Sunday, 2 May 2021

The Election and the Environment

 

Anyone with an interest in the environment, but who also wants to free Scotland from London rule that we haven’t voted for for over half a century has until now been in something of a conflict. If you supported the SNP in an attempt to achieve the former you were at the same time supporting a government that has committed itself to the massive expansion of industrial aquaculture in our inshore waters, despite the advice from two Parliamentary committees that doing so carries gigantic risks to the marine environment.
Time and again in Scotland we’ve seen wonderful, miracle solutions to our problems forced on us by, no doubt well-meaning, politicians with pretty disastrous results. It goes back well before modern politics too. The very Clearances resulted from external and internal landowners bringing in new ways of doing things, replacing the black cattle with sheep, with dreadful longer term economic consequences and a cultural catastrophe.
Industries have come and gone. Ulva was once sustained by kelp, until ships brought in cheaper Chilean guano. Aluminum came to Fort William. Some are still here, just. Oil in Aberdeen, how much longer? Miracle solutions arrive, outsiders get rich, take the money and go.
In my childhood the Firth of Clyde supported lots of thriving sea angling businesses, catering for thousands of industrial workers at weekends, supporting trades, local cafes and restaurants. Then the neo-liberals lifted the Three Mile Limit, an emergency Victorian measure that has been proved, with hindsight, to have been well grounded in science.
With foreign holidays soon to be distant memories, what can we do to restore our coastal towns and landscapes to attract visitors and their cash? Building gigantic industrial silos, such as we see when coming off the Skye Bridge, may not be the best idea.
From early this Century we in mid Argyll have seen a merciless expansion of industrial aquaculture, forced forward by an industry that is almost entirely owned and is certainly entirely controlled by entrepreneurs from outside Scotland. Investors include oligarchs from former Soviet countries and folk like the extraordinary Jon Fredricksen. Supposedly “local” companies trade on their “family owned” image to get permissions, but truly work very closely with the big fellows, a bit like industrial lumpsuckers. Over the last twenty years we have seen sealice bred in the cages reduce the wild fish populations to such an extent that wild Scottish salmon are endangered.
I have campaigned against all this for about ten years now. The trigger was the utterly deranged attempt to expand salmon farming at Ardmaddy, something a very senior fellow at Marine Scotland (now MOWI) told me they would never consider (but that was before his Norwegian chiefs bought the units there). Then Marine Harvest found 83,000 dead fish on their site and many of us woke up to the true horror, hundreds of tonnes of fish wasted and going to landfill (or worse?). But that was just the beginning; our roads are now busy with tankers of dead fish going into a new biofuel industry. What a breathtakingly stupid way to generate power!
Tragically, the SNP has supported all this. I have occasionally spoken to individual MSPs, who expressed concerns, but there is no doubt that the party in government has pushed the industry forward, perhaps even more than the saner company executives would have wished. Marine Scotland scientists have been bullied by Ministers into retiring, older scientists have told me about fears for their pensions, evidence being suppressed, the big money East coast salmon rivers protected. The Tories couldn’t have done a better job and we would all have been screaming!
So, with just under five days until make your mind up time, what are the options?
Going on the latest figures today (Panelbase, Sunday Times), the SNP are set to get 48% in the constituencies, resulting in all existing seats being held plus probably two more. With less than a week to go that seems a pretty definite prediction. If you support Independence that’s a no-brainer for your constituency vote.
The List Vote gives us all choices. The result is, I suggest, totally unpredictable, for several related reasons.
