Some reflections on the year just gone.

Another interesting article from regular columnist Ewan Kennedy from Argyll.

Some reflections on the year just gone.

My older friends already know that from quite an early age I’ve held a strong belief in the non-existence of a god. The seed may have been planted by those students who emerged from the MacBrayne Hall one Sunday morning in 1959 when the Brother and I were on our way to Sunday School, with polished faces and Bibles in our hands. They told us not to believe something just because an adult said it. Later at University I found others with similar views, and discovered that thunderbolts don’t fall when you make up  your own mind in matters of belief. 

None of my experience since has caused me to doubt my belief that the human race has an unlimited capacity for evil and some capacity for good, all without divine assistance. Statements by senior Russian clerics supporting the destruction of Ukraine only add some spice to a mix that’s already there.

I’m extremely relieved that I have lived in a place and time when I can write this without fear; in Scotland three hundred years ago I’d have been hanged. I find it very troubling that this year has seen supposedly civilised Scots abusing each other in public life and on social media in ways which would have done credit to a witch-finder. The current enthusiasm in some quarters for limiting freedom of expression is utterly abhorrent.

I’m now well into my final quarter and the year just past has undoubtedly seen the human race at its most destructive in my time, perhaps in all of our history. Our human capacity for destruction has not been limited to deliberate aggression in Ukraine and other parts of the World, such as Palestine and Libya; as a race we are doing our best to destroy the natural environment, often for no other purpose but our momentary pleasures. 

Closer to home I cite the gigantic aquaculture industry, which in recent decades has colonised our West coast. Our Scottish Government has given permission for massive corporations to place intensive feeding units in about two hundred and fifty locations, using the seabed, one of our most precious public assets, as a dumping ground for organic waste mixed with pesticides and antibiotics (8.9 tonnes of the latter in 2021). 

The insatiable demand among urban populations for products such as smoked salmon has pushed this greedy industry to production levels that are totally unsustainable. It will be many months before full figures are available for 2022, but it’s destined to be the worst on record for the deaths of salmon due to disease and overcrowding. What we do know is that on some farms premature deaths in some months are as high as 500 tonnes. In 2019 a total of 25,722 tonnes went to waste; it’s likely to exceed 40,000 tonnes for the whole of 2022. To get this into perspective, at Ardmaddy in 2011 230 tonnes of salmon died in an attempt to cure them of gill disease. This resulted in a complaint to the European Commission, which I registered on behalf of the saveseilsound campaign group. Four years later the result was a change in our law, requiring proper reporting and an end to dumping dead fish in landfill sites open to the elements, local seabirds and wildlife, and of course disgusting to local residents. One hundred times that quantity now travels on our roads each year for specialist disposal. 

Last year’s dead salmon will have been fed on perhaps 100,000 tonnes of what the industry calls “trash fish” that have been hoovered up by supertrawlers from the coastal waters of far off lands. Destruction of local fisheries  in places like Senegal has even led to desperate people turning to piracy.

As individuals we can’t do much about Ukraine, but we sure as hell can stop eating farmed salmon and suggest that our friends stop too. Lots of information is available from organisations such as Wild Fish and individual campaigners such as Don Staniford and Corin Smith.

Turning to more cheerful matters, for me the best things this year were the cheerful muster some old friends had in late Spring, sailing and rowing boats most of us had made ourselves, based on a wee island with great craic agus ceòl agus òrain, our twentieth and probably the last year we’ll do it. Also meeting new friends through pursuing the Gaelic language and culture at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye and Dunollie Castle and Furan at the Tallachan Chorran in Oban.


I found the information contained in Ewan’s article very disturbing. I like smoked salmon. I even had some in my New Year meal. It would not have happened if I had read Ewan’s article beforehand. I knew there were problems but I never realised the quantities or the widespread nature of the problems. Action needs taken and urgently if we are to avoid tainting for all time our reputation for quality and pure produce. I believe a Norwegian company dominates this practice. I write and publish regularly articles complimentary to Scandinavia. My thanks to Ewan for bringing this to the public’s and my own attention. A lot of this product is exported by air from, wait for it, Heathrow Airport so there is not a lot of contribution to Scotland economically either. We seem to have cornered the environmentally damaging side of the industry.

I am, as always


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20 thoughts on “Some reflections on the year just gone.

  1. As an ex salmon fishermen, I am very pleased to see this article from Ewan that highlights one of the major problems that have faced the wild salmon industry for more than 50 years.

