Mail on Sunday

Sir David Attenborough accuses fish farms of threatening the survival of wild salmon through breeding genetically weaker specimens

Katherine Sutherland

Apr 7, 2019
Sir David Attenborough is among the most influential spokespeople worldwide for the future of Planet Earth
Sir David Attenborough has accused fish farms of ‘threatening the very survival’ of wild salmon.

In a YouTube film to mark the International Year of the Salmon (IYS), the broadcaster and conservationist warns: ‘The survival of these astonishing fish is at risk.

‘Dams blocking their rivers, over-exploitation, pollution of the water, the spread of parasites, diseases, and fish escaping from open-cage salmon farms… all these, together with the inevitable effects of climate change, are threatening their very survival.’

The involvement of the 92-year-old, whose work on trailblazing wildlife programmes such as Life On Earth and Blue Planet have made him a global authority on conservation, is a boost for campaigners who claim fish-farming, which is worth £1 billion a year to the UK economy, is harming the marine environment

‘Salmon are incredibly important fish,’ Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland – which commissioned the short film – told The Mail on Sunday.

‘They are vital to the wellbeing and health of river systems across the North Atlantic. Many other fish depend on them.’

Underlining the importance of Sir David’s contribution, he added: ‘When somebody hears that voice they are drawn in. We are greatly indebted to him.’

Global populations of wild Atlantic salmon have fallen from between eight to ten million in the 1970s to between three to four million today.

Critics say intensive farming increases the number of diseases and parasites such as sea lice, which then spread into the sea and attack wild fish.

They also fear fish escaping from farms – most of which are in Scotland – breed with wild salmon and weaken the genes of the wild fish.

But Hamish Macdonell, director of strategic engagement at the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, defended the industry.

‘Sir David is absolutely right that there are a range of potential, man-made threats to wild salmon populations: the most pressing of which come from climate change, pollution, over-exploitation and changes to our oceans,’ he said.

‘We also share Sir David’s concern about escapes from open-cage salmon farms, which is why our members have worked very hard to reduce these to as low a level as possible over the past few years.’

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