Vision paper sets out aspirations for aquaculture

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The Scottish Government has set out its long-awaited Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture, setting out environmental, economic and social aims for the sector.

The document, which had been expected at the end of last year, was launched by Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands at Kames Fish Farming’s site at Loch Melfort, Argyll.

In her foreword, Mairi Gougeon states: “Aquaculture has a crucial role to play in contributing to our food security and meeting our commitment to becoming a Good Food Nation, producing healthy, nutritious food, with a greenhouse gas emissions profile that is lower than many other farmed sources of animal protein, for people in Scotland and around the world.”

She notes that the Scottish aquaculture sector and its supply chain supported an estimated 11,700 jobs in the Scottish economy and generated £885m GVA (gross value added) in 2018.

The Vision sets out aspirations for the aquaculture sector and a blueprint for where it should be by 2045 – but without putting any figures on growth or what the sector’s economic contribution should be by that date. It explicitly links the objectives for aquaculture to the Blue Economy Vision published last year.

The Vision for Aquaculture also states that the following should be true of the Scottish industry by 2045:

  • Its produce makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s reputation for premium food and drink.
  • Our communities are supported through the provision of highly skilled employment opportunities, access to healthy local foods and other lasting benefits.
  • Its environmental impact is within acceptable limits, with continual progress to minimise that impact through innovation, research and development.
  • The aquaculture sector collaborates with other stakeholders to protect and restore biodiversity in the freshwater and marine environment.
  • High standards for farmed animal health and welfare are a priority, maintaining Scotland’s high health status and declared freedom from listed fish and shellfish diseases.
  • Development happens in the right places, underpinned by an effective and efficient regulatory framework informed by the best available science and evidence.

The document refers to a number of initiatives already announced and underway, including the review of the consenting process being carried out by the Consenting Task group following the Griggs report;  delivering on the Scottish Government’s commitments made to the Salmon Interactions Working Group; and revising the Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture, with a view to achieving zero escapes.

The Vision commits to “streamlining” the marine and freshwater planning and consenting system, improving spatial planning tools and ensuring an “efficient, effective and transparent” system “…with alignment between all regulatory processes”.

It also says the Scottish Government will encourage exploring the potential for offshore development, within three and 12 nautical miles. It will also encourage the “redevelopment of farms where there is no planned production into alternative forms of aquaculture, other marine sector development, or returning the farm site to the wild.”

The Vision commits government, among other things, to improving port and harbour infrastructure; improving housing stock in rural and island areas; ensuring access to high-speed broadband; attracting inward investment; identifying new market opportunities; promoting organic aquaculture; improving water quality in shellfish producing areas; improving productivity for shellfish; and introducing a Code of Good Practice for seaweed production.

It also talks about building resilience by increasing the domestic supply of fish ova, shellfish spat and seaweed seed, and exploring opportunities to diversify the species farmed in Scotland.

In her foreword, Mairi Gougeon says: “Aquaculture depends on Scotland’s natural capital and the communities within which the sector operates. It must operate within environmental limits, to ensure that our waters are clean and safe, supporting healthy and diverse flora and fauna. As we respond to the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, we envisage a sector that leads the world through the responsible and sustainable ways in which it operates, delivering significant and lasting socio-economic benefits for Scotland and for the communities that host aquaculture businesses.”

The document makes it clear that the industry will need to show that it can help to preserve and enhance biodiversity and the marine environment, as well as benefiting local communities and the wider economy.

It also pledges “protecting and improving the ability of communities to meaningfully contribute to aquaculture planning and consenting”, an objective which may lead to tension with the aim of streamlining the consent process.

Welcoming the document, Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “We welcome this vision which puts salmon farming at the heart of the country’s economic growth plans, helping Scotland’s journey to net zero and supporting healthy diets.

“The blue economy has the potential to both increase food security at home and feed the growing global population.

“Scotland is uniquely placed to lead the way in the drive for the sustainable use of the oceans and seas, while conserving our shared environment for future generations.

“Like all sectors, we face challenges from issues ranging from climate change to Brexit to rampant inflation, but by working together with government we can continue to grow a low carbon, highly nutritious food that sustains thousands of jobs and ensures our rural communities can thrive.”

Following her visit to Loch Melfort, Mairi Gougeon said: “I was delighted to visit Kames Scotland and to learn more about its focus on the future and sustainability. It was interesting to learn about Kames’ Future50 programme and their planned investment into their business, community and local environment. We have many examples in Scotland of what aquaculture brings to Scotland’s economy now, and can do in the future – Kames Scotland shows the role Scottish, family owned businesses can play.”

Andrew Cannon, MD of Kames, commented: “We hope this vision document triggers action, further than just words, within the industry. We are proud to be a Scottish owned, award-winning family company, but we need support to keep the innovation and diversity that SMEs like us bring to the table alive, alongside economic growth. The vision supports this view, and we look forward to seeing the action to come and more innovation and diversity in Aquaculture.”

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