First, the emergence of the Alba Party has forced a lot of us, myself included, to look at the arithmetic behind the D’Hondt voting system that Scotland was lumbered with, thanks to Tony Blair and Donald Dewar. The main reason for their choice was the desire to ensure that Labour would always control Scotland, but it’s been suggested that they also wanted a system so opaque and unpopular that nobody would want to introduce anything similar in England.
The result has been that in Scotland we’ve got four different ways of counting votes, for the UK, Scottish (two systems), local (and until recently a fifth for the EU). I’m sure that I’ve not been alone in having to remind myself each time of the niceties; for example how many of us don’t realise that with Single Transferable Voting you MUST vote for all your preferred choices to exclude those you absolutely don’t want (the system used and then abused in the recent SNP list selection, by the way).
To summarise for the forthcoming election, the first constituency vote is simply counted on “First Past the Post” and list votes are then discounted depending on how well your party has done.
In Highlands and Islands let’s assume that the SNP hold their existing six constituencies. They did this last time with a vote share of only 41.46%, against today’s national poll of 48%. D’Hondt then provides that their list vote will be divided by seven (seats won plus one). In 2016 this meant that 81,600 list votes counted for 11,657 and got the strong, competent Maree Todd elected on the sixth round of counting. This time the SNP are fielding someone who was patently not the first choice of members, rocketed to the top because of her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (google it!). If only a few people are troubled by this and decide to stay at home, all the SNP list votes will be wasted.
In 2016 the Libdems won two seats, Shetland and Orkney, for a total of only 14,536 votes and D’Hondt ensured that all their 27,223 list votes were wasted. This time the SNP have two very strong candidates in Tom Wills and Robert Leslie, but friends who know those places are sure that the old Liberal tradition will prevail once more. Will those 27,000+ voters educate themselves on D’Hondt and look elsewhere?
Labour also got two seats in 2016, both list ones, and will probably do so again. They are hugely supportive of aquaculture and of course the Union, so they’re not getting my vote.
If you both favour Independence and want to save the environment, what are the options?
Alba presents voters for the first time with a serious, independence-focused list party, fronted by a number of well-known personalities. The same Panelbase poll puts them on 4%, an apparent drop from a couple of weeks earlier, which still suggests that they will win two seats. I suspect that they will do much better. The almost total media blackout on the party should concern all of us, whether or not we buy into the various narratives that are being spread about. Beneath the pollster’s radar, massive on the ground canvassing is going on for Alba, much of it by former SNP activists who know their territories. I saw a lot of this at close quarters in Glasgow in 2014, when hundreds of people unaffiliated to any parties were chapping doors on housing estates and getting people out. There is a very strong contingent of former Women for Independence supporters now supporting Alba.
But, what do Alba say in their manifesto about the environment? Almost nothing.
The Greens have Ariane Burgess at the top of their list. In 2016 they got one seat, for John Finnie, with quite a healthy 14,781 votes, which of course wasn’t discounted. She’s a strong, well balanced person, with business experience and a good environmental track record, unlike some of her comrades who come from rather urban backgrounds and seem distracted by other issues. I’m uncomfortable personally with some features of her party, but it looks as if her vote will hold up without mine.
Finally, we’ve got Andy Wightman, probably Scotland’s foremost land issue campaigner and a man of great knowledge of legal history and land ownership. Google him and buy his book “The Poor had no Lawyers”. Someone commented on social media that he would scare the daylights out of the landowners. He also happens to have actual, on the ground, experience of working in forestry, lives locally and has political experience. And he will vote for Independence. I’m giving him a chance.
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Sunday, 7 March 2021

