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2 August 1989
AGONY OF STAR UNDER FIRE OVER HIS FISH FARMS
Millionaire rock star Ian Anderson, who left the music industry a decade ago and opened three salmon fish farms on the idyllic Isle of Skye, is facing an agonising dilemma.
The leader of Jethro Tull, whose aim was to create a better life for his family and the islanders, has come under heavy fire from environmentalists. They have accused him, along with other fish farmers, of shooting between 1,000 and 3,000 seals every year because they raid the salmon stocks.
They also claim that fish, farmers are causing serious seabed pollution by feeding salmon artificial food pellets, and using dangerous pesticides to rid their stocks of lethal sea lice.
Anderson, 41, is eager to take action to counter environmental hazards.
But the man whose enterprise has brought economic stability to the region is also quick to point out that there is another side to the story.
Predators such as seals and hunting birds cost the industry anything from £1.4million to £4.8million a year.
As a member of the Scottish Salmon Growers Association, he has actively supported ways of coping with predators, including seals.
A draft code of conduct, compiled in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy Council and the RSPB, is about to be published. But many of its recommendations have been practised in Anderson's fish farms since he first began.
In the past ten years, his workers have seen forced to shoot around ten seals — persistent predators, prompted by the killer instinct rather than a need for food.
Anderson, who owns a 15,000-acre estate on the beautiful island wilderness, said:
"Neither I nor anyone working for me would relish the thought of killing seals. It's not a sport that comes as a perk of being a fish farmer, walking around with a gun on your hip.
"But if you have fish losses and you can identify an individual animal as being the cause, you have to take action.
"Between 100 and 200 salmon can be lost to one individual seal in a night. When a 6lb salmon costs around £10 to £12, you can be talking about £2,000 to £3,000 lost in just one night.
"Fortunately we only have a problem once in a blue moon. If, as a last resort, we have to shoot a seal, it saddens me as much as it saddens everyone else. But on balance I feel it's the right way to go."
In his efforts to minimise the killing of seals, Anderson is now protecting his fish with special predator nets and ultrasonic underwater seal scarers.
But he admits he shares some of the environmentalists' concerns.
"For instance what are the effects of growing fish year after year on the same spot when they are fouling the bottom of the loch? There is concern over the use of pesticides and anti-biotics. But without their use, there would be no Scottish salmon industry."
Anderson is also quick to stress his commitment to the industry.
"I am not doing this as a hobby. I am not someone in the music business thinking what can I do for a bit of fun in my spare time.
"My wallet, and indirectly the wallets of many of my employees, mean that we must consider the realities of operating in a cruel world and being part of the creation of an industry.
"But if it was demonstrated to me that fish fanning was damaging in the broad sense to the environment — if, for example, it was shown we would have to shoot several seals a week — I would reach the point of not wanting to do it any more. It would become unpalatable."
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.