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  • janenewaudby

I may get to chain myself to something before I am 50

In my old desk job days, it happened that if I got arrested, I would have lost that job. It was a requirement that I was always a fine upstanding member of the community, as I am sure you all are as well. I wouldn't ever have actually done anything morally bad anyway (like stealing), but I always slightly regretted not being able to chain myself to things ....

Lately, I have been learning a lot about fish farming. There are a lot of them around the beautiful west coast of Scotland. I previously assumed it was a lot like other forms of intensive farming.... like battery chickens.... so not high on animal welfare... but probably better than hoicking fish out of the ocean, or dredging. What harm could there be if a bunch of fish get put into a large cage, swim around for around 20 months and then get harvested? The waste pretty much destroys the sea bed underneath, but apart from that, not much to worry about. Right?

Anyway, one of the fish farms opposite wants to expand by 43%. They came and saw us to explain why it was a good idea, and it was obvious that quite a bit of question avoiding was going on - like politicians. This made us suspicious and we started to educate ourselves.

Next time you look at salmon on your plate, you need to know this: the flesh of that salmon should be grey. Yes, grey. Its pink because colouring has been added. The reason farmed salmon is white is that it eats manufactured feed made from white fish, and not krill, which is what it would eat in the wild. Krill makes salmon go pink. Farmed salmon goes pink because its food has colouring added. There is even a card like a Dulux wall chart card that helps salmon farmers decide how pink it wants its salmon to be. If you spent decent money on your salmon, you may be lucky in that the colouring is natural (from algae), as opposed to petrochemical. Sorry, but I thought you should know.

What else? Well nearly a quarter of all salmon die before harvest (as an average) - they get eaten alive by lice or die from other diseases. The salmon industry fights hard to control these diseases, but they struggle. The industry has to use chemicals to try and control the diseases, and the chemicals get into the sea.

Sometimes seals attack the farms and they have to be shot. The farms also use acoustic deterrent devices to try and keep seals away, but they make the seas very noisy for dolphins and porpoises, even though that's supposed to be a criminal offence.

There are virtually no regulatory audits of the farms. They are trusted to self report/audit themselves. The fact is that "culture" is what a company does when no one is looking, and we all know that unless someone is threatening to turn up and check, and setting standards, where profit is involved, corners will be cut. Its impossible to prove it though. I don't have a lab, so I can't check what chemicals are in the water. I can't easily check the health of the fish and I can't count the lice on the fish to check that they are being properly reported.

The Scottish Government wants the industry to keep growing. It likes to say that the industry "contributes" £600 million a year to the Scottish economy. What does this even mean? You probably think it means that we get £600 million extra to spend. We don't. £600 million is what the salmon farms make in gross revenues. The Scottish economy just get the wages, some tax and some money which flows into businesses like freight. In my part of the world, the salmon farmers complain that they can't even get people to take the jobs. People don't want to work for them. They tell us this as if its our fault.

Almost all of the salmon farm owners are from overseas - so they don't care much what happens to the environment, and the profit ends up abroad. They say they do care about the environment, but they don't. If they did, they would pick up the huge pieces of rubbish that end up all round the shore. We find it, and call them to pick it up. They always blame another farm. Its never them.

So we have become cynical.... Did you know that over 500 planning applications have been made by salmon farm companies and communities have succeeded in having just one handful of those rejected - yes that's about five. So we don't think we will succeed either, but its not going to stop us trying. And I might even get to chain myself to something after all.

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