Scottish salmon farmers hit back at ‘damaging’ regulator

Sepa chief executive Terry A'Hearn - the regulator should be enabling said farmers

SCOTLAND’S salmon farmers have today rejected a proposal by Scotland’s environmental regulator to introduce a feed cap.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) described the initiative as ‘lazy regulation’ which, if introduced, would raise significant fish health and welfare concerns and could undermine the global reputation for quality the sector has built up over the last few decades.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the SSPO, has now written to Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of Sepa (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency), raising serious concerns about the performance of the regulator.

On the consultation launched today by Sepa, controlling organic deposits from salmon farms, Hesketh-Laird said: ‘Sepa’s decision to consider a feed cap as a way of controlling organic deposits from salmon farms has no environmental basis, is wrong, misguided and could threaten fish health and welfare.

‘It would also undermine the global reputation for quality Scottish salmon that farmers have built up over decades.’

She added: ‘The consultation proposes to introduce a limit on the amount of feed given to salmon. But farmers must be able to judge the appropriate amount of feed necessary to rear their stock and keep them healthy.

‘This sets a dangerous precedent for a regulator to limit how farmers feed their stock.

SSPO boss Julie Hesketh-Laird

‘They should not face arbitrary restrictions. Feed is central to fish health, welfare and growth. It is also key to achieving first-class quality and nutritional benefits for consumers.

‘This consultation is simply lazy regulation. I am dismayed that Sepa is considering a system which has already been tried and rejected elsewhere.

‘The Scottish salmon farming sector has worked effectively with Sepa’s existing biomass controls for many years and are committed to do so into the future.’

Hesketh-Laird has written to A’Hearn setting out a number of concerns about what she said was the ‘poor performance’ of the regulator that stifles the sector and constrains sustainable growth.

Licences for new salmon farms or for changes to existing farms should be determined by Sepa within 120 days – but according to data collated by the SSPO, the average time for salmon farming applications to be dealt with by the regulator in April 2019 was 294 days.

Hesketh-Laird said: ‘The relationship between a regulator and sector must be rigorous and call companies to account. But it must also be enabling.

‘The delays in responding to applications are damaging on a day to day operational level but are also undermining strategic planning and decision making.

‘Salmon is a major player in Scotland’s food industry and a key contributor to the rural and national economy, so it deserves timely, efficient, strategic and enabling regulation.’

She added: ‘It is in all of our interests to nurture and protect Scotland’s marine environment but this is best done through strong, robust and clear regulation that enables the sustainable growth of aquaculture.’