Saturday 22 July 2023

A message to Long Live Loch Linnhe

I’m writing to offer some moral and a little practical support to those worried, as we all should be, about the virtually uncontrolled expansion of fish farming on the west coast, with Loch Linnhe now under the most dreadful threat from units many times the size of anything we’ve seen to date. 

Some of us have been there already, our areas having been earlier victims of an alien, cruel industry that has taken commercial hypocrisy into the stratosphere by marketing products on the back of images of a wild, native species that is verging towards extinction. In this post I’ll offer some brief pointers, as someone who lives in one of the first inshore areas  to have been threatened, the interconnected waters of Seil,  Shuna and Melfort, most of which planners treat as open sea, despite it’s very obviously bring one largish sea loch. 

When the farms first came to our area we felt isolated and ignorant, but soon learned that we weren’t alone. I was a founder of the saveseilsound campaign group, which campaigned for ten years from 2011. Although our original target, a fish farm at Port na MòrachdPort na Morachd near Ardmaddy, no longer exists, the area is now suffering under tonnages we could never have anticipated would be consented. There are now lots of groups, linking together, sharing research and networking online.

The first thing to understand is that Scottish politicians of all parties, including nowadays most of the Greens, see fish farming not only as  a magic solution, but almost the only one, to employment issues on the west coast. During my time campaigning only a very few took the trouble to inform themselves, certainly Claudia Beamish and perhaps one or two Tories, who outside politics sometimes actually own salmon rivers. In this game, pick people with knowledge regardless of their political colour! 

Our MPs and MPSs have got their briefings from, literally, generations of civil servants totally sold on the industry. “Feeding the World” is a totally dishonest slogan often used. Try telling that to residents of African coastal states, whose local fisheries have been destroyed by supertrawlers hoovering up what the industry terms “trash fish”. 

Don’t believe for a second that Marine Scotland are an independent body; their officials are mainstream civil servants, whose next promotion will depend on not upsetting the leaders. I have sat in meetings where they patently controlled scientists itching to tell us the truth. This isn’t guesswork; our group received confidential briefings from two former government scientists, pensioned off when their research didn’t suit the agenda.

Currently SEPA aren’t much help to the environment, either. After their entire computer systems were crashed, by someone still untraced, they had to stop inspections during covid. Losing the boss suddenly didn’t help. For a while we had high hopes, when they invited local resident groups for meetings and I felt we were developing good relations.

While SEPA have no idea who crashed their system, one has suspicions. The industry has form, for example in placing illegal tracking devices on the cars of two prominent, very skilled and courageous activists, Don Stanford and Corin Smith. Operating alone, often before dawn, takes guts.

And the biggest company here, MOWI, have taken a SLAPP court case against Don, which he’s vigorously defending with help from an extremely decent bunch of hard working young lawyers and supporters. You’ll find my articles about SLAPPs on and Bylines Scotland. MOWI is an international giant, largely owned by John Fredriksen, Norwegian by birth and a Cypriot passport holder, who lives in a castle in Mayfair. Google him!

We are witnessing a Twentyfirst Century land grab, effectively the sale (in legal terms long term leasing, as they aren’t allowed to sell public property) by our guardians, Crown Estate Scotland.  The only thing Scottish about this industry is the seabed, the public asset which they allow to be used as a dumping ground for fish faeces, toxins such as pesticides, copper and zinc, and antibiotics. Not to forget Emamectin Benzoate, marketed by its American makers as SLICE, which stays active on the seabed for years and kills all crustaceans, lobsters, shrimps and crabs as well as the target sealice. Industry apologists, such as laird in waiting Tavish Scott, blame  troubles, such as declining wild salmon numbers and the massive deaths of caged fish, on increasing sea temperatures, but shouldn't that itself be a warning that the industry can’t last?

So, be warned, it’s not just the water around the cages that’s murky! We mustn’t give up on our environment, but what can local residents do?

For anyone wanting to get involved, first look at what you can contribute. As one gets drawn more into the horrors of industrial fishing practices and finds fish farms deliberately poisoning the seabed, more and more time gets taken up in reading and research. Learn enough to understand what’s happening, but don’t try to reach the standards set by some of our champions, such as John Aitchison of Friends of the Sound of Jura, whose efforts and depth of knowledge are amazing. Leave the diving and image taking to those who can do it, but look at what skills you have, with computers, with words, whatever.

