‘SCOTTISH SALMON’ – Why did we let go of our own precious PGI?

By James Merryweather

Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Camembert, Hereford
Cider, Waterford Blaa and others all have their hard-won and jealously-guarded Protected Geographical Indication status (PGI). Why not Scottish Salmon?

That was hijacked long ago right under our noses by Norwegian corporations and applied to their ersatz, far-from-PGI-worthy product. It’s become so entrenched in that context, I doubt Scotland will ever be able to reclaim it. Have our leaders ever realised the significance of the singular designation they allowed to be appropriated by invading Vikings? Could we at least try to recover the brand name of one of our iconic national products?

Would we want to, now, considering its increasingly tarnished reputation? Fish sold as ‘Scottish Salmon’ worldwide is hardly the best example of salmon of any sort and the name is losing its ability to engender Scottish pride. Apart from substandard eating quality belied by cheerful labelling, if they get whole fish, supermarket mongers have to embed them in crushed ice, carefully burying ragged, sea lice-nibbled dorsal and caudal fins so customers don’t see the scars.

Until a few decades ago Atlantic salmon was fished as luxury food in rivers all around Scotland. Now it is urgently protected by strict conservation regulations, which are likely to fail if the sea lice problem is not resolved soon. As Norwegian big businesses expand their salmon farming empires along the western coastline of Scotland and around its islands, wild salmon stocks decline, eaten by massive numbers of fish farm generated sea lice and degraded by genetic introgression from farm escapees, disastrous impacts for the truly Scottish Atlantic salmon and sea trout to endure.

Of course, the scientific research 1 that exposes the causes of those declines threatens company profits and, therefore, is consistently and disingenuously dismissed as ‘flawed’ by well briefed, disarmingly plausible industry spokespersons. Ironically, now they are concurrently claiming that warming seas due to climate change is the cause of sea louse epidemics as they use warm water as a sea louse extermination treatment (not always successfully: remember the Loch Greshornish, Skye debacle when they cooked the lot?).

It really irks me the way the Norwegians have adopted the ‘Scottish Salmon’ brand and how the public, surreptitiously misinformed by ubiquitous hype, automatically mind-extrapolate that designation into the wild salmon image … and then buy junk salmon clearly labelled Farmed Scottish Salmon, without allowing a critical thought access to their consciousness, passively assuming they’re getting a traditional luxury product created by nature and fished by tweedy gentlemen in fantasy Speyside river scenes.

Psychologists call that Cognitive Dissonance: the brain knows something that’s true but the mind concurrently believes a contradictory falsehood. I’ve noticed that the salmon aquaculture industry’s ethos is the secular equivalent of creationism. The science is plentiful, persuasive and widely understood, but because of what they believe in (money as opposed to literal Genesis) the science must be wrong and has to be energetically opposed, by repeated, dogmatic denial.

I spoke to some residents of Brevard, North Carolina where Ingles supermarket proudly displays a wide range of fish including scarlet wild Alaskan sock-eye, another less vivid but delicious wild Pacific species and clearly labelled Farmed Scottish Salmon. They admitted to having read the label, yet they automatically latched onto the romantic descriptor ‘Scottish’ while completely overlooking the prosaic ‘farmed’.

JM Blog 1I reminded them of the conventional picture of a tweed and wader clad Scotsman with rod and line, up to his waist in a rocky Highland river, and they agreed that was what the image the superstore label unconsciously conveyed to them. They soon changed their minds when I described the method by which farmed salmon is produced and the impacts of its production on Scotland’s seas, rivers and wild salmonids. I’m confident they’ll be aware next time they go shopping at Ingles’ fish counter and might even have a quiet word with the fine fellow who serves there.

At the time of writing (4/2/18) the Scottish Sun has reported: “FISH FAECES Scotland’s booming fish farming market will lead to coastlines being swamped by salmon poo, experts warn”. 2 The title was corny, the mere two hundred words contained none of Andrew Graham-Stewart’s interview and the meagre text was littered with typos and misquotes from the other ‘experts’ the journalist consulted (Don Staniford and me).

But what really annoyed me was that for the umpteenth time, a salmon farming story was illustrated by a stock picture of a sparkling waterfall with leaping wild salmon. That’s as suitable a representation of farmed salmon as are those happy advertising pigs that invite us to eat pork sausages.

JM Blog 2

Flabby, greasy, tasting not unlike diesel and more than likely seasoned
with emamectin benzoate and/or ethoxyquin. [Puzzled? Ask Google.]

1 Thorstad, E.B. & Finstad, B. (2018). Impacts of salmon lice emanating from salmon farms on wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout. NINA Report 1449. https://www.salmon-trout.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Thorstad-
2 https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2186229/fish-farming-leading-to-salmon-poo-on-coasts/

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