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Environment / ‘Urgent’ action needed on salmon farming, says parliament committee

Sea lice infestation are running out of control according to Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland. Photo: Shetland NewsSea lice infestation on some salmon farms is causing serious concern. Photo: Shetland News

MAINTAINING the “status quo” in salmon farming regulation and enforcement is “not acceptable” if the industry is to grow in Scotland.

That was the message from the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee Edward Mountain MSP after it released a report on the impact of salmon farming in Scotland.

The committee ruled that “urgent action” needs to be taken on issues like fish health and environmental challenges.

The report, published today (27 November), says “there is still not an effective way” to deal with sea lice and that the level of fish mortality in Scotland’s salmon farms is too high.

The committee gave 65 recommendations for action, which the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said it would “study closely”. They include:

  • A precautionary approach must be taken to address any potential impact of sea lice infestation from salmon farms on wild salmon. There should be an immediate and proactive shift towards locating new farms in more suitable areas away from wild salmon migratory routes.
  • Until such time as an enhanced regulation and enforcement is in place, the precautionary approach to applications for new sites and expansion of existing sites should be firmly and effectively applied. The Scottish Government should provide strong and clear leadership to ensure this occurs.
  • A more strategic approach should be taken to identify those areas across Scotland that are either suitable or unsuitable for siting of salmon farms.
  • There should be immediate dialogue with the industry to identify scope for moving existing poorly sited farms.
  • Examining the scope for siting salmon farms in suitable offshore locations should be treated as a high priority.

Mountain said: “The salmon farming industry offers significant economic and social value to Scotland, providing jobs and investment in rural areas. There is a desire within the industry to grow.

“However, if this is to happen, it is essential that the serious challenges it faces such as the control of sea lice, lowering fish mortality rates and reducing the sector’s impact on the environment are addressed as a priority. Our report contains 65 recommendations on how this should be taken forward.

“If the reputation of Scottish salmon as a premium product is to be maintained, Scotland’s salmon farmers must demonstrate responsible and sustainable production methods.

“Importantly, the committee is strongly of the view that the status quo in terms of regulation and enforcement is not acceptable, and that we need to raise the bar in Scotland by setting enhanced and more effective standards.”

The committee took evidence from the industry, research bodies and environmental organisations during its inquiry, as well as Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Natural Heritage.

SSPO chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird welcomed the report and agreed that “there is no evidence that salmon farming should not continue to grow sustainably”.

“The Scottish salmon farming sector is at a critical phase of its development and the committee’s recommendation that regulation be improved to keep pace with potential growth is encouraging,” she added.

“The sector is keen to work with Scottish parliamentary committees, the Scottish Government, the regulators and other organisations who have interests, or indeed concerns, about salmon farming.”

SSPO chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird: 'The industry is committed to raising standards higher.' Photo: SSPOSSPO chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird. Photo: SSPO

Julie Hesketh-Laird added that the “industry is already voluntarily reporting lice levels and is world-leading in publishing survival data on a farm-by-farm basis”.

“We are leading participants in the Scottish Government’s 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework which promotes collaboration between industry, regulators and scientists to underpin long-term improvements in fish health and welfare,” she said.

“We intend to continue that work and investment and we welcome involvement in any future regulatory discussion to help us do that and ensure that future changes in farming regulations are robust, inspire confidence in all stakeholders and are practical and workable.

“The Scottish salmon farming industry employs over two thousand people on farms and supports thousands more in its supply chain, often in the most rural and economically vulnerable communities in Scotland.

“The industry is committed to ensuring that any changes to its operations and regulations will protect the many livelihoods in rural Scotland.”

Anti-fish farming campaigner Don Staniford.Anti-fish farm campaigner Don Staniford.

Campaigner Don Staniford said the report was “scathing” – and felt it should have recommended a full moratorium on new salmon farms.

“The damning video evidence of lice infestation and welfare problems inside salmon farms and footage of mass mortalities reveal Scottish salmon farming to be dead in the water,” Staniford said.

“The closing down of Scotland’s worst salmon farms must happen as a matter of urgency.”

The parliament committee report comes as environmental protection agency SEPA launches a consultation into tightening the regulations governing salmon farming in Scotland.

Representatives from the agency are holding a public meeting at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick on Wednesday between 3pm and 7.30pm.