    I am the third (and last) generation of haaf-netters in my family that fished on the Solway Firth. I listened to the stories told by my grandfather and father of their exploits and experiences on the Solway and through my teen-years watched my father and others as they left the shore in all weathers and returned cold and wet and often without reward. Netting on the Solway began over 1,000 years ago when the monks at Redkirk Point (near Gretna) placed their salmon traps. As the name suggests, haaf-netting is named so because it was passed to us from the Vikings and local folklore tells us that the 16 foot wooden beams used are the same length as their longboat oars.

    Back in the 1960s Columnaris was the major culprit in diseased salmon and they were not a pretty sight. but it was worthwhile (most of the time) to go out onto the Solway at all times of the day or night – dependent on the times and heights of the tides.

    Since then, the wild salmon totals have been decimated (in the true meaning of the word decimation), and for some time it has not been worthwhile from an economic point of view to go haaf-netting. There have been a number of reasons for the decline of wild salmon in all the rivers of Scotland and “the aquaculture industry” must take some of the responsibility for the massive reduction in wild salmon catches.

    Knowing how these “farmed salmon” are produced has me avoiding the fish if on the menu and I would never buy or eat smoked fish, unless I knew exactly how it had been caught.

    With almost every stretch of open water on the west coast now filled with aquaculture facilities, the amount of waste material mentioned by Ewan is enormous and has been increasing well beyond what is safe for the environment.

    Yes, the aquaculture industry does bring much-needed jobs to rural areas but at what long-term cost?

    Corporate greed will trump (no pun intended) safety every time and I ask myself, as I regularly do, would this be happening in an independent Scotland in control of all aspects of government and with a focus on the Common Good rather than profit?

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Thanks for publishing that Iain and to Ewan for describing what is happening from a local;s point of view.
    Like iain we enjoyed a small packet of farmed smoked salmon over the holidays and i now feel guilty at haing done that. I looked at the Wild Fish video and tried to post a link to facebook but that did not work so I had to take a photo from it and post that, which did work. i agree we must stop eating the product and campaign for change before more of our enviropon ment is destryed,
    Could the Scottish government or local authorities do anything though planning laws? We seem to have too little control over what happens to our land and under the sea in our waters. Can we invoke the recently revived information by salvo that we, the people of Scotland own our country and our waters and so should be able to stop the exploitation of these by outside agencies which do detriment rather than benefit to us?
    Yes, i will stop eating farmed salmon but want to do more, perhaps lobbying the Holyrood parliament.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I would probably be one of the women that they didn’t like either so might have been joining you in getting done away with back then. At times even in these periods sometimes quite a few of us have been subjected to witch hunts. 😆
    I concluded that perhaps back in the day the people who were a threat to greed and destruction, who perhaps understood nature were the folk who were deemed bad yet perhaps they wanted to save everyone and their landscape from destruction. The corporate world of the time probably were not for having it so perhaps developed means of eliminating and controlling others.
    I experienced right wing Christian Nationalism on an American social media and they were acting out crusades online, telling women to be good little wives at home fulfilling their desires. Telling people it’s their way or no way, every knee shall bow. I thought to myself not much has changed in some places. They then do bible passage quowtes as if it reinforces their authority.
    I think that there’s a lot of good in the world and in honesty it’s not us doing these terrible things written in this piece, it’s those who are in positions of power that are. The majority of people are trying to share information to other people across the world in order to help raise awareness and hopefully bring forward changes for the better.
    It’s obvious we need to become our own nation have people who know what they are doing to try remedy the things that need to be. Sometimes people have great ideas and they don’t realise how harmful they can be until it’s done. A lot of people fear changes instead of embracing something that’s better for all rather than just the few. It took me years to eat smoked salmon and like yerself I had some for new year dinner as well. You would think that we would be able to trust our own produce. One thing though, I am not in favour of people who are vegan trying to make everyone else the same or eat this unnatural mechanical food fae labs. So if we have people who really know what they are doing in natural areas they would need to keep their personal likes out of it.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Robert Kennedy posted an article about the Native American’s salmon supply being contaminated with Mercury and the object wasn’t to stop them eating the salmon but rather stop it from being contaminated. A lot of alternative non natural are not solutions and are market orientated as well. They don’t solve the issues of nature just shift the market to fake.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I worked in the fish farming industry in the early days. The cages were handmade out of timber and would hold about 3 tons of fish. Because of the cage construction they were confined to the more sheltered sea lochs which were also directly at the mouth of a lot of West coast salmon rivers. The smolts from these rivers had to pass the cages and picked up a heavy sea lice burden that impacted on their survival at sea. The collapse of the wild salmon runs on the West coast was down to many factors the sea lice problem being one. As the small family fish farms were gobbled up by the multi nationals the cage size and design increased and got better so the farms were able to expand and operate in more exposed sites and the industry grew massively to leave us where we are today with an unsustainable industry. Several countries are now banning open cage farming but we are still allowing it and with mechanisation the number of jobs per ton of fish has declined. In the early days lice treatment involved using nothing better than the active ingredient in sheep dip with all the risks to the environment and to workers carrying out the treatment which does not sit well with the clean natural image the industry likes to portray. At one time the Green party used to fight this industry before they became the sham they are today.

