SCOTTISH environment minister Roseanna Cunningham highlighted the importance of a healthy environment to the aquaculture industry as she opened the ASSG conference in Oban today.
The sector as a whole must ‘demonstrably’ take its environmental responsibilities seriously, she told delegates at the two-day event.
‘When we market and sell our produce, however and wherever it’s grown…it’s invariably done on the back of images of Scotland, emphasising the beauty and health of our environment, our land, our waters.
‘We all know the images we use….you will see them at any conference where Scotland’s food and drink is being celebrated. And you’ll see them in the marketing of that produce anywhere you go in the world.
‘We are using our environment as a marketing tool so we have a responsibility to ensure that it is grounded in reality. It’s more than just a moral responsibility, it’s good economics too.’
She said the same applied to everyone in the food and drink industry in Scotland, whatever they were producing.
‘If you dent confidence in the reality of the image, then you begin to dent confidence in the product produced from that environment.
‘Denting confidence becomes a major problem. Because if consumer confidence goes then the economic health of the industry goes too. And that benefits no one. It’s in everyone interests to take care of the environment.’
The minister pledged the government’s continued support for the shellfish industry, saying it was ‘very important to Scotland and the Scottish government is fully committed to its sustainable growth’.
‘The entire aquaculture industry is currently worth £620 million GVA (gross value added) annually to the national economy, supporting 12,000 jobs across all parts of the supply chain, from the growers to the plate,’ said Cunningham.
The whole industry is especially valuable to rural economies, she added, assuring shellfish growers that she supported the opportunities their sector brought to Scotland, particularly in areas where young people need good quality employment with solid career prospects.
Production figures from 2017 reflected the ‘fantastic success’ of the shellfish sector, with the industry estimated to be worth £12.4 million at first sale value, an increase of six per cent over the previous year.
Demand remains high and last year that demand was met by increasing production across all species, with the highest ever recorded mussel production in Scotland.
The conference was opened by Nick Lake, chief executive of the ASSG, who said the theme, ‘Our role in saving the planet’, might be a grand and optimistic title.
‘But it’s got us talking about what we can do and what state the marine environment is in and how we need to look after it.’
He spelt out some of the benefits of shellfish cultivation, including improving nutrition, and its low carbon footprint.
‘Ecosystem services are something we actually deliver as shellfish growers just by producing shellfish on the foreshore and in the sea.’
Scotland’s sector, he said, was part of an increasingly important international industry and was part of the process in addressing climate change.
‘Shellfish cultivation is uniquely linked to the environment,’ he said.
The Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers annual conference, at the Corran Halls in Oban, runs until tomorrow afternoon.
Picture: Roseanna Cunningham addresses the shellfish conference in Oban