THE salmon farming industry in Scotland continues to await the outcome of a parliamentary report into its future, following three sessions of a Holyrood committee that have been conducted in private.
The Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) committee, which began its inquiry into the salmon sector in March this year, has met every Wednesday morning since the end of the summer recess to discuss the draft report.
There are concerns in the industry that the committee might be hijacked by the vested interests of committee members, including the convener, Sir Edward Mountain, who owns rights to salmon fishing on the Spey.
The Holyrood investigation was prompted by lobbying from angling campaigners, who have a stated ambition to halt any growth of salmon farms.
Sir Edward was said to have ‘ambushed’ the committee, according to news stories last week, with demands for a ban on new or expanded salmon farms ‘in the vicinity of wild salmon rivers’, pending the introduction of a tougher regulatory regime.
A spokesman for the committee did not deny or confirm the charge when asked by Fish Update but issued the following statement: ‘Committees do not comment on discussions in private meetings. The REC committee is currently considering the draft report on its salmon inquiry, taking into account the wide range of oral and written evidence received. It is anticipated that a final report will be published in the autumn.’
The Scottish government is behind plans to grow the salmon farming industry in Scotland, and Rural Economy minister Fergus Ewing has championed the sector, which is worth £600 million a year in exports and responsible for thousands of jobs, many of them in remote communities.
A spokesman for the government said in response to Fish Update’s enquiries about the secret deliberations of the REC committee: ‘We await recommendations from the REC committee’s report following its inquiry into salmon farming.
‘As the Rural Economy Secretary made clear during his evidence to the committee, maintaining the status quo around known fish farming challenges is not an option and we are already taking proactive steps to address these through the publication of Scotland’s 10 Year Farmed Fish Health Framework and the establishment of an interactions workstream focusing on the relationship between farmed and wild salmon.’
The first meeting of the interactions group, which will bring wild and farmed salmon stakeholders together and will be chaired by John Goodlad, is due to take place in late October.
The next meeting of the Aquaculture Industry Leadership Group, an industry led initiative to help expand salmon farming in Scotland, is also scheduled for October, hopefully after the REC committee report is published.
The government’s recently published Good Food Nation Programme spelt out the role fish farming plays in the country: ‘Aquaculture is inextricably linked to the sustainability of our rural coastal communities, supporting skills, jobs, community cohesion and local infrastructure.
‘The need to strike an appropriate balance between the sustainable growth of the aquaculture industry and the associated environmental impacts is recognised.
‘The Scottish government and its agencies are working with the sector and with others to develop a policy and regulatory framework that enables sustainable growth while maintaining the right balance across our economic, environmental and social responsibilities.’
Picture: REC committee convener Sir Edward Mountain