Dunstaffnage - Time to Object!

 There's only a few days left to object. here's my effort:

I am writing to object to application number 20/02358/MFF to permit an increase in the overall size of the fish farm at Dunstaffnage. I am a local resident.
Environmental factors.
It has long been recognised that aquaculture should not be carried on in inshore areas, where there is limited tidal flushing and where there are already other sources of pollution from agricultural, domestic and industrial waste. Added to this is the risk of damage to our already fragile populations of wild salmon and sea trout. In this regard I can add little to what Fisheries Management Scotland have said in their extensive submission to you.
In late 2019 there was a catastrophe on the fish farms in mid Argyll. There were simultaneous outbreaks of a highly infectious viral disease, salmon cardiomyopathy, which had been imported to Scotland from Norway some years earlier. Infected fish show virtually no signs of ill health until almost on the point of death, which results from heart failure. As a result the operators were taken by surprise and some farms suffered losses of up to 40% of their stock, invariably of mature fish well on the way to market size. In order to mitigate their losses the operators of most of the farms North from Loch Craignish took the decision to cull the surviving fish early. Below is a table showing comparative mortalities on the current site, with previous data for comparison.
As wild salmon and sea trout are genetically virtually identical to caged salmon we must assume that local populations were similarly devastated. Of course as the wild fish weakened they would have been eaten, leaving no evidence.
In normal times this event would have led to some form of inquiry, but matters were overtaken by lockdown, compounded by the serious damage done by hackers to the SEPA database, which have combined to hamper the operations of our major environmental guardian. It must serve as a stark warning of the dangers of allowing unnaturally large populations of caged fish in the line of the migration routes of wild ones.
The current proposal is part of the rash that has followed the inexplicable failure of the Scottish Parliament to impose a moratorium on fish farm expansion, despite two committees confirming, after the most detailed consideration ever to have taken place, that the existing regulatory system is woefully inadequate. With SEPA disabled, site visits not allowed and everyone working from home, it’s down to our already overworked planners to protect the environment on which everything else depends.
Economic factors
The essential components in the proposal are for the area occupied to increase from 22 to 37 hectares, for the number of cages to increase from 9 to 14 of larger size and perhaps most significant for the automatic feed barge to be changed from a circular unit holding 80 tonnes to a rectangular one holding 300 tonnes. This is a major additional intrusion in an area where, I suggest, there should not be a fish farm in the first place.
As I write this I am reminded that it’s exactly ten years since I became involved in the campaign against the expansion of the fish farm at Armaddy in Seil Sound, in connection with which saveseilsound was formed. I was secretary of the group until it was disbanded following the removal of the fish farm. As we all know, tidal and wave conditions locally at Ardmaddy proved the unsuitability of the site, exactly as the objectors had said they would.
That application attracted over 800 objections, including from a significant proportion of the residents in the area most affected. At the hearing we did our best to present our case, then watched in despair as councillors, none of them from the area, voted unanimously to grant the application. It was notable that Councillor Currie was enthusiastically in favour, despite his home island of Islay having voted in a referendum resoundingly against allowing fish farms there.
This is relevant, because Argyll & Bute does not have a uniform economy, rather our vast area contains a mixture of micro-economies, some more fragile than others. The population of Islay were concerned that fish farms would wreck the livelihood of the local shellfishers, because the poisons used to kill sea lice kill all crustaceans. They were also aware that tourism and leisure were the major components of the private sector, exactly the same factors that prevail in Oban.
From the early Victorian period, when the railways and the steamers first arrived and the major hotels were built, our visitors have wanted to be taken out to see wildlife, to walk along the shores, “Siubhal air na cladaichean 's a' coiseachd air a' ghainmhich” in the words of the song, which contains a clue as to the name of the only beach in the area. Open sea swimming is currently on the increase, with Ganavan the only point of access locally. Currently there is no information available about the adverse effects of the poisons mentioned in the application on human beings. The noise from the diesel generators on the feeding barge, running twenty four hours a day to drive the feeding systems and the underwater lighting that is used at night to deceive the salmon into round the clock feeding, will be highly intrusive.
The fact that the feeding systems are automatic gives a clue as to the direction of employment on fish farms locally. No longer do workers sit in little boxes aboard the barges watching monitors and pouring bags of feed into cages. When lobbying an already supportive government the industry claims the credit for many times the numbers actually directly employed, but even that direct employment is not spread evenly. Manufacture of cages and equipment is carried on elsewhere, as are the major transport businesses and most of the processing and packaging. I suggest that very few jobs will come to the immediate area, against the possibility of job losses in other sectors.
As we enter the second year of the pandemic it is increasingly obvious that there will be a decline in foreign holidays and a corresponding increase in visitors, plus local residents deciding to holiday at home. We should not forget that having an attractive, clean environment is a huge benefit for residents as well as visitors.
We have recently seen Highlands Council responding favourably to these arguments in refusing two applications in their area. I sincerely hope that Argyll & Bute finds the courage to follow suit.
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Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Brexit - Where are we now?

