THE Scottish Greens are still calling for a moratorium on new fish farms despite a lengthy parliamentary inquiry concluding that there was no evidence to support a ban on expansion.
Ahead of a debate today in Holyrood, where MSPs will discuss the findings of the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) committee, Green MSP John Finnie said a moratorium would ‘give the industry and regulators time to control environmental pollution, high fish death rates and the impact of farm fish disease on wild fish’.
The REC committee, which published its report in November, began its investigation early in 2018 following a shorter probe into the industry by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) committee, also last year.
The focus of the REC investigation, which took evidence from a wide range of stakeholders – including farmers, academics, government officials and anti-farming campaigners – was the impact of salmon farming on the decline in wild stocks. It was prompted by a petition drawn up by the wild salmon lobby.
The committee’s subsequent 148-page report found that urgent action was needed to improve the regulation of the salmon farming industry and to address fish health and environmental challenges.
However, it stopped short of demanding a moratorium on new salmon farm development and expansion of existing sites, something critics of the sector had demanded.
Two committee members, Scottish Labour’s Colin Smyth and the Greens’ Finnie, dissented from this conclusion.
In response to the report, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing insisted that some of the issues raised were already being addressed – a point expected to be repeated during this afternoon’s debate.
Ewing also criticised the committee for not having fully explored nor analysed the economic and social contribution the sector brings.
Further support for salmon farmers has come from Labour. According to a report by Holyrood.com, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy Rhoda Grant said: ‘Sustainable salmon farming in Scotland must be protected as it is crucial to the rural economy, providing much needed jobs to fragile mainland and island communities in Scotland.’
She suggested that new environmental monitoring – proposed by SEPA (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency) last November but still at the consultation stage – be given a chance to take effect.
‘Things have to change in the sector if it is to expand sustainably and continue to bring a high quality and healthy product to local and international markets. Regulation must be streamlined to ensure a common approach and guidelines for farms to follow.
‘It is imperative that SEPA’s tightened regulations on the industry must have time to bed in and then their impact on the environment, industry and economy measured.’
Today’s Holyrood debate is a ‘take note’ motion with no vote, and there are likely to be contributions from members of the REC committee, as well as other MSPs with salmon farms in their constituencies. Ewing will give the opening speech.
Heather Jones, chief executive of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), said the debate marked ‘another step forward for aquaculture in Scotland’.
‘Scotland is a pioneer in global aquaculture – that’s a position we want to maintain. The industry provides thousands of highly skilled jobs to rural communities and produces a premium global export product to very high standards of environmental protection and fish husbandry.
‘A great deal of work and investment is already being put into solving aquaculture’s challenges, from scaling up the use of cleaner fish to remove sea lice and improving fish vaccines, to developing new diagnostic techniques to assess fish wellbeing.’
To watch the debate live online visit https://www.scottishparliament.tv
Picture: REC committee convener Edward Mountain