Scottish Government will help us, say shellfish men – Fishupdate.com

Scottish Government will help us, say shellfish men Published:  01 November, 2007

Michael Russell

SCOTTISH shellfish farmers say they have been promised Government action to help them realise the potential of their industry which they claim could expand twenty-fold without damaging the environment and boost annual earnings to over £120m.

The sector made clear their frustration over the issues that are keeping their industry from expanding in a meeting with Scotland’s environment minister Michael Russell in Edinburgh. Demand for shellfish is growing steadily, but Scotland is failing to cash in on the potential earnings, according to farmers.

Doug McLeod, chairman of the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers (ASSG,) said they had been given a good hearing. “I apologised to him for having to point out all the negative aspects of the industry, but to his credit he seemed very interested in the issues that we see as a block on our expansion plans. This industry is bouncing along at a production of around 5,000 tonnes of shellfish annually, most of that is mussels, with some oysters and scallops. But there is great potential because we could easily produce 100,000 tonnes a year without putting any stress on the coastal environment. We’re talking values of around £120m if we could produce to our potential,” said Doug McLeod.

The ASSG has complained several times before that the UK and Scottish Governments have not lived up to the demands of a number of EC Directives protecting the quality of coastal waters. They want the quality of Scottish waters to be protected from untreated sewage and other pollutants to allow the shellfish farming industry to expand and to get their produce to market without the expense of depuration processes.

The industry has also drawn Mr Russell’s attention to seabed leases which have been granted to other operators and which are stifling growth. Mr McLeod said: “Some leases have been taken out by people who want to sterilise the area in front of their windows, and others are held by fish farming interests. We also pointed out to the minister that if the Government is pursuing a policy of re-locating fish farms away from the mouths of salmon rivers, the leases could be re-allocated to shellfish farmers. Our activities pose no threat to wild salmon, and there is no problem with sea lice.”

The ASSG pointed out that France with a coastline smaller than Scotland produces 240,000 tonnes of shellfish, Spain produces 250,000 tonnes and Holland around 100,000 tonnes. The minister told them that he was disappointed that the Scottish industry had not been represented at a recent seafood exhibition in Cologne, and that he wanted to move the industry forward.

Doug Mcleod said that they had also pointed out that change in the planning system also threatened expansion. Mr McLeod said: “Planning application fees have increased dramatically, and they vary widely from area to area. In Shetland they are £3,000, in Argyll and Bute £5,000 and in Dumfries and Galloway a shellfish farmer will pay £11,000 to have a planning application assessed with no guarantee that it will be granted. It costs twice as much when you apply for 12 longlines as it does for six and we can’t figure out why that should be, because they are essentially in the same water, under the same conditions. This is simply a revenue-raising exercise the same as speed cameras on motorways, but political will can change that. If we could go from 5,000 tonnes to 20,000 tonnes in a generation I would be pleased but we seem to be flat-lining at 5,000 tonnes.”

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