Most important is simply - spread the word! Over the years, I’ve become brave enough to tell people that I’d rather not eat farmed salmon (the real stuff is virtually unaffordable). A ten minute conversation with a friend pointing out that Lochmuir is fictional like Brigadoon, that “sustainable” doesn’t mean anything, works wonders. We see the word “sustainable” used constantly - check if it means “environmentally”, “socially” or just “economically”. Believe it or not, the industry mixes all three. Nor does “organic” mean anything when farmed salmon are concerned. Successful complaints have been made to the Advertising Standards Authority about that. The biggest joke is RSPCA Assured; this huge English charity doesn’t operate here in Scotland, apart from raising funds, with huge subscriptions to this scheme from the aquaculture industry.

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Is China getting tired of eating “Scottish” Salmon?

In 2011 Alex Salmond signed a trade agreement to export salmon directly to China, which had broken off its previous agreement with Norway due to their having awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the dissident Liu Xiaobo. At the time he claimed “even if 1% of the people of China decide to eat Scottish salmon, then we'll have to double production in Scotland”. We got some pandas into the bargain, too.
I’ve not kept up with the pandas in the intervening eleven years, but the period has been a disaster for the environment of our West coast. Desperate attempts to increase production in our inshore sea lochs has only resulted in ever increasing mortalities, such that there’s a new industry just carting dead fish for safe disposal. Some sites register 40% deaths per cycle, millions of dead fish each year. Imagine the stooshie if this happened with land based farms!
During that period the aquaculture industry has become concentrated in a very small number of gigantic players, mainly Norwegian and Icelandic. We can be certain the Chinese know this; the companies must be hoping they’ve got short memories. Even companies that claim to be locally owned, such as Kames, work their sites in tandem with them (MOWI in their case).
One thing for sure is that these Nordic giants don’t care about the environment. Another thing is that they know the present situation can’t last forever. Whether it stops as the result of public revulsion at the truth of what’s going on, or simply a total wipeout of stock due to a virus, these guys are looking to the future, which is taking the cages out of the sea.
Let’s take a quick look at the environmental cost of sending salmon to China.
First, hoover up what you can find in coastal waters from Africa to Antarctica, krill or whatever, what some in the industry call ”trash fish”, but actually often immature fish that would grow to feed people.
Next take it a few thousand miles, add soya you’ve sourced at the expense of a rain forest and grind it into fish pellets. Send the results by compressed air down a degradable plastic pipe, adding microfibres to the water column.
Transfer the salmon you’ve grown from eggs flown from Norway from the inshore lochan you’ve grown them in, where you’ve been keeping them clean by feeding them bleach. After a year or so kill the 60% that have survived, take them to be processed, package them and fly them to China.
If that doesn’t sound like a plan, you’re right. Further, the industry agrees with you!
Those Norsemen are finally doing what only technology has held back to date, growing the salmon in China, on land! Read all about it here:

Monday 12 September 2022

The ADDs live on!

 Following the recent report from Environmental Standards Scotland I submitted a Freedom of Information Request in order to find out the procedure in terms of which an operator of a fish farm could get permission to operate an Acoustic Deterrent Device, otherwise a sea scarer, WITHOUT applying for a licence.

The answer came today, referring to an FAQ page on Marine Scotland. The relevant paragraph reads:
“5. Do I need to apply for an EPS licence?
It is your responsibility as the fish farm operator to determine whether you need to apply for an EPS licence. However given current scientific advice, it is likely that an EPS licence will be required for all currently available ADDs unless you can demonstrate that the device(s) operating at your site will not cause disturbance to cetaceans. If you are using or intend to use ADDs at your site and consider that the device(s) will not cause disturbance to cetaceans, evidence of this must be submitted to Marine Scotland - Licensing Operations Team (“MS-LOT”) at This evidence should include a robust assessment of the numbers of cetaceans likely to be disturbed using the best available estimates of cetacean abundance and distribution for the site, alongside underwater noise propagation modelling that accounts for local environmental conditions. If your assessment concludes that less than one individual of a cetacean species will be disturbed MS-LOT may be able to confirm that an EPS licence is not required following consultation with Marine Scotland Science (“MSS”).”
It remains a complete mystery how anyone could prove that less than one, i.e. NO, cetaceans would be harmed by using a device the use of which inevitably does precisely that!
I also asked if there would be a list of applications and indeed there is, on Marine Scotland Information.
I just checked and as at today there are NO applications to use an ADD without a licence, but ONE for a licence, by Kames Fish Farming in respect of SIX sites:
North Moine, Shuna Castle, Kames Bay East, Kames Bay West, Ardifuir and Pooltiel West
The application is still current, so who knows what’s going on!?
This is the first Summer that Dolphins and Porpoise and even an occasional whale have been spotted in places including Seil, Shuna and Melfort, perhaps due to the use of ADDs having been abandoned.
So, today’s question is why does the locally owned company Kames Fish Farming, among all the operators on the West Coast, uniquely believe that it needs to harass protected species?

