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Marine / Salmon farmers furious at new seabed lease charges

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott. Photo: Salmon Scotland

SCOTLAND’s salmon farming industry is up in arms following a review by Crown Estate Scotland (CES) which would almost double the rent the sector is paying for the privilege of using the seabed.

In a strongly worded letter to cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands Mairi Gougeon, the chief executive of industry body Salmon Scotland Tavish Scott expressed the sector’s disappointment and dissatisfaction with the hike in lease rates.

Scott said the changes put forward by Crown Estate Scotland represented a 95 per cent increase, and added that the industry would likely be more amenable to paying more for its leases if it got assurances that CES would invest more of its income in projects that would support rural and remote communities.

Salmon farmers are currently paying £27.50 per tonne of fish sellable in seabed rent. The new system brought in by Crown Estate Scotland will require the industry to pay 1.5 per cent of production turnover per site, including nursery sites, which Salmon Scotland say amounts to a doubling of fees.

In addition, those working in locations like Shetland would be further disadvantaged as a result of the removal of the 10 per cent outer islands discount.

The changes to lease terms will come into effect in phases, starting in January 2023.

In his letter Scott said: “I am writing to express our sector’s disappointment and dissatisfaction with the announcement today that Crown Estate Scotland (CES) plan to implement significant rent increases to our sector. We ask you to review this decision.”

The former MSP for Shetland said the price hike was likely to have “knock-on impacts to our people, communities and sustainability” and expressed the industry’s disappointment by “the manner in which CES seek to dismiss our case”.

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He called on the government and CES to delay any introduction a different lease charging system until Professor Griggs has concluded and published his review into how the finfish sector in Scotland should be regulated.

Publication of the Griggs report is imminent, Scott said, adding that the industry was calling on the government to stop the Crown Estate from implementing these new charges prior to knowing what his recommendations are going to be.

Scott said that the salmon farming sector was making “significant contributions to both the national and local economies of Scotland” while using little marine resources when compared to the burgeoning offshore wind farming industry.

“What is less well-known is that we are a low-use sector in terms of marine resource. Of the c. 200 active sites we farm, fish pens account for less than 170 hectares of Scottish waters – less than half the size of Edinburgh Airport.

“This is approximately 0.003 per cent of Scottish waters and just 0.02 per cent of the area of seabed covered by the 17 projects of the ScotWind leasing project (at just over 7,000km2).”

He added: “When CES was formed, it was understood that salmon farming rental income would be used locally for the benefit of our communities.

“If that information could be accounted for and directly linked to our sector, we would be more supportive in principle. But that simply has not happened.”

In a statement announcing the changes CES said the lease structure would be putting producers on a level playing field with other commercial users of the seabed.

This means that producers’ commercial success is reflected in increased funds flowing to Crown Estate Scotland and, ultimately, to the Scottish Government and local authorities, CES said.

The organisation’s aquaculture operations manager Alex Adrian said: “This review was essential to ensure that we keep up with the pace of an ever-changing sector.

“Aquaculture businesses sustain jobs in some fragile, remote communities and their operations impact the environment. We want to ensure that, in line with legislation, sustainable development is the core principle underpinning seabed leasing.”

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