of Ian Anderson, erstwhile fish-farm tycoon and frontman of rock survivors Jethro Tull, are reaching a crescendo, which must be pleasing to water industry chiefs.
“We are not paying anything like what we should be for the water we drink,” the Fife-born musician lamented. “Nobody wants to see ridiculous costs attached to the supply of water. But we do not want quality to go downhill and we must begin to recognise its proper value.”
His complaint is part of a wide-ranging analysis of the damage being caused by the demand from consumers to get more and more commodities on the cheap. It’s a trend that partly explains Anderson’s retreat from the fish farming business he developed with gusto from the late 1970s.
The latest accounts filed for the Ian Anderson Group for the year ending June 2003 indicate the decline of his involvement in the industry. Revenue from salmon farming and processing fell from £2.4 million to £278,382 over the year and Anderson, 55, has since sold more sites that had been part of his once-mighty Strathaird group to Kinloch Damph in Wester Ross.
The bulk of the Strathaird business, which was once said to be the biggest operator of its kind in Britain, was sold to Macrae Holdings three years ago.
Launched in 1978 in Skye as a way of off-setting the cost of Anderson’s estate there, Strathaird had grown to a £10.7m turnover business by 1999.
Anderson has not withdrawn fully, maintaining a shareholding in one of the companies that has been swallowing chunks of the group. He is also still a landlord on the small number of sites.
He says: “It has always been a rough ride, but these days the chances of a small to medium-sized salmon farmer surviving long-term are close to zero.
“The writing was on the wall a decade ago, but in the last five years it has become large-scale graffiti. Most of the people in it are trying to sell their companies and some of the bigger players are struggling with substantial losses.
“The Scottish salmon farming industry is not really viable at this point unless we, the customers, realise the real value of food and are prepared to pay a bit more for it so farmers can see some profit. I am not just talking about salmon. The problem is across the board – which brings me back to water.
“Two weekends ago, I had breakfast with Mikhail Gorbachev who was ranting and raving in the nicest possible way about the need to safeguard the planet’s water resources.
“He is very active in that direction, and it is reassuring to hear somebody of his stature concentrating on the basics. Ten years down the line, water is going to be a more important tool of international politics than oil is today.”
Anderson also points to the emergence of subsidised rivals in places such as Norway, and the willingness of other countries to tamper with the laws of nature, as factors in the decline of Scotland’s independent fish farms.
He says: “Atlantic Salmon is now being produced in the Pacific – and the flip side of that process is something we are not allowed to do. We would be prohibited by law from introducing and rearing non-indigenous species. If we wanted to put Pacific salmon into the waters of Scotland we would be put in prison, and rightly so. However, our cousins in the United States and Canada don’t give a f*** about such niceties as environmental concerns.”
He adds: “I have been involved in building up companies, but I’m not sitting on a pile of dosh because of it. Businesses have been merged sold or leased and all I have got back is the value of fish in the water, some written down plant and machinery and shares in a processing business. But 400 people in Scotland have a job they otherwise would not have and that is something I look back on with satisfaction.”
Beyond fish farming, touring and recording with Jethro Tull has always been Anderson’s priority.
The activities account for the bulk of the £1.8m gross profit in the Ian Anderson Group accounts. He and his wife Shona, the sole shareholders and directors, shared a £500,000 dividend and emoluments, excluding pension contributions, of £850,954. A modest pre-tax loss of £5806 was booked for the year but the balance sheet shows shareholders’ funds stand at £3.2m. Income included a payment of £209,517 following one of the rock group’s regular checks on its flow of royalties.
Anderson, who lives in Wiltshire, says: “The likes of Jethro Tull are going to get around £2m a year in royalties and now and again you may audit your record company and get another payment on top. Whenever we do an audit on record companies it seems that they owe us money, not the other way round.
“While we have seen a drop in record royalty income of 20% in the last five years, the touring business has held up. Allowing for inflation we are just about on an even keel, as we have been in the last 20 years.”
Jethro Tull, who broke attendance records at US concert venues in the 1970s, are maintaining an impressive touring schedule. Destinations this summer include Austria, Spain, Germany … and the Faroe Islands.
Anderson says: “The concert industry is in relatively good shape but you do have to be careful not to overplay the market. Thankfully I can make my itinerary what I want it to be and when I construct a tour I am not necessarily looking for the most profitable option.
“So if I feel the need to take the opportunity of going to the Faroe Islands, I can do it. To go there and play for next to no money will be kind of fun to do. I know they’ll be pleased to see us and we’ll get a good fish dinner, won’t we?” 30 May 2004