THE success of Scotland’s aquaculture sector reaches far and wide and has driven a resurgence in subsidiary businesses, according to Scotland’s Rural Economy Minister, Fergus Ewing.
In a detailed written response to the report on salmon farming published by Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC), which undertook an inquiry into the industry last year, Ewing said he agreed with many of the findings.
While it was in the interests of both the sector and Scotland as a whole for salmon farming to grow sustainably, the status quo is not acceptable, he said.
He also spoke of a ‘collective resolve to make tangible early progress’ in addressing industry challenges, many of which will be raised when the report is debated in the Scottish parliament next Wednesday.
The industry, he said, was investing in growth and jobs, and through its efforts had successfully tackled sea lice in the last year, which saw the lowest overall lice numbers since reporting began in 2013.
The government is already conducting a review of the sea lice compliance policy, which will be completed by spring, he added. This will consider, among other recommendations, making compliance and reporting a mandatory requirement.
And work was underway on other initiatives in the industry – such as the 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework to promote innovation in fish health management and reduce fish farm mortality; and the Salmon Interactions Working Group, to explore the question of interactions between wild and farmed salmon; and SEPA’s draft aquaculture plan to better regulate the sector’s environmental footprint in the future.
‘We anticipate that over the next twelve months these processes will allow us to identify whether there is a case for further legislative change, and/or modification in the enforcement regime governing how the aquaculture sector interacts with others,’ said Ewing.
One immediate move, outlined in his response (dated January 29), will be to introduce Environmental Monitoring Plans as a condition of consents.
‘This plan will stipulate that an effective monitoring regime should be put in place in the identified aquaculture farming area and will detail what its key components should be. This will then inform an ongoing process of adaptive management to manage future fish farm applications.’
This approach, said Ewing, will inform the regulatory framework of the future and fill the current regulatory gap, a key criticism by the REC committee.
The format of the monitoring regime will be informed by a current project being developed by Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest) and Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS) and will also be considered by the Salmon Interactions Working Group before introduction.
Referring to industry expansion plans, the government acknowledges the need to balance the interests of other marine industries, said Ewing, and it will work with the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) on the ‘reinvigoration’ of the sector’s 2016 Community Charter.
The aim will be to ensure the sector demonstrates how its commitments to the community are being delivered.
‘We will seek to agree with the sector a binding commitment to publish evidence each year of adherence to the Charter and progress made towards the attainment of social licence. This will bring both greater accountability and recognition of the work the sector is achieving.’
Ewing said it was ‘disappointing’ that the committee’s recommendation on mortalities – that no expansion should be permitted at sites which report high or significantly increased levels of mortalities – did not recognise industry efforts to reduce the problem.
‘It is difficult to see how an ‘acceptable’ level of mortality could be defined, nor how that would be appropriate, given the different circumstances in which mortality events occur,’ said the minister.
‘The government’s key objective remains to ensure that we have a mechanism in place to address these concerns quickly and effectively to protect fish health and welfare and retain consumer confidence; this is a core aim of Scotland’s 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework.
‘One of the key challenges will be to develop a well-resourced research base to investigate causes of emerging disease and make the epidemiological analysis required to identify options for prevention and control as quickly as possible.’
He confirmed that mortality reports by the Fish Health Inspectorate would be published monthly in arrears on the Scottish government website as an interim measure, while web-based and real-time site reporting is considered.
He also said sharing more sea lice data publically is being considered; in the meantime, information which Marine Scotland holds will be published from March 2019 onwards, monthly in arrears.
‘We recognise the importance of better access to data from a research/science, compliance and public accountability perspective.’
The REC committee’s concerns about medicine use will be addressed by the government; ministers will now propose secondary legislation to transfer responsibility for controlling discharges of medicines from wellboats from Marine Scotland to SEPA, said Ewing.
‘This will make SEPA the regulator of discharges of all wastes and medicines from marine cage fish farms; and enable a consistent and more integrated approach to controlling such discharges.’
On wild and farmed salmon interactions, the government welcomes efforts by the aquaculture industry to finance the improvement of local habitats in west coast rivers, and thereby either mitigate any potential impacts of industrial activity or enhance stocks of wild fish.
‘We acknowledge that there is currently a lack of clarity with regard to the regulatory arrangements that apply to the impact of salmon farms on wild salmon stocks and where the responsibility should lie in regulating this impact.
‘This is a key reason for establishing the Technical Working Group to work in parallel with the Salmon Interactions Working Group.
‘This technical group is tasked with developing a practical framework for assessing the level of risk posed to wild salmon and sea trout, taking account of the best available scientific understanding and the precautionary principle.’
A key challenge for regulators in the technical group – who include Marine Scotland, SEPA, SNH and representatives of local authorities – is evaluating any risk posed by marine farms on wild fish via their effects on sea lice numbers, ‘given the complex range of factors that have the potential to affect wild salmon stocks’.
‘However, scientific knowledge has been increasing over the last few years as a result of work in Scotland and other salmon producing countries,’ said Ewing.
‘The Technical Working Group is aiming to prepare its proposals by the end of June for subsequent public consultation.’
It will consider the ‘practical steps… to implement a clearer longer term regulatory regime for managing impacts of farmed salmon on wild salmon’.
The parliamentary debate on the REC report will be held from 2pm on Wednesday, February 6, in Holyrood. The Cabinet Secretary’s full response to the REC report can be read at