 

I’ve haven’t written anything on the longer term implications of Brexit for the fishing industry for some time. There are two reasons for this.
First, in the last six weeks we have seen a great deal of upset, escalating in scale from confusion over paperwork to major delays and disruptions to delivery networks resulting sometimes in the wholesale destruction of valuable product. Fish purchasing companies have in some cases responded by freezing stock, to save it at great cost in terms of marketability; fleets have remained in port. The UK ministers responsible initially blamed Covid 19 and/or “teething problems”, announced a miserable £23 million emergency package, if you could prove you had lost other than due to your own “fault” and finally admitted that many of the problems are here to stay. Yesterday we were told that matters are to be raised with the EU Commission to see if solutions can be found.
Second, I was simply getting a bit tired of being abused on social media by people who would better have spent their time facing up to some problems that should have been apparent for ages and are absolutely intrinsic to the Brexit project. Among other things I was being accused of “praying” for the destruction of the fishing industry. For the avoidance of any possible doubt, as lawyers sometimes say, I regard Schadenfreude as an emotion best kept to the field of personal relations; I am absolutely, truly, horrified and disgusted at what I see as an impending disaster among our coastal communities affecting, among others, friends and neighbours for whom I have great respect. While I have never worked afloat I have enough experience of the sea to be aware of the risks our fishers daily run to keep us fed and would never denigrate them.
I claim no special expertise to write about these matters, only that, as a result of a lifetime working in general legal practice I came across EU regulations on a daily basis, as they covered a huge range of issues in our ordinary lives. In almost all cases they were calculated to safeguard us and to raise standards so that, for example, anyone from one EU country working in another would have the same protection against maltreatment, adverse pay and conditions and risk of injury.
As an example, I learned about this very starkly when a client of mine suffered life changing injuries when the machine he was driving on a building site went out of control and overturned. By the time he was discharged from hospital the machine had been scrapped by the plant hire company who owned it and it was impossible to discover what had gone wrong in sufficient detail to ground a case. We raised an action against his employers based on the old, pre EU obligation on them to provide a safe place of work, lost the case before a single judge, but eventually won an appeal two years later. By that time an EU safe working directive had come into force across the whole of Europe, which would have given him an automatic right to compensation without the horror of spending years in court. Such a protection would of course apply to a deckhand on a fishing boat and is now under threat, if a neoliberal government down South gets its way. For half a century the EU has led the way in raising standards, which we have taken for granted.
Back to fish exporting, the plain, blunt fact is that the problems that have now emerged and are clear to everyone, from vessel owner, fish purchaser, processor, skipper and deckhand are only the inevitable consequences of the third country status that the UK now “enjoys”. If a company sends a fresh, live product for consumption into the EU trading block from outside there are rules regarding place of origin, production method and safety to eat, all of which must be proven by documentation. These rules weren’t enacted after 1 January 2021; specifically in the case of molluscs they were put in place at least twenty years ago and were actively promoted by the UK Government, as in charge of the country from which almost all of the particular product was being sourced. Of course, people who claimed that the EU was protectionist perhaps had something of a point; trading blocks are great if you’re in one, rather nasty if you aren’t.
None of this should have come as a surprise. It’s rather disgusting to see Jimmy Buchan suggesting that anyone aggrieved should be taking it up with the Scottish Government; they were excluded from the negotiations by Lord Frost and his team. The EU Commission has published a helpful explainer that can be accessed here:
I respectfully suggest that it’s rather easier to follow than anything I’ve seen on the UK Government websites.
It’s perfectly plain that if you want to send bivalve molluscs into the EU, whether you’re in the UK or, for example, China, you’re going to have to get permission, based on showing that you have adequate purification facilities at home. Up until now those facilities could be located nearer to the point of consumption and it was all fine; that’s what a “single market” means!
So, it seems that exporters are now faced with either installing facilities and applying for permissions once they have done so, or seeking other markets. There is a risk that while they are doing this people in other countries will see a gap in the market and step in. This seems to be happening already; on 30 October 2020 eight shellfish companies based, mainly, in Massachusetts applied for permissions, which were granted to them last month.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Scottish Government fish quota consultation response

I am not qualified to offer a meaningful response to the specific questions asked, but would like to offer some general comments. When I started out in legal practice in 1970 the concept of quota, be it for fish, milk or any other commodity, was unheard of, and as time went on we had to get used to it as a newly created right of property, in various areas of practice, such as insolvency work. Since the Brexit referendum I have spent time researching the implications of this specifically with regard to fish quota. I hope these comments will be of assistance in the longer term, perhaps after Scotland has got complete freedom to form her own policy in these matters.

