Warning as Highland salmon farm jobs fall – Fishupdate.com

Warning as Highland salmon farm jobs fall Published:  27 November, 2006

EMPLOYMENT on salmon farms in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland fell by nearly 16% in 2005, and there is a warning from one industry watcher that with the massive merger between Panfish and Marine Harvest now certain to go ahead, the decline for 2006 could be even greater.

Executive figures for 2005 also show that production of salmon fell by 18%, with fewer companies and fewer sites operational, but the forecast for 2006 is for more growth although the production figure is not expected to reach the high point of 170,000 tonnes in 2003.

The figures produced by Fisheries Research Services show that 851 full-time staff were employed in 2005 and 128 part-time. This was a decrease in total of 182 compared with 2004, a fall of 15.7%. These are jobs on the farm sites themselves and are usually found in remote areas of the Highlands and Islands. Production fell from 158,000 tonnes in 2004 to 129,588 last year, a decrease of 18%. This was caused by market instability following the production high-point of 169,736 in 2003, caused by falling prices, bankruptcies and decisions to cut back on the number of eggs being hatched and the numbers of young salmon being put into sea cages. Production is forecast to increase to 137,018 tonnes for this year, an increase of 5.7%.

The figures also show that the number of salmon production companies has fallen from 108 in 1995, to 50 in 2005, with just 40 of these companies actually producing salmon. The 50 companies have 278 registered salmon farming sites in production, a fall of 37 from 2004. 112 of the registered sites are not producing salmon at present. The trend towards increasing the size of production sites is continuing with 66% of production now concentrated in sites producing over 1,000 tonnes a year.

Councillor Michael Foxley, vice-convener of Highland Council said the figures did not surprise him and that he feared the employment situation would only get worse. “On a visit to Norway we saw production areas that were the same size as several of our loch systems and they were being worked by one crew. With the merger of Panfish and Marine Harvest I would expect the same thing to happen here and that will mean that more jobs will be lost. In fact, I am surprised that the numbers quoted by FRS aren’t higher. There have been a lot of job losses in the past three or four years, and these have gone in the most vulnerable rural areas, where other jobs are difficult to find,” he said.

Councillor Foxley also sounded a warning about the increasing size of production areas. “The increasing size, with fewer actual farming sites, which are producing over 1,000 tonnes a year, leaves them more vulnerable to disease as well. I accept that husbandry methods have improved and that companies try to keep disease at bay, but past history has shown that as production has scaled up, new diseases have emerged,” he said.

He questioned what action the Executive and the Crown Estate are taking over sites that are not being used. “The merger between Panfish and Marine Harvest is going to concentrate a lot of power in the hands of one man. I would like to see it as a condition of the merger going ahead, that the sites that are not being used are released so that smaller independent companies, organic salmon producers and shellfish farmers can get access to them. We want to know the terms of the leases for these sites and for the sites to be taken away from companies if they are not being used. That is the only way we can ensure that Scottish-based and Scottish-owned companies can survive and expand,” said Councillor Foxley.

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