Sunday 7 August 2022

Let's hope this is the end for Acoustic Deterrent Devices!

Last week saw an absolutely massive victory for all those who have campaigned for years to stop the illegal harassment of whales, dolphins and porpoise in our inshore waters. Environmental Standards Scotland have produced a report confirming not only that fish farm companies have been committing offences by their use of seal screeching devices but that they have been doing so with the knowledge and the tacit approval of Marine Scotland.

Let that sink in.
Marine Scotland, a branch of the civil service in Scotland and the governmental body in sole charge of protecting our marine environment, has been deliberately and cynically turning a blind eye to active criminality by the largely foreign owned companies who use our waters for the industrial production of salmon.
On 25 November 2019 a group of concerned citizens, all members of Coastal Communities Network, met with senior civil servants at Marine Scotland and sat in disbelief as we were lied to. In a nutshell:
(first) the use of a seal screecher (ADD) in Scotland is illegal in the absence of a licence from Marine Scotland
(second) licences cannot be granted, because their use inevitably “harasses or disturbs” protected species such as whales, dolphins or porpoise. (Only where there is no alternative will a licence be granted, e.g. temporary harbour works. Fish farms have other options.)
(third) Marine Scotland responded to this by turning a blind eye to wholesale criminality.
My subsequent letter to the Lord Advocate was passed to the very civil servant who spoke at that meeting!
Huge thanks to David Ainsley and Jean Ainsley at Sealife Adventures, also to Guy Linley-Adams and Coastal Communities Network.
More about this can be found in previous posts on this blog.

PS For the curious: Does anyone wonder if there was any pressure put on those civil servants to tell lies by a certain Scottish Government Minister?