I think it would come as a considerable surprise to most lay people that allocations that were originally given out free came to acquire status as items of property capable of being bought and sold and, as such, entitled to protection under the European Convention on Human Rights. People would, I think, also be disturbed to find that this result does not arise from anything intrinsic in the original allocations, nor from anything that the EU has imposed on the UK, but purely and simply from decisions taken by successive UK governments in pursuance of neo-liberal agendas allowing quota sales. We have now arrived at a position where virtually nobody currently fishing got their quota for nothing; everyone has had to buy it and fishermen treat it as a major component in their retirement funds. Other odd aspects are the fact that it often costs more to buy quota than to buy the boat needed to exploit it, and the presence on the scene of what Canadians call “slipper skippers”, who never go to sea.
For authority on quota as a right of property, a “possession”, see the remarks of Mr Justice Cranston in the case of UK Fish Producers Association v Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, at paras 109 et seq in the English High Court in 2013, Law Report
It’s important to recognise that matters did not need to be thus. Not all European States permitted quota sales, for example the Republic of Ireland didn’t. See the following, from their Government:
“Fishing quotas are managed as a public resource which, according to Irish policy documents, means that quotas cannot be bought, sold or leased in any form. It is the minister’s prerogative to manage fishing quotas and they cannot be considered a property right. In order to manage quota utilisation in a non-tradable system, interventions take place to adjust quota allocations. In the case of whitefish, QMAC holds monthly meetings and can make allocation changes to maximise utilisation. This is more difficult for pelagic quotas, which are often set over longer time-periods. As quota management responsibility lies with the minister on the advice of QMAC, there is little direct, devolved role of POs or individual fishers in handling quotas.”
As the UK Government learned to its cost in the well known case of Factortame, once you permit the sale of quota you can’t control the nationality of the purchaser. As a result we know that 80% of English quota and a smaller, but unknown percentage of Scottish quota is now foreign owned. Apart from this, of course, the ships themselves may be British flagged, but they can be, and are, owned through limited companies which often have complex shareholdings including owners registered in various tax havens.
To summarise the above, that any attempt to do anything other than tinkering with existing rights of property will be met with very substantial claims for compensation under the ECHR. Nothing that I have seen in anything published about the agreements concluded so far, with Norway and the EU, suggests anything else.
The choice going forward, with the prospect of additional quota becoming available, is between allowing the new quota to be sold, or to render it unmarketable. To do the latter would not resolve the existing problems, but would at least stop compounding them. It would also preserve some freedom of manoeuvre for future governments in an independent Scotland.
Ewan G Kennedy
Kilmelford, Argyll, 14 January 2021


Sunday, 10 January 2021

Great news for the Environment!

Great news today! The Scottish Creel Fishermens Federation have won their case against Marine Scotland over the latter's refusal to run a proper scientific survey into the damaging effects of bottom dredging. In her judgment, published on Friday, Lady Poole has ruled that Marine Scotland failed to follow their own published guidelines when running the consultation that would have resulted in a controlled experiment over a designated area of seabed.

As so often in the past, Marine Scotland have failed in their basic duty to behave impartially in looking after the health of the environment. Essentially they decided to go along with the weight of responses received, many from outwith the area concerned, rather than to have regard to the content and the purpose of the proposal. Once again they have listened to the loudest voices, in this case the fleet of large, highly expensive ships that treat the seabed as their own property, rather than the quieter ones of creelers.
Many, myself included, predicted that Marine Scotland had gone seriously wrong in their handling of the consultation. I've already published the letter I sent to Fergus Ewing on 15 August and it gives me no joy that Marine Scotland persisted in defending a case that was obviously flawed, resulting in a delay that will amount to about a year by the time the various procedural matters have been finalised, enough time for an enormous amount of damage to be done to the seabed. Not to speak, of course, of the expense of both sides that the Scottish Government will now need to pay.
For a link to the full judgment, see here:

Thursday, 5 November 2020

The Right to Privacy


The image shows Gustav Magnar Witzoe, the owner of a large part of Scottish Sea Farms and thus indirectly the owner of several million salmon living in cages on the West Coast, although strangely they do not appear among the hundreds of images posted by him on his Instagram account, which has 118,000 followers. I am entirely free to publish it without fear, because it’s been published with his consent and there is no conceivable basis for any valid legal complaint, let alone court action.

