February 2007 – A
million salmon lost from farms: where did they go?
No angler who has witnessed it will forget the heart-wrenching
consequences of serious water contamination. Dead and dying
fish floating down a well stocked river has to be one of
the saddest sights for anyone who enjoys fishing.
Back in the 1930s and forties when the factory system was
reaching its zenith pollution incidents were so common and
prosecutions so difficult to prove that the perpetrators
could often get away Scot free or with a relatively light
That was before a group of UK lawyers who shared a common
passion for angling decided to pool their expertise and
the resources of their respective angling clubs to fight
a sewage discharge case through the civil courts.
They won. Now, 2,000 successful cases later, with just
three losses, the Anglers' Conservation Association* is
planning an expansion in to Scotland, the spiritual home
of rod and line salmon fishing.
If the fish farmers are not yet quaking in their boots,
they should be. More than a million farmed salmon either
escaped or died in Scottish fish farms during 2005.A list
of fish losses and the companies involved is published by
the salmon farm monitor (www.salmonfarmmonitor.org)
run by the Salmon Farm Protest Group.
Lost farm fish are turning up in river systems, invading
the existing gene pools.
“We can identify these fish, find where the come from
and assess the damage they are causing,” says Mark
Lloyd, the ACA’s executive director.
There are big differences between civil actions and those
that pass through the criminal courts in the British judicial
system. In criminal courts the burden of proof must be overwhelming
so that a jury is convinced “beyond reasonable doubt”.
A civil case, however, is decided on a simple majority “on
the balance of probabilities”.
The ACA has won payouts upwards of £400,000 in its
most successful cases. Fines in criminal prosecutions rarely
exceed £20,000. Another difference is that in criminal
cases the fines go to the Treasury whereas damages in civil
actions are awarded to the winners.
But mounting a civil action is costly so the association
must maintain a fighting fund. It is to be hoped, therefore,
that Scotland’s riparian owners will dig deep to support
the new move. Rod and line fishers could do more too. Of
the 1.3m licence holders in England and Wales, only 8,500
have been willing enough to fork out the ACA’s £20
a year single membership fee.
Yet these same anglers will wail and moan if their river
is poisoned by farm effluent or a sewage release. The ACA’s
work can make a difference. It has been one of the most
active bodies, for example, in securing a suspension of
the sale of the sheep dip chemical, Cypermethrin, used to
fight sheep scab.
Cypermethrin has proved a hazard for river systems, particularly
in Wales. River contamination has occurred in leaks from
sheep dips. One remedy, says Mark Lloyd, is to use alternative
dosing methods where the chemical treatment is applied selectively
to every animal.
These are big issues for anglers. I know from experience,
however, that there is far more interest in the “killer
fly” or the “never-before-revealed foolproof
method of catching fish” than there is in supporting
campaigns and organisations devoted to protecting or restoring
fish stocks. Yet there is not a fly on the planet that will
succeed in an empty river.
Angling is such a solitary, focused pastime it’s
easy to be selfish in our approach. An example of this is
the conversation I had recently with a reader who was concerned
about the effects of climate change. “I think I may
book one of the higher river beats this year,” he
said. “The fish seem to be heading upstream at a faster
rate because of the warmer conditions.”
I confess that I had been thinking on similar lines. It’s
what we do as anglers: seeking out the best spots, the best
conditions and best methods in order to maximise our chances.
The consequences of climate change and pollution are issues
for everyone, not just anglers. But anglers do have a role
to play and that should not be confined to piecemeal measures
by small single-issue groups.
It is time that some fishing organisations pooled their
resources, particularly if they share the same aims. An
example of how effective this can be is the Blueprint For
a coalition of like-minded interest groups that has drawn
up a 10-step action list for sustainable water by 2015.
It’s no good standing by the river with our rods
any more, watching the levels falling, the banks degrading
and the rubbish pile up in the water. In the US, organisations
such as American Rivers (www.americanrivers.org)
have shown what can be achieved with enough support.
I filled in my ACA membership form and posted it off this
week. If you want more of a two-way deal there is just time
to bid for some great salmon beat fishing in the Atlantic
Salmon Trust annual auction. There is online bidding on
its website www.atlanticsalmontrust.org.
(bidding closes for 2007 on February 5, 5pm).
If you miss that one The Wild Trout Trust is offering all
kinds of fishing opportunities and paraphernalia in a 10th
anniversary auction next month (March 2007). Bidding instructions
can be found on the website: www.wildtrout.org.