Tuesday 12 July 2022



In recent years many Western countries have seen our law courts used by the very rich and powerful, many (most?) of whom have gained their wealth through means they would prefer the public didn’t know about, to silence those who have been looking too closely.
Perhaps the most recent and widely publicised case of this recently has been the English case brought by Arron Banks against Carole Cadwallader, claiming damages for libel in respect of some remarks she made hinting that he might have had some Russian connections. What we know about Mr Banks suggests that he is a very wealthy fellow indeed, whereas his target was a well-known and very active investigative journalist, a career that is more likely to get you shot than to gather wealth.
Instead of suing the media who published his target's remarks, Ted Talks and the Guardian, he attacked her personally. As we know, she has successfully defended herself, but at enormous personal and emotional cost and huge expenditure, funded by outraged citizens who rallied to help at a time when everyone is under strain.
The case illustrates a prime feature of a SLAPP; there is usually a huge imbalance of financial muscle. In addition to this, classic features are:
The case is brought by an individual or corporation with something to hide.
As it says on the tin, the target is public participation in the exposure of wrongdoing.
The remedy is usually disproportionate and the costs enormous.
There is often no basis whatsoever for the case, or perhaps the case is mainly, but not entirely, unfounded. Often there is no damage of the sort a court will regard as appropriate for compensation; by that I mean reputational damage caused by the disclosure of criminal or some other gross misconduct. In Mr Banks’ case his links with various Russian individuals were already well known and indeed had been publicised by himself.
SLAPPs first came to public attention in the late 1980s in the United States, famously the land of the free, including the Constitutional right to freedom of speech. Judges were recognising court cases that breached this right, with an early case going to the New York Supreme Court. The ruling was based not on any statute, but on the common law power of judges to throw out cases they considered vexatious.
Following the New York case, legislators there and elsewhere got interested. Currently there is legislation in thirty one States in America, plus Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario in Canada, plus the Australian Capital Territory.
In other jurisdictions it’s still down to judges deeming cases to be vexatious. This happened in the South African case of Mineral Sands, where attorneys got sued. In the Republic of Ireland a decision is awaited in a major case re a Dublin housing development, where a property developer is suing.
The advantage of legislation, apart from respecting democratic lawmaking, is to have clear rules about what is allowed for judges to follow. The European Commission has recognised this and has a team of experts working on a draft Directive that will basically define what is a SLAPP and set out detailed rules.
Sadly, it’s because of another “Brexit benefit” that the Scottish legal system will have to rely on the judge made power re vexatious litigations. Also, here it’s mainly been used by powerful people and even the State to silence folk like Robbie the Pict.
If you’re wondering how this is all relevant to the West Coast, according to what has been published in the Oban Times and elsewhere on social media it seems that we have one of the first Scottish SLAPPs here on our doorstep in Oban Sheriff Court.
MOWI, one of the biggest salmon farming companies in the World, are suing the lone environmental activist Don Staniford to stop him from taking photographs of what he claims are instances of animal welfare abuse, mortality and pollution in their sites. To do this they are seeking to place exclusion zones around each and every one of their dozens of fish farms.
Let’s look at the defining features of a SLAPP, as identified above.
Brought by a corporation with something to hide? Well, some of Staniford’s photographs are not pretty.
A huge imbalance of money? Tick.
A basis for the case? This one is very interesting and extremely important to every one of us who ventures, as I do, onto the water in a small boat. I suggest that there can be no basis whatsoever for excluding anyone from being on the open sea.
Since King Cnut demonstrated to his people, about a thousand years ago, it’s been recognised that nobody can control the sea. Less whimsically, the rights that we all, as members of the public have, to navigate on the surface of the sea are absolutely fundamental to our constitutional law. You can check the position here:
The Crown Estate may give an individual, or a company, a licence to place an anchor on the seabed, but they do not have the power to interfere with what goes on above. Legally they hold the seabed, a public asset, in trust for all of us and they cannot violate that trust. Indeed, the licences they give out expressly reserve the rights of Her Majesty and all the rest of us. We have rights not just to navigate, but to fish, to swim and for recreation and leisure.
As we now have something approaching two hundred massive floating installations along the “Aquaculture Coast” this case has huge implications. Already we are seeing the companies placing lines of buoys well outside the actual fish cages, in what looks like an act of colonialism. Make no mistake, with aquaculture we’re seeing a Twenty first Century land grab!

Grateful thanks to The European Circuit for the seminar on 11 July, with speakers Dr Roya Sangi, Paul McGarry SC, Greg Callus QC and Nick Vineall QC

Wednesday 20 April 2022

Land Farms and Sea "Farms"?

 This week the Ferret has published figures which should shock everyone, about the massive increase in fish farm pollutants and the use of pesticides and antibiotics in recent years. The figures would be incredible, but result from reporting by the aquaculture companies themselves and are taken from Scottish Government and SEPA databases.

“The latest official pollution inventory reveals that discharges of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and zinc from salmon cages rose by more than 4,000 tonnes between 2019 and 2020. Overall emissions of pesticides used to kill sea lice also increased by 45 kilograms.”
In response to my tweet about this an industry apologist posted a graph showing the use of chemicals in land agriculture, for “context” in what he no doubt assumed was a gotcha, but he has only underlined once again the total difference between landbased and seabased activities. Of course, it’s by no means a given that practices in agriculture are 100% environmentally friendly. I’ll leave the argument about that to others.
I’ll also leave it for another day to discuss the fact that if farmers routinely saw up to 82% of their stock of mature cows dying off due to disease, the resultant piles of rotting corpses at the sides of fields would surely provoke public outcry. With aquaculture the facts only come to light occasionally, for example late last year when several hundred tonnes of dead salmon were taken off Gigha for ensiling, resulting in the ferry terminal being seriously affected by stink and mess, an event that would have gone unnoticed in official circles had not the dedicated Corin Smith been on hand with his drone.
My main issue with the land/sea comparison is simply that farms are invariably owned by someone, whereas the seabed is owned, in terms of title, by the Crown, but held in trust for all of us, the public. The difference is more that purely conceptual; in the case of a conventional farm there is always an owner, be it the farmer or a landlord, with a vested interest to ensure that an asset that may have belonged to, or held under a secure tenancy for generations, will remain productive and/or marketable for those to come along in future. Those who are currently exploiting our public seabed have no such interest whatsoever. Let’s look briefly at a couple of them.
The largest operator in Scotland is MOWI, until recently named Marine Harvest until it was renamed following adverse publicity. The name reflects the name of the original founder, Mr Mowinkel, although one hears that he may not have been completely delighted. The main owner is understood to be Mr Jon Fredriksen, about whom I’ll say no more (google him!).
Then, the owner until recently of “Scottish” Salmon Company Limited was Yuri Lopatinsky, about whom more has recently been in the Press.
Bluntly, can anyone imagine the private owner of a farm in Scotland giving a foreign oligarch the freedom to cover the fields with rotting faeces and unwanted feeding stuffs, rendering what was once fertile soil utterly anoxic and useless for cultivation for several lifetimes? That’s exactly what the Scottish Government, on our behalf, allows fish farm companies to do to the seabed.
Next up, the pesticides. Research commissioned by SEPA several years ago confirmed that one component, Emamectin Benzoate, which kills all crustaceans, was still active on the seabed four and a half years after a fish farm had ceased operations on the site in question. That’s become a benchmark; perhaps they’ll send the biologists back to do some more tests after what would now be ten years. This is important, because sealice, lobsters and crabs are all crustaceans, so what price traditional creeling?
Due to very a very lax (non) inspection system plus no checks whatever during lockdown and regulations actually relaxed due to it, the farms have been doing what they want.
Yes, 45 Kilos of deadly poison is an awful lot to dump on someone else’s property!
@FerretScot @HI_Voices