Similarly, anyone posting a selfie online should be aware that if the image is shared by someone else, there is absolutely nothing that the poster can do about that. The very act of publishing is making something public, the clue is in the name.
This is topical, because this week the well known anti fish farm campaigner Don Staniford has received an extraordinary request from Mr Witzoe’s company to remove from his blog images of three individuals posted by themselves on sites including Linkedin, a site that publishes information, including photographs, of people in the business community and has nothing whatsoever to do with Scottish Sea Farms. Two of them are no longer employees.
The company has threatened to report Don to the “Information Commissioner’s Office”. When we last looked, the Commissioner, a nice fellow called Ken Macdonald, had his hands full handling complaints about Freedom of Information requests to local authorities and other public sector bodies and his statutory responsibilities did not extend to the activities of anti fish farm campaigners. It seems unlikely that he has decided to follow Police Scotland in becoming an unpaid back up act for aquaculture.
There has been a tendency recently for fish farm companies to claim rights that they simply do not have. I wrote a few months ago about their ridiculous quoting of a statute that was introduced to stop unauthorised raves on farm land in attempts to prevent activists taking photographs of diseased and dying fish. The lesson in this is that one should read the Act before waving it in someone’s face.
Data Protection legislation has also been used recently to threaten someone taking drone footage of the disgusting scenes when salmon are processed by thermolicing, a process whereby mature fish are pumped via plastic tubes into a bath of warm water in order to remove the sea lice that are literally eating them alive. This is a blatant attempt to suppress worried citizens doing what Marine Scotland, the Fish Health Inspectorate and SEPA should be doing on our behalf, but don’t.
So, what is the position regarding the taking and publication of images? What if a third party takes an image without a person’s consent and wishes to publish it?
Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights we DO have the right to protect our image, unless we have expressly or impliedly agreed to its being published. Here is an extract from the Guide published by the European Court:
“Right to one’s image and photographs; the publishing of photos, images, and articles
Regarding photographs, the Court has stated that a person’s image constitutes one of the chief attributes of his or her personality, as it reveals the person’s unique characteristics and distinguishes the person from his or her peers. The right to the protection of one’s image is thus one of the essential components of personal development (López Ribalda and Others v. Spain [GC], §§ 87-91 and the references cited therein). Although freedom of expression includes the publication of photographs, the Court has nonetheless found that the protection of the rights and reputation of others takes on particular importance in this area, as photographs may contain very personal or even intimate information about an individual or his or her family (Von Hannover v. Germany (no. 2) [GC], § 103). Even a neutral photograph accompanying a story portraying an individual in a negative light constitutes a serious intrusion into the private life of a person who does not seek publicity (Rodina v. Lat- via, § 131). The Court has articulated the key factors to consider when balancing the right to reputation under Article 8 and freedom of expression under Article 10 as follows: contribution to a debate of general interest; how well known is the person concerned and what is the subject of the report?; prior conduct of the person concerned; content, form and consequences of the publication; circumstances in which the photos were taken; and severity of the sanction imposed (ibid., §§ 108-113; Axel Springer AG v. Germany [GC], §§ 89-95; Couderc and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v. France [GC], §§ 90-93; Rodina v. Latvia, § 104).”
As usual with European law the statement is very principled and explains the reasons why an image is protected. It is clear that anything we publish ourselves isn’t, unless there is added a negative story. It’s also clear that an image taken from a distance far enough for individuals not to be recognisable, say the drone scene referred to above, would not give ground for action. In any event, such action would need to be taken by the subject of the photograph, not by his employer.
Just be careful, everyone, make sure faces aren’t identifiable and keep safe!

