Salmon farmers blast Crown Estate over rent hikes

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Fish farm, Isle of Harris

Scotland’s salmon producers have reacted angrily to a new rent regime announced by Crown Estate Scotland. The new framework will see many farm rents increased by 95%, as well as the end of the discount for the outer islands.

Crown Estate Scotland (CES) administers the seas around Scotland on behalf of the Crown and leases areas of the seabed for aquaculture, energy and other commercial purposes. Earlier today, CES announced the results of a “root and branch review” of aquaculture leasing.

The overall charge for finfish producers will be 1.5% of production turnover (through phased introduction of the reviewed terms), which CES said puts producers on a level playing field with other commercial users of the seabed. For shellfish tenants, rent remains the same other than an increase in minimum rents.

CES said that the rent increases for finfish producers reflected “consistently strong prices for salmon alongside a revised rent determination process that can better reflect market behaviour.”

Finfish tenants will also be required to report on their participation in collaborative Management Agreements to mitigate cumulative impacts, and all aquaculture tenants will have to report on the management of plastic used in the leased area.

The phased rent increases will be introduced from January 2023.

Salmon Scotland, which represents the farmed salmon industry, expressed concern that the rent hike had been brought in ahead of any conclusions from the review of aquaculture licensing currently being undertaken by Professor Russel Griggs.

The organisation has also questioned the decision to scrap the Outer Islands Discount, which was created to help producers in remote locations where costs are higher.

Mairi Gougeon, Rural Affairs Secretary

Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Tavish Scott said: “Scotland’s salmon sector, employing 2,500 direct jobs in coastal and island communities is very disappointed by Crown Estate Scotland’s arbitrary and totally unjustified decision to almost double rents on salmon farms. CES presumably now see salmon like offshore wind – a cash cow to be exploited.”

He added: “Our members have paid more than £20m into CES over the last five years – a charge which is set to almost double under this new framework.

“Scotland’s salmon farmers would be more likely to accept such a steep increase if they could see the benefit in terms of local investment of these charges. But, despite requests, CES have failed to give any indication as to how – or even if – this extra money will actually be used to help local people in the areas where it is raised.”

Scottish Salmon has written to Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands in the Scottish Government, to ask her to halt the rent rise at least until the Griggs review is complete.

Alex Adrian, Aquaculture Operations Manager at Crown Estate Scotland, said: “This review was essential to ensure that we keep up with the pace of an ever-changing sector. Aquaculture businesses sustain jobs in some fragile, remote communities and their operations impact the environment. We want to ensure that, in line with legislation, sustainable development is the core principle underpinning seabed leasing.”