Saturday 26 March 2022

Now for Goliath versus David!

Towards the end of last year there were brief reports in the Press about the case that has been raised in Oban Sheriff Court by the Norwegian MOWI fish farming giant against the environmental activist Don Staniford. To describe the case as a modern day Goliath versus David would be an understatement. It’s likely that battle will be joined sometime later this year and this post is just a quick update on what I’ve heard.

MOWI are one of the largest operators of industrial battery farming salmon units in the World, largely owned by Jon Fredriksen, described on Wikipedia as a Norwegian-born Cypriot oil tanker and shipping billionaire businessman based in London.” By contrast Don Staniford is well known as a lone operator, who relies on practical and occasional financial support from concerned individuals, who appreciate his efforts in exposing the dark side of fish farming.

While the MOWI public relations machine tries to portray Don and the few others doing the same work as mini Greenpeace operations the precise opposite is true. Despite the claim made by industry spokesman and former LibDem MSP Tavish Scott that he is in the pay of anonymous foreign evildoers there is no evidence that he is anything other than what he says he is, a man who from a background of studying marine biology has dedicated his life to the environment, at great personal cost.

I admit to being a friend of Don, whom I met shortly after he returned to Scotland from spells in Canada and Norway and subsequently on various occasions when his activities have brought him to mid Argyll. I have been impressed at the depth of his research, his dedication and the care he takes with important matters such as, when gathering data, the safety of himself and others, the avoidance of causing distress and any cross transmission of infection. In particular his custom is not to go near sites when fish farm staff are already on them.

I do not have access to the papers lodged by MOWI in court and would be prohibited by law from reporting anything if I had been. However, it is clear that, bluntly put, MOWI are seeking to place extensive “exclusion zones” around each and every one of their over one hundred installations on the open waters of our West coast.

While you may not agree with what Don and his fellow activists are doing, I would ask you to reflect on the utter enormity of this for all of us as citizens. It is well established as a matter of our constitutional law that the seabed is held in trust under the Crown for all of us and that as members of the public we have certain rights, the principal of which are of free passage over the open sea, to fish and to use our coastal waters for leisure and recreation. Operators of fish farms are allowed to place the cage anchors in position on the seabed only in terms of leases which expressly reserve these rights to all of us.

The case raises issues of major constitutional importance regarding the safeguarding of one of Scotland’s greatest assets, our extensive seabed and in particular the inshore waters of what is now often referred to as the aquaculture coast.

Please take a minute or two to reflect on the implications for everyone. There is no way that fish farm staff can tell if someone is out fishing, rowing, wild swimming, in a canoe enjoying the Mid Argyll Kayak Trail, or a deadly “eco warrior” intent on exposing an instance of animal abuse or the misuse of toxic chemicals.

In defending our freedoms ideas and publicity are as important as financial backing. Anyone wanting to discuss things further should feel free to contact me by direct message.