a mirror on our damaged collective soul. Ironically the consciousness of separation which made our culture so brilliant, is also the root of fear, disconnection and competition. What is so great about us is also ironically what is so destructive. We need to re-remember we are part of this great entangled ball of biology spinning in the cosmos. We need to evolve – get balanced – and either the consciousness of our politicians needs to change or we need to change our politicians!


Sea Change have asked our MSPs in the Highlands to use the debate in Parliament to ask some really searching questions of our Ministers and to hold them to account publiclyOur hope is this debate will put real teeth in to the reform recommended by the ECCLR & REC committees in their reports.

People are increasingly gathering to protest at the number of new salmon farms being proposed within our inshore waters and so these reforms are urgently needed.

In Wester Ross Marine Protected Area alone, Scottish Sea Farms propose a large salmon farm at Horse Island and possibly a larger farm adjacent to Tanera Island. These are both in the Summer Isles Archipelago at the heart of Wester Ross Marine Protected Area and will impact prime creel ground. Sea Change voted as a group to oppose new or expanded farms within the MPA but we never expected to have to oppose such large developments within a marine protected area set up to protect one of the most sensitive species in the sea. Nor potentially more salmon farms close to the MPAs borders.

 Our Ministers seem to be sending out very mixed messages about their commitment to reform as well as to ‘protected areas’.  This seems especially wrong considering the parliamentary committees examining the state of salmon farms said “the status quo is not an option.” A gap is emerging between what is happening on the ground and the speed of reform. We hope this debate might help close that. Please see the  questions below which we want asked. (We hope other people and groups will ask their MSPs too)

In Achiltibuie the local creel fishermen have stated their opposition to these farms at the Coigach Community Council meeting and Scottish Sea Farms are fully aware of this opposition.  Many anglers and Wild Fish groups are opposed too. Sea Change Wester Ross support these protests fully, but we are also a voice for the wider ecosystem, (particularly priority marine feature’s like maerl which support many fisheries). We also want the true socio-economic cost of salmon farms on jobs to be properly calculated. 

Jobs are wanted thats for certain, but the question is what kind of jobs does our country want?  You can only have jobs that destroy the environment for a certain amount of time. Then there’s no more environment to destroy and no more jobs. 

Sea Change produced a socio-economic report on the proposed Horse Island salmon farm as a case study,  conducted with support from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation. Our study found that there was no certainty of a net gain in jobs coming from these farms. Setting the creel fishermen’s protest aside, many other people  involved in tourism, angling, those who own holiday homes, or residents concerned about the impact on the recovery of the marine protected area as a whole, or the impacts on visiting and resident cetaceans, have all expressed opposition.  

Most importantly we also question the legality of the proposed developments. The film below shows that the proposed farm would be just 250m from the most intact maerl bed we know of in the Marine Protected Area.  The MPA was set up to “recover” mearl. Please see Horse Island & The Pink Seaweed :

The film was made by Sea Change in collaboration with: 

The North Minch Shellfish Association, 

The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, 

The Scallop Divers Association

Wester Ross Salmon Fishery’s Board. 

You will note the film mentions the maerl within the Marine Protected Area could already be “stressed. We are currently planning surveys to revisit this maerl which has algae growing on it in order to try to discover more about what is causing it. A marine scientist who first observed this algae in the Summer Isles during a survey, thinks it may be stressed due to the extra nutrients from the salmon farm near Tanera and Fada. There is not sufficient evidence but we working to try to find out. 

Another Marine scientist Richard Luxmore of the National Trust for Scotland said this: “The waters in the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area have been designated for a number of features but one of the most important of these is maerl, a form of pink coralline seaweed. The area around the Summer Isles contains some of the highest concentrations of this fragile habitat in Scotland.  Maerl is very slow growing and, once damaged, will take many decades to recover. Studies have shown that maerl beds have been impacted by faeces and other organic waste released from fish farms at some considerable distance. Recent work by SEPA has demonstrated that this waste is transported much further than had previously been assumed and is often deposited in hotspots, some of which may be up to 4km from the farm where the waste originated. This long range transport is particularly likely in the strong currents and complex underwater topography around the Summer Isles.  The proposed fish farm off Horse Island is very close to some recently discovered maerl beds and it is highly likely that it would cause long-term and irreversible damage to these beds if it were to be installed there. The paper on Maerl only recorded effects at 100m from the farm edge. However, they didn’t collect samples from any further away and so they were only able to say “significant effects were recorded to at least 100 m from the farms”.


I would personally like to add a protest about the proposed salmon farm which overlaps the border of the Loch Carron Marine Protected Area. This is not within Wester Ross MPA but it is a favourite for local recreational divers and of great scientific interest.  I wonder if SNH read the REC Committee’s report because I and many other people locally were shocked to see that SNH seem to be assessing the proposal for a salmon farm in Loch Carron on the basis of deposition modelling using programmes that have been discredited by SEPA. SEPA’s most recent analysis of Emamectin Benzoate, shows that both Autodepomod and newDepomod grossly underestimate the transport of waste and pollutants which are routinely carried far beyond the AZE and can accumulate 4km or more from the location of the farm. 

