Codswallop for Christmas

The North Atlantic Wild Salmon breeds in freshwater. Tiny juvenile fish go to sea and there grow into the world renowned game fish that give such sport when returning to spawn in their natal areas.


In freshwater, wild salmon in Scotland are managed by local fishery boards advised by expert biologists. Policy is driven by vested interest and detailed knowledge as members own fishing rights or live in the local area. Local knowledge is important as salmon have adapted to prevailing conditions and genetically vary from one N Atlantic host country to another, from river to river and even within different geographical reaches of a single river. Members give their time free and meet without charge on private property. Thus Scotland enjoys good cost effective freshwater management that countries, organized on region or national level, cannot match. Contrast this with zero dedicated salmon management in the Atlantic ocean; only half a job being done.

The Food Chain

Salmon food chain includes sand eels and juvenile marine fish, such as cod. They grow from minnows to monsters and can reach 50 or more pounds in weight, (22+Kgs) subject to food availability. Unfortunately, the produce of the sea is being hoovered up to satisfy the needs of farmed Atlantic salmon (same diet), Man’s personal diet and to drive turbines with the energy source of sand eel carcasses. Heavy use of sand eels jeopardizes marine birds. The fate of the cod is an example of what happens to a salmon food chain species when politicians fail to balance stock conservation with exploitation.

Dwindling Cod Stocks

In 1968 with modern otter trawls and fish finders, 810,000 tons of cod were caught off Labrador, nearly 3 times more than had ever been caught in a single previous year.

The cod fishery off Newfoundland was closed by Canada in 1992 when stocks dramatically collapsed to less than a quarter of their status 14 years before. In sparsely populated Newfoundland, with little other industry, 30,000 were thrown out of work immediately. The cod stocks have not recovered. Failing to learn from example, a similar story can be told in USA. A five foot wooden cod in the Massachusetts statehouse symbolizes the importance of cod to the founding fathers. But cod don’t grow to 5 feet anymore; they are caught before they have the chance and stocks on the Georges banks are in big trouble.

Salmon Migration Routes

Migration Routes

Have those twin warnings about cod (and other fish stock collapses from over exploitation) been heeded in our own North Sea? “No.”

I have witnessed countless Ministers returning from bargaining with their Euro counterparts bravely stating they have squeezed a few extra tons of catch for our sea based fishery industry. But it’s all “double speak” for:

“I have disregarded the advice of international scientists to advance the date of dramatic stock collapses, ending your jobs, the lives of sea birds and other fish species like salmon. I have done this to curry votes from those demanding Cod and Chips, cheap farmed salmon, cat food tins full of immature fish or the burning of sand eel carcasses to make electricity. Jam to-day folks, am I not a Wow?”

Jobs at stake

The burgeoning farmed salmon business provides jobs and demands an ever larger proportion of the finite saltwater feed resource. Heavy investment and jobs are at stake in marine fishing. Wild salmon provide jobs and very significant sport tourist income in host countries. (In Scotland, freshwater fishing in all its forms is an even more valuable source of national income than golf.) Keeping the balance between competing interests in the sea is the job of the politician on both sides of the Atlantic and he has failed. A recent front page headline warns that the North Sea will be a totally empty food larder by 2050.

"I'm sorry, I haven't a clue"

The chief Scottish scientist recently mentioned how many river miles we enjoyed in Scotland. I asked him for more useful management information. “How many miles has Man cut off from migrating fish and how many juvenile fish can no longer be produced”? The answer could only have pleased Humphrey Lyttleton’s radio spot “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue”.

Removal of Man made barriers to migratory fish seems fundamental as does regular Review of appropriate river angling seasons as the number and timing of salmon returning from the sea alters. Nor does government publish angling season records before the next season’s management plan has had to be made. Fishery Boards lobby away about these things. They urge anglers to ever higher levels of conservation, especially of the most endangered sub species, the early returning “Springers”. They support land use change toward more vegetation to mitigate erosive flooding from global warming cloudburst and to increase juvenile densities with increased in river feed levels.

The Domino Effect

In the sea, the laissez-faire policy is seen to be unsustainable. The problem is not just about salmon and sea birds. Their plight points up the urgent need for management of the interaction between species to avoid a domino effect in which over exploitation of one species adversely affects the health of another.

Global warming will allow rape of the Artic larder as the protective ice cover melts. To avoid that, all the countries hosting the wild Atlantic salmon from the pole to the southernmost range of the fish, (Pyrenees on the east and Connecticut river in USA ) have to agree a common management policy. Chomping through your Xmas Gobbler or sweating inside your Santa Claus habit, informed voters must insist that such a policy be determined now. Any wishy washy drifting assures a smokescreen of political Codswallop, masking ecological disaster.

Counting the salmon

Wild salmon are a very good judge of Atlantic marine resource management. For the salmon transit huge distances across the pond. They have a very wide diet and when they return to freshwater their number and their condition can be counted and assessed. Increasing numbers, returning in good condition and the Atlantic larder is in shape. But, whilst numbers decline we know from the Canadian, US and UK experience that we are failing our Christmas children.

JGS, Amat. December 2006

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