CURRENTLY, 95 of every 100 young wild salmon will die at sea. Only five will return to their native river as adults. This low rate of return occurs throughout wild salmon’s natural range including both Scotland’s east and west coasts. Sea lice from salmon farming is often said to contribute to this high mortality but actually, just one fish out of the 95 will die as a result of sea lice that might have originated from a salmon farm. Wild salmon must contend with much bigger issues whilst at sea than sea lice.

With such high mortality, even for fish from some of Scotland’s most well-known rivers, conservation groups might be expected to be working hard to identify any way of ensuring more fish return to Scottish rivers. Far from it, they have instead focused their ire at the salmon farming industry, even about issues that have no direct relevance to the wild fish they aim to protect.

Salmon farming has received a great deal of media attention, much more than it truly deserves. It is accused of having a negative impact on the marine environment but the reality is that the impact from salmon farming is relatively small and salmon farmers are working continuously to reduce any impacts they have. Salmon farming is no different to any other form of agriculture.

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On the west coast, anglers are campaigning to have the salmon farm moved from Loch Ewe as it is blamed for the collapse of the Loch Maree sea trout fishery. Whilst sea trout have disappeared from the Ewe System, catches of salmon in the River Ewe have steadily increased even after the farm was established.

Evidence from another river system now supports the view that the salmon farm is not to blame. Like the River Ewe, the River Polla empties into a sea loch, which is home to an active salmon farm. Last year, the River Polla produced a catch of 140 sea trout compared to an average 40 fish. The largest was 10lb in weight, something not seen in the River Ewe for years. Why has one river system performed well and the other not?

The answer is that Loch Maree and the River Ewe have become a victim of their own success. The world-renowned fishery has been fished to death and has never recovered. The reason is that Loch Maree continued to be fished even after the collapse with fish being killed rather than returned. Since 1988 when the fishery was described as being “no more”, a total of 6,016 sea trout have been caught and killed. The last recorded fish to be killed were caught in September 2016, when five fish weighing an average of 300g each were despatched. Is it not surprising that the fishery has never recovered when most returning fish are killed before they can mature and reproduce?

Salmon farming is made the scapegoat.

Dr Martin Jaffa,

Callander McDowell,

497 Kingswood Road, Manchester.