This is particularly likely in areas of high tidal flow such as the Loch Carron Narrows. As a result SEPA are recommending that full hydrographic modelling is the only reliable method. So it is remarkable (or perhaps not given what has been recently exposed about the lack of connection and dysfunction between agencies) that SNH appear to be unaware of these developments and are ignoring the views of SEPA. It is worth noting that while they have considered the impact of the farm on two other PMFs (Burrowed Mud and Tall sea pens) they have ignored Sea Trout and Atlantic Salmon, which are the Priority Marine Features most likely to be affected by fish farms. They present no justification of why they consider that the farm will not affect the national status of PMFs.


Below are suggested questions to be asked of the Ministers during the Parliamentary debate. Einstein remarked that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. So either the consciousness needs to change or the Ministers do. I personally am not sure Fergus Ewing is “fit for purpose” as many people are saying along the west coast it appears to be a case of industry capture. There are many many people watching this debate carefully. We need it to lead to significant change. Maybe thats a change of Minister?


1- We want to know if the Scottish Govt. intend to conduct a full scale socio-economic appraisal of the environmental COSTS of salmon farms to the coastal economy and fisheries. The REC committee did assess this but the data was not there because it had not yet occurred to the Government to assess these costs in full.

Can we ask why Fergus Ewing has been so willing to accept the received wisdom from the Salmon Farmers themselves that they create jobs – when there is sufficient evidence both in the REC report and elsewhere to suggest that whilst they do indeed create jobs – they also destroy jobs and in some places this may not be a net gain. In fact if some of the more serious environmental allegations are true we may be selling our pristine seas for peanuts as well as paying the cost of salmon farms in lost jobs elsewhere for years to come. What is needed is a diverse and resilient economy but the Minister is supporting expansion in an industry with tax payers money which exports its profits back to Norway….

2- Chemicals in the ecosystem and their impact on commercial fisheries is a seriously under funded area of research, particularly looking at the impacts on the creel fishery on the west coast. This needs much more investigation and guaranteed impartiality of research. As well as research into the impacts of these chemicals on the smaller parts like plankton which is a growing concern. Will the Minister commit to this – particularly given these chemicals impact all the other fisheries (fin-fish too) along the coast and could have long standing costs. Yet there is disproportionately less research undertaken on these environmental impacts compared to the research which supports the industry  – why?

3- Why are maerl MPAs even considered as locations for salmon farms when there is sufficient evidence to show open cage salmon farms could do great harm to maerl – even if the science is insufficient to know with certainty at what distances and where?

4- Why are we allowing salmon farm expansion without understanding the impacts on Priority Marine features which often coincide with where Salmon Farms like to locate themselves? An example where this is relevant is the proposed salmon farm in Loch Carron overlapping the MPA set up for flame shells.

Who is exploring the impacts on the flame shells in Loch Broom, or the Maerl at Fada or the Maerl in Loch Ewe. It is left to wild fish & community groups to ask these questions.

5- SEPA plan to tighten their standards for NEW farms – when will this be applied to the existing farms who have old technology and are currently doing great damage.

6 Can pressure be put on SNH to say why they seem to have ignored SEPAs advice (and much of the REC committee’s report) by saying that there is no reason to object to the salmon farm proposal at Strome which overlaps the MPA border in Loch Carron. This MPA was designated only very recently to specifically protect the largest flame shell bed in the world. Is there ANY science research to know if this PMF species is impacted by salmon farms or are SNH saying yes with a hope and a prayer?

7 – There is great irony in the fact that Norwegian firms are marketing Scottish salmon by telling the story of our pristine waters, whilst polluting those now not so pristine waters. They are also marketing Scottish salmon as superior due to its high ratio of fish protein in the feed. This harms developing countries fisheries – whilst repatriating profits to Norway? Is this joined up thinking about sustainability and carbon footprints?   Scottish Sea Farms who have farms within Wester Ross MPA sell to M&S (they feed these farmed salmon with krill and anchovy harming other fisheries in south america too)

8 Furthermore  closed containment units are being encouraged and financially incentivised in Norway, but the same companies in some instances are saying they are not feasible in Scotland?  Why?

MOST IMPORTANTLY on wild fish:

9 Marine Scotland said the heat map was imminent in January 2018. They also said in the evidence session to REC that it was imminent.
The Wester Ross Salmon Fishery Board has flagged up that Marine Scotland have been producing a “Heat Map” for years which is meant to show where wild salmon and sea trout are particularly sensitive to salmon farms. When will they publish it?