Scotland’s aquaculture licence regime ‘not fit for purpose’ says independent review

The licensing system for aquaculture in Scotland looks set for radical change following the publication today of an independent report into its effectiveness.

The Aquaculture Regulatory Process review, headed by Professor Russel Griggs OBE, concludes that the stakeholders working with the current system see it as “not fit for purpose”.

Professor Griggs also has strong words for the “…degree of mistrust, dislike, and vitriol at both an institutional and personal level between the industry (mainly finfish), certain regulators, parts of the Scottish Government and other stakeholders.”

The review proposes that different regulatory solutions are developed for finfish, shellfish and seaweed production. A single consenting document would be required for all forms of aquaculture and producers would pay a single licensing payment based on the tonnage output of the site concerned. Portions of the funds raised through the licensing charge would be earmarked for the benefit of the local community and for supporting scientific research.

The review also proposes that the process should encourage innovation and development across all three sectors, with special consents or licences aligned to innovation, including the length of validity and costs.

Griggs also suggests that the new framework should be piloted before it is rolled out across the whole of Scotland, and suggests that Shetland would be an ideal location to test the system.

The Scottish Government should work with all parties through a Project Board, Griggs says, to produce, within 12 months, a 10 year framework for each part of the aquaculture sector (finfish, shellfish, and seaweed) within which all must operate.

Once that framework is in place, the review says, all existing sites should be examined to ensure that they can operate within it.

Griggs stresses that setting policy is a task for the Scottish Government, not the regulators implementing that policy. The Vision for Aquaculture currently being developed by the Government should be the basis of a detailed framework, he says, which should recognise the industry’s dynamic nature, especially of the finfish sector, and effectively ensure the framework is future-proof.

The review goes on: “That policy and framework should therefore not be solely about what the industry looks like today but how it can develop over time, for example, 5-10 years. It is the future that should be at the heart of the vision for the sector and form the parameters of the framework.”

Professor Russel Griggs

Griggs calls for the creation of a central science and evidence base focused on aquaculture, jointly run and managed by industry and the Scottish Government.

Finally, if taken up by the Scottish Government, the action points recommended in the review would be overseen by a project board set up for the purpose, which would aim to introduce the new system within 12 months.

Industry body Salmon Scotland welcomed the report as a “blueprint for change” and congratulated the Scottish Government for commissioning an independent review of the existing regulatory regime “which, as the report states, does not work.”

Salmon Scotland Chief Executive, Tavish Scott, said: “The challenge we embrace is to implement the Review’s recommendations. We will work with Government and stakeholders to build an aquaculture regulatory framework that is better, efficient and more transparent than before. One that delivers the right balance between the environment, the economy and the social licence of fish farming.

“Russel Griggs has given all those involved in a £1bn Scottish success story a route map to becoming internationally competitive in delivering protein for the domestic market and overseas. We urge the Scottish Government to grasp this opportunity.”

Tavish Scott, Chief Executive, Salmon Scotland


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