By Mike Small

Introducing and exploring issues of food sovereignty in advance of our Food Revolt conference sometimes feels awkward. What does this have to do with ‘us’ here?

But developments on Eigg bring the idea into sharp focus. A proposal is being put to Highland Council to site a fish farm just off the island of Eigg. A community ballot considered the proposal, and with an 86% turnout came out 97% against the development. Despite this, Highland Council is still exploring the plans, despite overwhelming evidence that intensive fish farming has a terrible effect on wild fish stocks and the marine environment. The idea is at the pre-application process, and a spokesman for the Scottish Salmon Company insisted there is a ‘stringent statutory consultation process’ underway.

When similar opposition got organised in Islay the company was forced to withdraw their plans. You can support the Eigg islanders here (well over half way of 3000 target)

This is in essence an example of food sovereignty, or the lack of it. This community has no control of the food being harvested in its waters. As crofter Eddie Scott explains why the plans by Scottish Salmon Company would wreck Eigg’s green credentials:

“One fact demonstrates more than any other why the scale of this proposal goes against everything we’re trying to do on Eigg; Eigg Electric, our community owned electricity company, provides enough power for 40 homes and 10 businesses from our 164kW capacity renewable energy grid. Scottish Salmon have said the fish farm will need 150kW of power, to be provided by a generator fueled by diesel. Eigg Electric replaced the need for the diesel generators that had powered homes and businesses for decades with clean, reliable, quiet and affordable power. In one fell swoop, Scottish Salmon will reverse what we’ve achieved as a Green Island.”

Besides the impact on the community of Eigg – the growth feeds the obscene flourishing of fish farms in every sea loch in Scotland, and adds to the food miles insanity of us exporting salmon to China, something widely celebrated by Scotland Food & Drink.

In times of austerity surely everyone would celebrate a jobs boost? But if we pollute our waters and contaminate the ‘brand’ of Scottish food as something of quality, that’s short termism at its worst. And what’s the point of funding projects like Fife Diet – then backing massive food exports?

Fish farming is a nightmare. Problems include the spread of sea lice and the dilution of the gene pool as escaped farmed salmon mate with their wild counterparts. In September 2009, to name just one recent example about 37,000 juvenile fish escaped from a farm on Mull. More on aquaculture effluent and biodiversity collapse here.

Writing in 2001 Stephanie Roth stated: “The ecological costs, and as a result the costs in terms of animal and human health, have been truly devastating. Indeed, looking back over the four decades since its introduction, Scotland’s intensive fish farming may well represent the worst environmental catastrophe to hit the Western Highlands in recent history. In 1997, there were 100s of active salmon farms in northern Scotland. With up to half a million fish crammed into cages on a single farm, fish production on such an intensive scale has caused many problems. Firstly, an incredible amount of pollution. The dumping of untreated effluent, contaminated waste, feed, faeces and chemicals have annihilated indigenous life-forms in many of Scotland’s finest rivers and lochs. It is no surprise, perhaps, that the average life-span of an intensive salmon farm of this sort is at most 15 years, after which allocated spaces are so polluted that they must be relocated elsewhere.”

Little has changed since then, apart from the numbers and scale of farms vastly increasing. Farmed production of Atlantic salmon in Scotland grew from 500 tonnes in 1980 to 30,000 tonnes in 1990, jumping to 120,000 tonnes in 1998. Today, Scotland has the world’s third largest salmon farming industry. As on almost every area of pour lives trade triumphes over sustainability, communities views ignored and food stocks, species habitat and biodiversity endangered to the point of collapse. ‘Regulation’ is at best a fig-leaf to business as usual. This is why we need a Food Revolt.

It’s sadly ironic that the Salmon – once an emblem of Scottish rural life and abundance –  is now at the forefront of a degenerate and polluting system of brutal commerce.