NEW regulations introduced by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will allow larger fish farms to operate in Scottish waters if they are sited in sustainable locations.
The new rules, first outlined last November and subjected to a Scotland wide consultation, will also see the introduction of more accurate computer modelling to better assess any environmental risks.
Tighter standards will be applied to the organic waste deposited by fish farms, limiting the ‘spatial extent of the mixing zone around farms’.
‘The controls applied to these mixing zones will bring them into equivalence with modern practice on mixing zones for other waste effluent discharges into the sea, including those from urban waste water,’ said SEPA in a press release announcing the new measures.
Farm operators are now required to invest in more accurate monitoring, including of waste coming from fish farms.
‘SEPA will also increase and strengthen monitoring of the impact of fish farms in surrounding areas,’ the organisation said.
SEPA said its officers are already engaged in a programme of unannounced visits to confirm compliance with its regulatory requirements.
The agency said its framework ‘has the potential to significantly improve the environmental performance of the industry’, and follows research last year into the impact of salmon farm medicine.
But there is no specific mention of a new approach for controlling the use of in-feed anti-lice drug emamectin benzoate (SLICE), highlighted in the proposals.
Nor is there further word of the proposal mooted in November to establish a new SEPA enforcement unit to ensure compliance with the tighter environmental standards.
‘The combination of a new standard, a more accurate model and enhanced monitoring will allow the siting of farms in the most appropriate areas where the environment can assimilate wastes,’ said SEPA.
‘The new framework encourages operators to site and operate fish farms in environmentally less sensitive waters and use improved practices and technologies, such as containment, to reduce environmental impacts.
‘It may allow for the approval of larger farms than would have been traditionally approved previously, provided they are appropriately sited in sustainable locations.’
Farmers have long sought to expand the 2,500 tonne biomass limit on farms in Scottish waters so they can grow their businesses to meet demand.
The new framework supports ‘encouraging developments’ by farmers who are successfully developing new approaches such as non-chemical ways of managing fish health.
The controversial proposal to move to a feed limit rather than the current biomass limit to regulate the scale of impact from fish farms is still under consideration.
SEPA said it will consult with all interested stakeholders on these options over the next three months before a final decision is made.
In the interim, organic waste releases will continue to be limited using fish biomass.
There are also plans to establish a new National Aquaculture Stakeholder Advisory Panel in what SEPA calls its new evidence based regulatory framework.
During the consultation process, SEPA held nine community drop-in events, attended by 275 people, and 28 one to one meetings.
Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of SEPA, said: ‘As one of a number of organisations regulating finfish aquaculture, SEPA is clear that our job is to make sure environmental standards protect the marine environment for the people of Scotland and we make sure the industry meets those standards.
‘Implementing our new firm, evidence based revised regulatory framework, which follows over twenty two months of work, more science and more listening to stakeholders than ever before, is an important milestone.
‘It makes powerfully clear our aspirations and requirement that the industry reach and maintain full compliance with Scotland’s environmental protection laws, where SEPA will help those investing in innovation and moving beyond compliance.
‘It makes clear too our own commitment to more stringent science, modelling, monitoring, and unannounced inspections and to continuing to listen to communities, NGOs and industry through SEPA’s new National Aquaculture Stakeholder Advisory Panel.’