MSPs hear case against salmon farming

Holyrood salmon inquiry: Sam Martin, Helena Reinardy and Simon MacKenzie

The follow-up inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland got underway yesterday with what amounted to the case for the prosecution, as well as evidence from academics and non-governmental organisations.

The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs and Islands (RAI) Committee held its first evidence-taking session, with input from non-governmental organisations and academics. The RAI Committee is following up on progress since the last Holyrood inquiry into the industry, in 2018.

It heard from two campaigning organisations which – to varying degrees – oppose salmon farming.

Responding to the question of whether an industry supporting more than 1,500 jobs and worth £760m to the economy should be welcomed, Rachel Mulrenan, Scotland Director of conservation group WildFish said: “We obviously recognise the need for high quality, future-proof jobs on the west coast of the Highlands and Islands, and that’s beyond dispute, but we do not think at Wild Fish that salmon farming has a place in this future.”

She said salmon farming accounting for only a very small proportion of new jobs created in the region over the last three decades.

Mulrenan added that WildFish is not opposed to all forms of aquaculture but is against salmon farming.

Rachel Mulrenan, WildFish (image: Parliament TV)

John Aitchison of the Coastal Communities Network said: “All jobs are important [but] jobs don’t depend on how the salmon farming is done. If salmon farming was done better, jobs would still be there.”

He added that automation and consolidation into larger farm sites means that increased volume of fish produced does not equate to more jobs and noted that the figure for the benefits of salmon farming do not include environmental and other costs.

Sarah Evans, Aquaculture Policy Officer with the Marine Conservation Society said MCS “does not take a position” on the economic question, but she said the MCS supports the idea that the industry needs a “social licence” in the communities in which it operates.

She said: “There can be a place for salmon in Scotland’s future, but there needs to be changes before it can grow.”

Sean Black, Senior Scientific Officer for Aquaculture, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said from the RSPCA point of view, our knowledge about fish biology is improving and fish welfare is getting better, but he added that the industry needs to do more to provide meaningful mortality data.

The committee also heard from academics in the field: Dr Annette Boerlage, Research Fellow in Aquatic Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, Scotland’s Rural College; Professor Simon MacKenzie, Head of the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling; Professor Sam Martin, Director of Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen; Dr Helena Reinardy, Lecturer and Teaching Fellow, Scottish Association for Marine Science; and Professor Lynne Sneddon, Chair in Zoophysiology, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

Lynne Sneddon, University of Gothenburg (image: Parliament TV)

Professor Sneddon, who has carried out extensive research into the capacity of fish to feel pain, said current lice treatments, particularly the thermolicer process  cause the fish pain and distress. She said they also make the fish more vulnerable to other biological challenges.

Aberdeen’s Sam Martin said that treatments could be problematic for fish that were already subject to other health issues, but he did not concede that the treatments themselves were demonstrably harmful.

The next session, planned for 12 June, will hear evidence regarding farmed fish health and from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

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