Fish farmers braced for higher charges from SEPA

Scotland’s fish farmers are about to see a big increase in the charges levied by SEPA, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, on marine pens.

SEPA sets a charge for each application for a finfish pen at sea and an annual “activity charge”, based on biomass in both cases. The new charging scheme will take effect as from September this year, and follows a consultation with the industry and other stakeholders.

Peter Pollard, SEPA’s Head of Ecology, said: “Increased cost recovery will enable us to invest in staff resources, increasing the number of full-time equivalents working to ensure effective, risk-based regulation of marine finfish farms and a high standard of service for developers and the public. This will include enhancing our audit monitoring capabilities and our assessments of the environmental effects of fish farms, and further developing our early screening assessment service so that the potential risks associated with proposals for new sites or significant expansions of existing sites are understood by the industry and local communities.”

The application fee for pens holding a biomass of more than 1,500 tonnes is set to go up from £4,444 to £32,000, with a smaller increase for applications between 500 and 1,500 tonnes, to £26,617. The charge for applications of below 50 tonnes will be frozen at £3,472. Following the consultation an additional tier of >50 tonnes to <500 tonnes will be introduced.

A tiered system will apply to charges for varying a permit, ranging from full (100% of application charges) through substantial (70%) and standard (30%) to admin (no charge). SEPA’s consultation set out the criteria to determine which category to apply.

The activity charge, which is levied annually, will increase by £3,511 per site for all farms.

Following the consultation, SEPA has said that there will be no charge for surrendering a licence, as farmers should be encouraged to give up unused licences. Also, in order to encourage innovation changes in equipment, including increasing the size of cages will be treated as “admin” – but this exemption will not apply to changes involving increased biomass, footprint or use of medicines.

SEPA has also committed to reducing application charges for innovative proposals that involve, for example, introducing full containment or wellboat-based treatments that reduce discharge loads by more than 80%. Farms that reduce waste by 80% or more through containment will benefit from reduced application charges and reduced annual charges.

Responses to the consultation included a general complaint that the proposed increases were disproportionate, but SEPA argues strongly that they are needed if the agency is to address the increased demands placed on it in regulating the industry.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of industry body Salmon Scotland said: “We’re seeing SEPA charges increase by as much as 600%, or a sevenfold increase. Salmon farmers don’t mind paying for these charges if it meant SEPA would be seven times faster or just made decisions within the statutory timelines.

“But as MSPs heard last week regulators like SEPA are failing to meet their statutory targets ‘by miles’. Around three quarters of all salmon farm applications are currently over the statutory 350-day deadline and one salmon farm is still waiting after more than 627 days.

“There’s nothing to indicate these increased payments will significantly speed up SEPA’s decision-making process.”

Thresholds – tonnes of fish biomass Application Charges (adjusted for inflationary increases since consultation)
Current Charge Charge proposed in Consultation New Charges (1/9/22)
=< 50 £3,472 £3,472 £3,472
> 50 to < 500 £4,629 £26,617 £5,786
500 – 1,500 £4,629 £26,617 £26,617
> 1,500 £4,629 £32,000 £32,000

Source: SEPA


Story updated 1 July 2022


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