Posted by: Peter Urpeth | October 27, 2010

Sunday Herald covers our fight

‘Unspoiled’ Lewis bay under threat from new fish farm

Martin Graham

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24 Oct 2010

Conservationists and anglers on the Isle of Lewis are fighting to prevent a fish farm being built in an unspoilt bay, fearing it will damage wild stocks of salmon and trout.

Broad Bay, near Stornoway, is one of the last remaining sea lochs in the Outer Hebrides which has not been exploited for fish farming. Conservation groups have nurtured the delicate ecosystem over the last 10 years.

The Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust fears plans by The Scottish Salmon Company will damage wild fisheries, and wreck the tourist economy.

They claim that sea lice from the farmed fish will infest the wild fish population, causing disease and death.

Biologist David Kelly, a member of the trust, which advises freshwater fisheries and has lodged an official objection, said: “The proposals could damage all of the work done by local fishing organisations.”

Since 2002, volunteers from Gress Angling Association have worked to restore fish stocks on the River Gress, which feeds into Broad Bay.

Alasdair Murray, association chairman, said: “The first season we had no salmon and only 38 sea trout.” His team put in place a restricted fishing season, a voluntary “catch-and-release” policy, habitat improvements and a mink trapping programme.

“Since then we have seen an improvement in the river’s fortunes, culminating in 2009 being the best since Victorian times, with 63 salmon and 315 sea trout caught,” Murray said.

“We have a very loyal group of anglers who return each year for the thrill of fishing a Highland river which is accessible and affordable. It really is the people’s river.”

Similar work has also been done by Stornoway Angling Association to restore the Creed river, which also feeds into Broad Bay.

Improved fish stocks have brought a rise in the number of visiting anglers.

Angling tourism makes a contribution of £6 million to the economy of the Western Isles and supports 260 full-time jobs.

Alasdair Smith runs the shop and filling station in the village of Back, close to the Gress river and Broad Bay. He said: “We get groups coming from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and they come back again and again. The fishing here is very good, the permits are cheap – it’s only £10 for the day and £25 for the season.

“The fish farm would have a devastating impact. On the west of the island there is a fish farm at Grimersta. The stocks of sea trout had dwindled because of the sea lice from the fish farm there, but they let the farms go fallow last year and the sea trout catch was huge.”

A group of 18 marine biologists wrote to Western Isles Council in March to register their opposition to a fish farm in Broad Bay.

The letter said: “Sea lice emanating from salmon farms have been a major causal agent in the decline of wild populations of salmon and sea trout and consequently fish farms should not be located in close proximity to the few remaining healthy wild fish populations in the west Highlands.”

A spokesperson for The Scottish Salmon Company, said: “We operate to the highest environmental standards. Fish farming is a modern, sustainable industry and we are committed to maintaining the high-quality environment which the fish need to thrive.”

Farms ‘a disaster’

Sunday Herald food writer Joanna Blythman is a long-standing critic of fish farms and farmed salmon.

“Salmon farming in cages has been the biggest environmental disaster to hit the west coast of Scotland in living memory,” she said.

“I think of it as factory farming in the sea. On the taste front, comparing farmed salmon to wild line-caught salmon is like comparing a flabby couch potato to a trained athlete.

“I only buy wild salmon certified under the Marine Stewardship Council scheme. This guarantees that the salmon comes from healthy wild stocks that have been sustainably fished.”


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