Holyrood puts salmon under the spotlight – again

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Scotland’s salmon farming sector is due to come under further scrutiny, with the news that a committee of the Scottish Parliament is to revisit issues raised in a report six years ago.

Holyrood’s Rural Affairs & Islands (RAI) Committee has launched a follow-up inquiry to ask whether recommendations made to the Scottish Government in 2018, to address economic, social and environmental issues related to the salmon farming industry in Scotland, have been implemented.

In November 2018, the then Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee (RECC) said that urgent action needed to be taken to improve the regulation of the Scottish salmon farming industry and to address fish health and environmental challenges.

At the time, the Committee set out 65 recommendations about how challenges, such as the control of sea lice, rising fish mortalities and the need to reduce the sector’s impact on the environment, should be addressed. The Committee also said that the current standards of regulation of the sector was “not acceptable”.

Since then, the governance landscape has changed, with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) taking a lead role as the industry’s regulator, as well as other changes including more frequent and transparent reporting of data such as sea lice numbers.

A report chaired by Professor Russel Griggs also found serious failings in the aquaculture consenting process, and a reformed regime is currently being trialled.

Scottish farmed salmon was the UK’s top food export by value in 2023. Figures from HMRC show that export sales for the calendar year totalled £581m. The industry has also come under further criticism, however, particularly over high levels of fish mortality in the last few years.

Rural Affairs & Islands Committee Convener, Finlay Carson MSP

Picking up the baton

Launching the new inquiry, Rural Affairs & Islands Committee Convener, Finlay Carson MSP, commented: “The RECC recommendations of 2018 aimed to put in place measures that would maintain the reputation of Scottish salmon as an internationally recognised premium product, and so preserving the significant economic and social value this industry brings to Scotland.

“Picking up the baton from our predecessors, we will find out what progress has been made in developing the industry since 2018 and how the various fish health, environmental and climate change challenges it faces are being addressed.”

Over the course of nine evidence sessions, the RAI Committee will revisit the recommendations hearing from aquaculture stakeholders; salmon farming representatives; non-governmental organisations; and regulators.

In September, the Committee will meet with local community groups to learn more about the impact salmon farming is having on local communities. Members will also visit the Scottish Association for Marine Science and salmon farms to increase their understanding of how the sector is developing.

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