SCOTLAND’S salmon farmers were given wholehearted backing by rural affairs minister Fergus Ewing last night as he championed their plans for growth.
Seafood is very important to Scotland and food and drink are the most rapidly growing sector of the economy.
Scottish salmon was worth £600 million in exports last year, said Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, at a reception in the Scottish pavilion at Seafood Expo in Brussels.
‘We fully support the plans for sustainable growth that the Industry Leadership Group have said to double production by 2030.
‘But we don’t just want growth for growth’s sake. We want that growth because of what it can do in providing to the world the most nutritious food that there is with the lowest carbon footprint, and from the country that has the freshest marine environment.’
The minister’s comments come as the salmon industry in Scotland undergoes an investigation by MSPs.
The Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) committee meets again this morning to hear further evidence, this time from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scotland Food and Drink.
Salmon producers have come under renewed attack from anti-salmon farming campaigners since 2016, when they announced plans to increase production.
Their environmental record in particular was slated after another Holyrood probe, by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform committee, whose report will feed into the findings of the REC committee.
The minister has long supported growth in the sector, which provides thousands of jobs in fragile rural communities, and his robust endorsement was welcomed by guests at the reception.
Ewing said he had spent the day in meetings with the Scottish salmon companies and they were ‘a real credit to Scotland’.
‘I for one am absolutely determined that the success of yesterday is going to be redoubled tomorrow as you continue to provide farmed salmon of the top quality all over the world.’
Later he told Fish Update that it was a ‘team effort’ to grow the industry and that the companies were determined to tackle disease challenges together and had had considerable success, with one farmer telling him disease was down more than 80 per cent on the previous year.
But this message wasn’t getting out – ‘they realise they have a communication challenge’, said Ewing, adding that he was working in a ‘co-production’ with the sector through the Fish Health Management Framework.
They know they need to farm sustainably and demonstrably overcome the challenges, and he was confident they would do that.
‘Parliament has only heard one side of the argument so far,’ he said, but that would be rectified when farmers give evidence next week and have a chance to tell their story ‘based on fact’.
‘I’m confident there’ll be a positive message from the very important cohort of companies…with different approaches to sustainable fish farming and tackling disease.’
Marine Harvest, the Scottish Salmon Company, Grieg Seafood and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation will appear before the REC committee on May 2. Ewing will then give evidence in the final hearing on May 9, before MSPs consider their recommendations.
‘I’m determined to give what leadership I can to make sure that no matter what challenges are thrown at it you double growth,’ he said at the reception, organised by Seafood Scotland.
‘Let’s do it…let’s go Scotland!’