Scotland’s salmon farming industry covers a vast area – there are over 200 farms located in coastal waters along the west coast, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland. It has become an important employer for coastal communities by providing well-paid jobs, diversified employment opportunities, and high-skilled workers.
The social and economic benefits to these communities are important. However, despite these benefits, it is difficult to ignore the growing concern over the impact the salmon farming industry is having on the environment. For an industry with ambitions to double production by 2030, it is essential that practices are adopted that ensure any expansion is sustainable and does not come at an environmental cost.
Last week the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee published their final inquiry report on the salmon farming industry in Scotland. The parliamentary inquiry began in January of this year and has involved two Committee inquiries (the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee carried out the first inquiry in February 2018), multiple oral evidence sessions from key stakeholders and experts, and two public consultations that received approximately 250 submissions. Needless to say, this has been a thorough and comprehensive investigation into one of Scotland’s key export industries.
The ECCLR Committee’s inquiry focused on these environmental impacts, to which the Trust submitted both written and oral evidence. We’ve written about the resulting report in a previous blog but it highlighted the Committee’s key concerns and emphasised that since the last inquiry in 2002 the same environmental concerns remain, but at a larger scale and with a greater impact. Above all, the key recommendation was that the “status quo is not an option”.
The ECCLR report was submitted to the REC Committee to inform the second inquiry, which took a broader focus and included more of the social and economic benefits and costs of the industry. This wider remit invited a bigger range of stakeholders to input into the inquiry, from local planners to large supermarket chains (you can read the Trust’s written evidence here).
On November 27, after six months of evidence gathering, analysis, and debate the resulting REC Committee inquiry report was published and has been largely welcomed by all stakeholders. The report contains 65 recommendations, many of which the Trust believes, if adopted by the Scottish Government, would represent significant steps towards resolving some of the key environmental concerns of the industry. Most notable are:
It is of the view that urgent and meaningful action needs to be taken to address regulatory deficiencies as well as fish health and environmental issues before the industry can expand.
Regarding sea lice trigger levels: proposals are developed that ‘should be challenging and set a threshold that is comparable with he highest international industry standards.’
…the provision of sea lice data should in future be mandatory for all salmon farms in Scotland.
Although there is a lack of definitive scientific evidence of the various factors that are contributing to the decline of wild salmon stocks, the Committee is nevertheless of the view that a precautionary approach should be taken which will seek to minimise the potential risk to wild salmon stocks wherever possible.
The Committee shares the view of the ECCLR Committee that the siting of farms in the vicinity of known migratory routes for wild salmon must be avoided.
…the Committee considers that there should be immediate dialogue with the industry to identify scope for moving existing poorly located farms.
The Committee endorses the ECCLR Committee’s recommendation for urgent research on the subject and the consideration of ways to incentivise the industry to explore further use of [closed containment] technology.
The Committee is of the view that a key part of any improvement in the enforcement of regulation should be the introduction of mechanisms to provide more open and transparent reporting of regulatory breaches.
The Trust welcomes the REC Committee’s report. We believe that many of the proposed recommendations could support the industry in becoming more sustainable and productive. We are currently working with Marine Scotland, SEPA, the aquaculture industry and other environmental organisations on how best to take these recommendations forward and produce meaningful action that will improve the standard of salmon farming in Scotland.
Dr Sam Collin, Marine Planning Manager.