    Liked by 6 people

      A country using the law for the good. I used to be friends with a guy from here and his job was testing the water in the sea. Turkiye operate on fishing seasons. Between certain periods of time it’s open for fishing and then closes until the stock repleneshes. They have rules for people and how many they are allowed to catch and protected species which come with hefty fines if caught. I learned this as my ex and his pals often went out to the sea in wee boats to catch their own seafood. They have a good network of folk looking after turtles as such as well.


      1. They have a strong coast guard which is often out to ensure that the rules of the sea is followed. I have saw them out at night catching a guy who was fishing in the turtle protected area of the beach. So they are quite vigilant.


  6. I never developed a taste for the ” reid fish” . Ironic that commercial fishermen now hoover up white fish to be turned into salmon feed . The reid fish was taboo in fishing communities ,

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re right Brian now that I am no longer aboard a trawler, I can name the fish “salmon” but had I said that word when aboard, then we would undoubtedly be on the receiving end of much ill-fortune.

      If we did need to speak of the salmon we had to use alternative names and the most popular around here being “queer fellas”. Nowadays, that may mean a knock at the door by a person in uniform and being told to “come down to the station” to explain myself! I still use the toast I first heard from my grandfather and then my father “Guid health tae men an death tae fishes”.

      Not sure how well it would be received now to substitute “queer fellas” for “fishes” though!

      In some fishing communities the forbidden words could also be “hares” and / or “badgers”. There must be an ancient reasoning for these superstitions.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. JSM , the plausible reasoning for some creatures being taboo is that they are mixtures of things belonging to both the land and the sea . Otters and herons were forbidden subjects with some fishermen for that reason. In other places , any talk about purely land creatures especially domestic animals was also taboo , The net effect of such rules seem to be to keep minds focussed entirely on sea matters when at sea . I guess that in earlier days before specialisation of farming and fishing when many farmers went to the fishing in season , it was crucial to keep the two worlds separate . There were also taboos around meeting women on the way to the boat or speaking about ministers , both subjects likely to be contentious and undermine crew solidarity .
        I believe that among Spanish fishermen , the fox was strongly taboo. I could bore for Scotland on this topic .

        Liked by 5 people

  7. I studied salmon for 20 years in a former life at the freshwater fisheries laboratory in Pitlochry, long before they placed a sign saying marine Scotland at the entrance to their drive, a sign of the encroaching institutional politics that blights so much of the decision making. Our section teased out the basis of life history decision making which sadly the farming industry has used to increase their productivity.
    So as a long time member of the SNP, I remember Iain conferences when you were on the platform, and someone with a working knowledge of salmon and an active non-stasis conservationist I abhor salmon farming on so many levels. The only thing green about it is the ‘dollar’ they chase. Their effects on ecosystems are not just local, when not using food sourced from GM modified sources they are using biologically important small fish, the bedrock of ecosystems removed from the site of production. This is in addition to the chemicals used to suppress fish lice, which affects natural populations of anadromous salmonids, and appalling conditions for the salmon themselves. It is not ecologically sustainable and reflects Man’s unbalanced relationship with the environment. The whole industry should be replaced and a major effort to enhance natural populations undertaken so that exploitation occurs in the local river system and the economic benefits spread in the local community. The exploitation should be made under the control of a Scottish Fish, Forestry and Wildlife Service akin to the North American equivalents, where they have the power to enforce and management of the resource is based on scientific research to ensure the long term viability of the resource.

    From Greer and Pretswell’s New Caledonia Principles

    Local resources should be under local control and managed within a national strategic framework.
    The aim of sustainability should be twofold:
    1. To link the quality of life of local communities with the existence of a diverse biological resource that is the best it can be.
    2. To live off the annual interest generated by the biological capital and not the capital itself.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thanks for the inside perspective as someone who was directly involved and understood the massively negative impacts of salmon farming.

