Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon has promised to personally oversee the drafting of a new regulatory regime for aquaculture in Scotland.
Speaking at the opening of the Aquaculture UK trade show in Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands, she announced that a Ministerial Aquaculture Strategy Forum will deliver the recommendations made by Professor Russell Griggs OBE in the first stage of the Scottish Government’s regulatory review of aquaculture.
The strategy forum, she said, will be responsible for ensuring equal progress of the government’s commitments to bring in reforms to a system that the independent Griggs Report described as “not fit for purpose”.
Gougeon added: “In order to make progress at pace to streamline the consenting system, I have instructed my officials to set up a small consenting task group to support the work of the forum.”
She also said that she had instructed her officials to extend the marine licence renewal period for finfish and shellfish farms from six to 25 years, bringing it in line with the Crown Estate Scotland Lease cycle.
The marine licence deals with navigational issues only, Gougeon stressed, and this change is meant to reduce the burden on both Marine Scotland and industry, without affecting environmental or other outcomes.
Scottish Government’s Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture is set to be published by the end of the year. It is expected to have enhanced emphasis on environmental protection and community benefit at its core. The policy framework will embrace finfish, shellfish and seaweed aquaculture in Scotland
A Blue Economy Action Plan will be published later this year, setting out how the Blue Economy Vision will be delivered.
Also, the Scottish Science Advisory Council has also been asked to consider the scientific recommendations of the review to ensure changes to the sector support its sustainable development and tackle environmental challenges.
Referring to the Scottish Parliament Committee’s inquiries into salmon farming in Scotland, Gougeon said: “I think it is important to recognise the significant progress made since then through the salmon interactions working group and the recent SEPA sea lice risk assessment framework consultation for wild salmon.”
She said: “I am a champion for the aquaculture sector in Scotland – it is a significant contributor to our rural and island economies, providing well paid jobs in some of Scotland’s most fragile communities.
“The aquaculture sector is a vital part of our economy in Scotland.”
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland, commented: “We are very pleased that the government recognises that the regulatory regime is not fit for purpose and that it must change.
“Mairi Gougeon’s personal commitment to chair a strategy forum is a very strong sign of her leadership on this, and government officials and regulators can be in no doubt as to the direction of travel.
“Professor Griggs recommended that a reformed regulatory framework should be delivered within 12 months and the strong message coming from Aviemore is that we must all work together to deliver this vision.”
He added: “The salmon sector in Scotland will work constructively with government and regulators to deliver efficient and effective outcomes across social, economic and environmental objectives, supporting thousands of rural jobs, generating millions of pounds for Scotland’s economy, and farming one of the most nutritious products that we can eat.”