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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

The Mooring System at Carradale North



In many ways Storm Ellen failed to live up to her promise. Wind strengths along the inner West coast proved less strong than had been predicted and the only major casualty was the disastrous failure of the mooring system at Carradale North, which resulted in this massive installation of ten large cages coming adrift.
The initial statement, issued by MOWI that day, suggested that the anchors had become detached from the seabed, see here:
‘On August 20, 2020, Mowi’s salmon farm at Carradale North, consisting of 10 circular net pens containing 550,000 salmon (@~4.2kgs), shifted position after its seabed anchors became dislodged during Storm Ellen that has hit the UK and Ireland. The company’s priority at this time is to secure the fish cages in place until Storm Ellen subsides, and to safeguard staff, contractors and fish stock.
‘The company has informed Marine Scotland of the event. A final update will be provided after recovery is complete’.
For the anchors to have become dislodged was perhaps a reasonable deduction in the immediate aftermath of the event, but would have raised questions about the adequacy of the design. Since the arrival of the North Sea oil sector considerable research has gone into the design of anchors and systems for the most testing of conditions. This has resulted in enormous spin-off for other sectors, from shipping to leisure boating. There is no publicly available information about the type or size of the anchors in use at Carradale North, nor any relative specifications or calculations, but for anchors simply to fail would raise considerable doubts about system design.
It turned out that this information was simply wrong, according to the statement issued by MOWI on 26 August. I have omitted the parts irrelevant to the mooring system.
‘Mowi Scotland’s salmon farm at Carradale North, consisting of 10 circular net pens containing 550,700 salmon (@~4.2kgs), shifted its position after becoming detached from its seabed anchors during Storm Ellen and strong tides in Kilbrannan Sound on August 20th, 2020.
….
‘Following thorough inspection by dive teams, the root cause of the incident appears to be breakage of mooring ropes that attach to the main system seabed anchors. The farm was installed five years ago according to the Marine Scotland A Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture, and the infrastructure inspected three months ago. The rope type is marine grade, 4.8cm in diameter with a break strength of 89.5 ton – roughly twice the maximum strength required for its application (ranging from 33t to 51t). The rope has been sent to third-party testing facilities in Aberdeen, with further investigation to follow….’
It would appear from the technical standard referred to in the second statement that in order to instal their ten cages at North Carradale MOWI would have required to commission, in sequence, a full site survey, covering the seabed and including analysis of tidal flow directions, strengths and heights, then a design based on the that data, followed by ordering and installing equipment, consisting of anchors and associated chains and/or ropes.

This release was accompanied by the image below, which is copied with the caption added by MOWI.


On the assumption that MOWI’s photograph is authentic one is tempted to suggest that the person who tested the system three months earlier should have gone to Specsavers!
As anyone with the slightest experience will confirm, all mooring systems degrade from the moment they are placed in the sea. Traditionally they have almost universally been constructed of galvanised steel, with a heavy anchor or anchors connected to a section of heavy chain to absorb the heave of the waves and lighter gauge riser chain to the surface. The links abrade against each other, removing the galvanising and allowing the metal to rust where sufficient oxygen is present. For this reason seasonal moorings are sunk when out of use.
It seems that until recently the aquaculture industry used very similar systems. Because of the year round use one imagines that inspections and replacements of degraded gear would have been ongoing. This presumably explains why in recent years the industry has moved to the use of synthetic rope systems, as can be seen from the technical standard.
It seems that the most common materials in use are nylon and polypropylene. Each has different properties, but the principal causes of degradation in use are likely to be:
Chemical -
Nylon readily absorbs water, to between 1.5% and 3.5%, polypropylene is much less liable to.
Ultra violet light degradation may have an impact
Anti fouling treatments ditto, depending on the chemicals used
Physical -
Impact from vessels, flowing debris etc is possible, but more likely is the wearing down of fibres as they constantly move against each other inside the strands.
Conclusions
I have asked the Scottish Government under FOI to share what information they are holding and will publish the results in due course.
Given the statement by MOWI that the ropes would have been subject to around half of their designed breaking strain when they actually broke something has gone very seriously wrong. Logically there can only be two explanations, either the ropes supplied have been woefully inadequate and there was nothing wrong with the inspection, or they were fine when supplied, have since degraded and it hasn’t been noticed.