      It was only later in my time salmon fishing on the Solway that I and my fellow haaf-netters began to catch the odd one or two deformed fish. Some had hardly any tails, while others had missing fins or badly deformed mouths, or a combination of them. No way could any fishmonger present one of them for sale! I had to give up due to stroke in 1993 but have been informed that while the numbers of wild salmon have decreased, the numbers of deformed fish that have presumably escaped their cages has greatly increased.

      I wonder what the agricultural workers on the large estates in earlier centuries would think about salmon nowadays. Many of them had a statement in their contracts that they could only be given salmon for a set number of days per week. It was so plentiful back then that estate owners / factors fed them on salmon as often as they could get away with it because it was so freely available.


      1. During Victorian times apprentices in London complained about getting too much salmon. In the eighties the Canadian government banned exploitation of salmon in their seas to get their river populations back to historic levels. All of this is indicative of how we have lost our balance with the environment. When fishing quotas are announced does anybody take stock (no pun intended) of the fact that we are fighting over the crumbs of an impoverished stock, driven in part by the fact that we build industries on sand then over-exploit to maintain the industry. Think of herring shoals that were miles wide and miles long. We are arguing over the dregs. Where is the national strategy that places the resource at the heart of the solution? There is insufficient policing of exploitation.
        By removing salmon farms and enhancing runs of Atlantic salmon back to historic levels then we can look at sustainable methods of local exploitation – not to be confused with a guy with a gaff taking one for the pot!
        Further, in freshwater some operations have looked at rearing brook trout ( a north american Charr) in lochs where their are unique populations of Arctic Charr and thus bring in potential for hybridisation and the loss of these unique post ice age populations.
        We need to re-write the manual of our relationship with the environment.

        Liked by 5 people

  8. The salmon industry provides employment locally here and for the drivers who transport it to airports. The firms all seem to be foreign owned so bulk of revenue leaves the country. As a navigator the cages are not well marked especially at night. The waste problem means that the farming is too intensive.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. There seems something kamikaze about this. The industry must know that when salmon have become the battery hens of the sea, that the market for Salmon will bomb permanently, and it will no longer be associated with a “luxury” and iconic game fish.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. in the supermarkets it is priced along with herring mackerel and white fish no longer a luxury and most buyers dont realise how it is produced

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The issues with farmed salmon have been known for decades and that is the reason I haven’t eaten farmed salmon sice the the 80’s and since then it’s got a hell of a lot worse. The first I heard about problems was here in Germany where there were a few programs about the problems in Norway, which was then the biggest and still is, producer of farmed salmon. I could see which way things were going for Scotland after driving up the west coast of Scotland in 1992; I was shocked at the proliferation of these farms. The medicine that they used to shovel in to take care of the lice plus the colourants to make them orange would put you right off, plus the taste of course,after having eaten the real thing, which I ate now and then as a laddie in the 50’s; my dad was a good poacher.
    Now I’m back living in Germany and there;s been quite a few ads at Christmas time lauding Scottish salmon with beautiful Scottish vistas in the background.
    Fish farming has been around for thousands of years but when it becomes a multibillion $ business, that’s when it gets to become a problem.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Another example that the Scotland we had all envisaged is getting further from our grasp every day. It is far to easy to blame Westminster for our lot, but the reality is that over many Centuries too many “Scots” have been happy to take the coin of the greedy if they benefit from the trade.
    The same greed that cost our Nation it’s freedom remains as effective today as 300 years ago.
    The SNP are no different from the old Lairds who took land in England for their silence and inaction. Today that “Short Money” pouring into the SNP HQ coffers serves the exact same purpose.

    Happy 316th Year in the Colony

    Liked by 3 people

  13. bradan = salmon
    am bradan fios = the salmon of knowledge
    bradan-bacach (literally “lame/halting salmon”) = sturgeon

    In his wonderfully rich and extensive dictionary ‘Faclan is Abairtean à Ros an Iar / Gaelic Words and Phrases from Wester Ross’ (published by Clàr, 2003), the late lamented Roy Wentworth has the following entry under the heading “salmon”:

    “‘Fear-geal’ (‘a white one’ – name used by fisherman by whom the word ‘bradan’ is avoided)”.

    And Roy gives us the following related sentence from the local dialect:

    “Na faigheadh aid bradán a’s a’ bhreac-lin cha chanadh aid ‘bradán’ ach ‘fear-geal’.”

    (“If they’d get a salmon in the cod-nets they wouldn’t say ‘bradán’ but ‘fear-geal’.”)

    Liked by 5 people

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