Mounting concern over new fish farming legislation Published: 29 January, 2006
SALMON farmers throughout Scotland have expressed increasing concern that the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill published by the Scottish Executive, will cost the industry millions of pounds in its implementation. The Bill, currently out to consultation, proposes to establish a regulator, the Fish Health Inspectorate, within the Fisheries Research Services, which will advise farms on best practice and enforce any relevant regulations. It also heralds a change in stance by the Executive, which used to deny any link between fish farms and claims from conservationists that they cause plagues of sealice which infest wild salmon and seatrout. The Executive is now adopting the precautionary principle on the issue and proposes rigorous enforcement of sealice control measures. Fish farms operators will also face criminal prosecution if they cannot prove that they have done everything possible to prevent escapes of farmed salmon. The Bill also proposes a stronger line on relocating salmon farms if they have any potential to adversely affect wild salmonid stocks and inspection of wellboats, and tight controls of farmed fish movements will also be enforced.
Some salmon farmers have said privately that the Executive’s stance on fish farming appears to have changed from one of support, to one where it appears to be antagonistic towards the industry. They point to the change of stance on sealice, and the implication that fish farms cause sealice infestation. Others are concerned that they are to be penalised for fish farm escapes, which can be very difficult to prevent in some coastal areas.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, said they were consulting members throughout Scotland. The spokesperson said: “There are only two references to the Code of Good Practice worked out by the industry over the past 30 months. This code is unique in the food industry and a lot of producers are signing up to it. It is not made clear how the regulator would fit with the code of good practice. If the regulator is to act as a backstop for those who do not sign up to the code then that is acceptable. The tone of the language of the Bill has caused the industry to stop and think.”
Angus MacMillan, the owner of West Minch Salmon, said: “I can’t see any need for a regulator. The industry is already tightly regulated and has a code of practice which ensures that people stick to the rules. It is also strange to see the proposals on sealice, when FRS has recently issued a report which says that the industry is managing itself well, and that measures taken to control sealice and other potential problems are very progressive.”
He said that there is growing concern about the potential cost of tighter regulation because of proposals that the regulator would operate on a basis of full cost recovery. Angus MacMillan added: “The proposal is to monitor wellboat movements very tightly. There are a lot of movements in any sea area and if inspectors have to come out for each of these and charge accordingly, the industry could face a bill of millions of pounds. The proposal appears to be similar to what the environment agency SEPA does, where it can carry out any inspections it wants, and levy any costs it wants on the industry, and the industry has to pay. It is unreasonable to suggest this.”
He added: “The proposal to make operators criminally liable for escapes is also unfair. We don’t set out to let the fish escape. Our whole business depends on getting as many fish to market as possible. There will be incidents as happened in the hurricane last January where cages are damaged by severe weather and there is nothing that can be done to prevent escapes. But there is no evidence that escaped fish is causing any problem to the wild salmon gene pool as is claimed. The wild fish have evolved over thousands of years. The farmed fish have been bred over 30 years. There is no way that farmed fish is going to dilute the wild gene pool, and the fears over escaped fish and the measure to tackle it are unreasonable.”
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