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PRESS RELEASE BY E-MAIL FROM: John F. Robins, Campaigns Consultant, Animal Concern, Post Office Box 5178, Dumbarton G82 5YJ. Tel: 01389-841111, Mobile: 07721-605521. Fax: 0870-7060327. Animal Concern incorporates the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society which has been Campaigning for animals since 1876
E-MAIL: animals@jfrobins.force9.co.uk    website:  http://www.animalconcern.com/  ISSUED 13.00hrs 5th May 2014

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT ACCUSED OF COVER-UP

The Scottish Government has once again refused a Freedom of Information request relating to the salmon farming industry. Earlier this year a former senior Government Scientist admitted that he and his colleagues had known since 1989 that infestations of sealice at salmon farms were having serious adverse effects on wild salmon and seatrout populations. Despite that information Government Ministers have never acknowledged the link between salmon farms and dwindling stocks of wild salmon and seatrout.

John Robins of Animal Concern made a Freedom of Information request to find out what information on the interaction between sealice at salmon farms and wild salmon and seatrout populations had been given to Government Ministers by their scientific advisors in the last three years. Seventeen relevant documents were found but, despite recognising the public interest in disclosing this information, the Government refused to hand these over to Mr. Robins on the grounds that doing so might deter Government scientists from providing Ministers with “similar frank advice on this and other topics in future”.

Animal Concern has now called on the Government to review the decision to withhold this information and if the Government continues to refuse to release the 17 documents a complaint will be made to the Freedom of Information Commissionaire.

Last year the Scottish Government refused a request for details on the shooting of seals by salmon farmers and only released that information after being forced to do so by the Freedom of Information Commissionaire.

John Robins states; “Once again the Scottish Government appears to be covering up for the mainly Norwegian owned salmon farming industry in Scotland. If Government Ministers knew of the link between sealice infestations on salmon farms and the decline in wild salmon and seatrout populations then their failure to act on that information is an extremely serious matter which calls into question their suitability to hold public office. Quite frankly the Scottish Government is far too close to the aquaculture industry and does more to protect salmon farmers than to protect our environment, our wild fish stocks and our tourist industry from the damage caused by floating factory fish farms.” 

Mr. Robins also criticises the Government for ignoring freedom of information laws. He says; “This is also by no means the first time the Scottish Government has refused to comply with freedom of information legislation. Like it or not Alex Salmond and his Ministers live in an era of open and accountable government and they cannot withhold information which might embarrass them or controversial industries they are closely associated with.”   

Click here to read the letter refusing us access to the documents we requested and below is our request to the Director of Marine Scotland to overturn that decision. If Dr. Rosborough continues to refuse to release the 17 documents we will ask the Freedom of Information Commissionaire to intervene. 

Dr. Linda Rosborough,
Director,
Marine Scotland,
Area 1B (South),
Victoria Quay,
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ

Dear Dr. Rosborough,

On 9th April 2014 I made the following Freedom of Information Request to the Scottish Government:

“I request, under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and/or the Environmental information (Scotland) Regulations 2004, copies of all communications (including letters, e-mails, memos, meeting minutes and notes plus (should they exist) any transcripts or recordings of telephone calls) from 2010 to the present day between Marine Scotland and the First Minister and Scottish Government Ministers with responsibility for Aquaculture and the Marine Environment on the subject of sea lice infestations at marine salmon farms in Scotland and the effect of such sea lice infestations on wild salmonids.”

Please find attached the reply dated 2nd May from Marine Scotland. You will see that although 17 documents relating to my request were found Marine Scotland has decided not to release them to me on the grounds that:

“We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing all of the information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, in relation to the free and frank policy advice there is a greater public interest in ensuring high quality policy and decision-making, and in avoiding officials being put off providing similar frank advice on this and other topics in future. Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options to fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether these discussions about sea lice and marine salmon farms in Scotland will be disclosed in any future policy decisions on the matter, so release of this information would be likely to undermine the quality and level of detail of advice on the subject which is provided in future.”

The reason for my making this FOI request was because of media reports that a senior Government fisheries scientist (Dr. Richard Shelton, former head of the Government’s Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory) has stated that he and his colleagues have known since 1989 that salmon and seatrout populations on the west coast of Scotland are being adversely effected by sealice from salmon farms. This is something which myself and many other people have always thought to have been the case but it has never been publicly accepted by the Scottish Government.

If senior civil servants have brought these concerns to the attention of Government Ministers and those Ministers have failed to act on or even acknowledge those concerns then a very serious breach of Ministerial responsibility has occurred resulting in continued serious damage to the marine environment, wild salmonid populations and the angling and tourism industries. It has also caused damage to the reputation of those whose concerns over sealice plagues from salmon farms have been dismissed and ignored.  If Ministers were aware of this problem then, especially given their obvious support of and closeness to the salmon farming industry, serious questions must also be asked as to what indeed their relationship is with the salmon farming industry. If any of the Scottish Government Environment Ministers failed to act on information about the damage being caused by sealice from fish farms and indeed went on to promote the salmon farming industry, those Ministers were guilty of extreme dereliction of their Ministerial duties and must be brought to account for their inaction over the issue.

Quite frankly the response I have received from Marine Scotland is an insult to myself and to the principal of freedom of information legislation.  I too want to ensure high quality policy and decision-making by Government Ministers. If those Government Ministers have been ignoring high quality advice from their senior civil servants and scientific advisors, employees effectively publicly gagged by the Official Secrets Act and other terms of their employment contracts, then the only way to expose any such incompetence is through proper use of freedom of information legislation.

I now ask you to review the decision of your Department to refuse me access to the 17 documents referred to in the attached letter and to release those documents to me ASAP.

Yours sincerely,

 

John F. Robins,
Secretary to Animal Concern

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