A comprehensive new analysis by the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) of official catch statistics demonstrates definitively that wild salmon catches in the salmon farming areas of the West Highlands and Islands have declined significantly compared with catches on the east coast, where there are no salmon farms. The study was prompted by the publication on the website of the salmon farming industry’s trade organisation, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), of a paper entitled, “Salmon Farming and Wild Salmon Catches: Let’s Focus on the Facts”, which claims that “there is no difference between the pattern of decline in west coast and east coast salmon catches” and thus “salmon farming has had no effect on wild salmon catches”.
The RAFTS analysis demonstrates that east coast rod catches increased by some 38 per cent between 1970 and 2009. In stark contrast rod catches in the main aquaculture areas, from Cape Wrath to Mull of Kintyre and including the Hebrides, declined in the same period by more than 40 per cent. The study concludes: “There is a clear trend of declining salmon catches, compared with catches on the east coast, in areas where the Scottish aquaculture industry operates. The assertion by SSPO that ‘the catch statistics show salmon farming has had no effect on wild salmon catches’ does not stand up to scrutiny. It is also apparent that the decline is greater for those areas whose juvenile fish have to swim past larger number of salmon farms in order to reach the open ocean”.
Andrew Wallace, Chairman of the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS), commented: “The RAFTS analysis shows conclusively that wild salmon catches in the salmon farming heartlands have fallen markedly compared to catches elsewhere. SSPO’s analysis is exposed as fundamentally flawed as the catch statistics confirm a decline in catches in the west coast areas in which they operate. It is now time for the salmon farming industry to acknowledge formally that it has indeed had a significantly negative impact on wild salmon stocks. This would be an important first step as the industry’s co-operation is vital if we are to address and find solutions to the damage the industry continues to inflict on wild salmon and sea trout populations”.
Roger Brook, Chairman of the RAFTS Aquaculture Group and author of the report, commented: “We in RAFTS and across the wild fish sector recognise the permanence and economic importance of the aquaculture industry to Scotland and the West Coast of Scotland in particular. However, there are problems and there have been and continue to be impacts upon wild fish catches and stocks in the areas where the aquaculture industry is most active. We want to see an acknowledgement of these problems so that we can work with the industry to resolve and mitigate these and to achieve a better total benefit to Scotland from the contributions of wild fish and the aquaculture industry. The current denial by the SSPO of any impact of problem makes it difficult for real progress to be made to improve the situation”.
Paul Knight, Chief Executive Officer of the Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA), commented: “For the past year or so SSPO has made frequent public statements that there is no evidence that salmon farming has had a negative impact on wild salmon stocks. It is now clear that their stance has been based on flawed evaluation of the catch statistics. One hopes that the SSPO will have the integrity to admit that they got it wrong. In light of this report, the industry now needs to focus on investing in new technologies – such as closed containment – that will form biological barriers between wild and farmed fish”.
Dr Alan Wells, Policy and Planning Director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB), said: “This analysis shows that, despite the reduced survival of wild Scottish Atlantic salmon during their marine migration phase, we can see a clear trend of declining wild salmon catches in areas where the Scottish salmon farming industry operates in comparison with the East Coast. There is a clear need to direct research and funding into initiatives that will give greater protection to our iconic West Highland wild salmon and sea-trout”.