Scottish political parties ‘united behind salmon sector’

The panel included (from left to right) Ben Wilson, Mike Forbes, Fergus Ewing, Stewart Graham, John Marshall and Heather Jones

THE Scottish salmon sector has the backing of all the parties in the Scottish parliament, following the two inquiries held into the industry last year.

Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Rural Economy minister, said the upshot of the committee investigations into the further growth of salmon farming was that all parties ‘together united in support behind the industry’.

The inquiries were prompted by a petition from the wild salmon lobby which wants to curb the expansion of salmon farming, which employs 12,000 people across Scotland.

Ewing pointed out to the audience, which included Scottish salmon farmers and suppliers from Norway and Sweden as well as Scotland, that the sector was still very young.

‘Only 50 years ago, if you ate salmon it would be a caught salmon. In Scotland, all the rivers are owned by the aristocracy and the land owners.

‘Therefore, there were only two types of people who ate salmon: very rich people and poachers,’ he joked.

The opportunities for growth were only limited by capacity and the continuing drive for sustainability, added the minister, in the opening address at a Scottish supply chain seminar held at the Aqua Nor exhibition in Trondheim yesterday.

The work the industry is doing is at ‘the very centre of this’, driving innovation. But the public did not always appreciate either the extent of the innovation, the efficacy and success that that is bringing, or the very sophisticated nature of aquaculture.

Aquaculture is not just about farming but about engineering, biochemistry and the application of science, and if this were better known ‘it would help us all’, said Ewing.

‘Our vision in Scotland is that innovation must be an intrinsic part of our culture,’ he said, citing the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), which organised the seminar, and has budget of £13.5 million available to the industry.

He said Scotland welcomed investment from outside, too, and in particular from the major Norwegian players.

The salmon industry in Scotland has been criticised by anti-aquaculture campaigners for being ‘Norwegian owned’, but the minister said some of the biggest investments recently had been from Scottish Sea Farms, which is jointly owned by Norway’s SalMar and Leroy, and by Bergen headquartered Mowi.

‘This is a good thing, they are committed to Scotland, they are employing a great many people in Scotland,’ he said, adding that the average rate of pay in some of these salmon companies is double the Scottish average.

‘You are providing opportunities for people on the edge of Scotland – on the islands, on the coasts, in the sparsely populated areas where there are no other opportunities for employment of that reward there. We recognise that is of tremendous value.’

Ewing said he was proud of the achievements in the Scottish aquaculture industry, and in the supply chain.

Later, in a panel discussion with members of the Scottish industry, the minister raised Brexit concerns about the future of the workforce, which has a high proportion of EU nationals.

At Mowi’s processing plant in Rosyth, for example, there were 650 employees from 23 countries, mostly in the EU.

‘We still hope Brexit won’t happen,’ he said, adding that Scottish MPs were working to prevent the UK’s exit from Europe.

Mowi operations director Gideon Pringle said the ‘vast majority’ of his company’s fish health specialists were Europeans.

The industry panel included Heather Jones, CEO of SAIC, Stewart Graham, managing director of Gael Force Group, Ben Wilson, managing director of Inverlussa Marine, John Marshall, head of Benchmark Animal Health, and Mike Forbes, head of sales and marketing at Ace Aquatec.

Aqua Nor runs until August 23 at the Spektrum in Trondheim.