THE Scottish parliament is to debate the recent Holyrood committee report on salmon farming next Wednesday afternoon. A period between 2pm and 5.15pm has been set aside for the discussion.
The report was published last November by the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) committee, which launched its inquiry into the salmon sector earlier in 2018.
The inquiry, which followed a shorter probe into the industry by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) committee, also last year, was prompted by a petition drawn up by the wild salmon lobby.
The focus of the REC investigation, which took evidence from a wide range of industry stakeholders – including farmers, academics, government officials and anti-farming campaigners – was the impact of salmon farming on the decline in wild stocks.
The 148-page report found that urgent action was needed to improve the regulation of the Scottish 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.
The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) welcomed the report’s findings, noting that the committee recognised the opportunities for sustainable growth.
But Rural Economy minister Fergus Ewing, an outspoken champion of the industry, said many of the REC recommendations were already being tackled by farmers in collaboration with the government.
Ewing said at the time: ‘While we will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations, a number of sustainability issues identified in its report are already being addressed through the Fish Health Framework working groups and the new wild and farmed salmon interactions working group.
‘Aquaculture must be delivered and developed sustainably, with appropriate regulatory frameworks that minimise and address environmental impacts.
‘But we are also clear that the sector is hugely important to Scotland’s economy, particularly in remote and rural communities, and it is disappointing that the committee has not fully explored nor analysed that economic and social contribution and benefit more fully.’
Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said today the sector shares the REC committee’s view that ‘the status quo is not acceptable‘.
‘We are determined to keep driving ahead with the dynamic and innovative approach that has become the industry’s hallmark.
‘The Scottish farmed salmon sector already has a world-leading approach to the publication of mortality data. We also report sea lice levels voluntarily but we want to go further and intend to publish this data more quickly to ensure greater transparency.
‘The sector is also preparing to move to a tighter action level for the enforcement of measures to combat sea lice.’
The minister will discuss the report in Holyrood next Wednesday, with any legislative impact to follow.
Picture: Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy Minister, giving evidence to the REC committee last May