Fish farmers in Scotland would benefit from a less complicated regulatory system, under proposals set out by the Scottish National Party – but operators may also face a Norwegian-style auction in order to secure permits for extra production. The proposals have been welcomed by the salmon industry.
The pledge to introduce a “streamlined” system for permits is set out in the SNP’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections, which take place on 6 May. The manifesto says a “single determining authority” would decide whether or not to grant consent for new farm consents, based on the regulatory regime in Norway.
Currently, in Scotland companies have to apply to four different bodies for four different licences (the local authority for planning permission, Marine Scotland for a marine licence, the Fish Health Inspectorate for a fish licence and SEPA the Scottish Environment Protection Authority for an environmental licence). This is in addition to applying to the Crown Estate, which effectively owns the coastal waters, to secure access to a lease. Each one of these bodies is a statutory consultee on the licence applications determined by the other bodies.
The SNP proposal is that applications will be considered by a single authority. The manifesto says: “This will bring greater clarity, transparency and speed to the process.”
The manifesto adds: “We will expect producers to contribute much more to the communities which support them so we will also explore how a Norwegian-style auction system for new farm developments might generate significant income to support inspection and welfare services, provide real community benefit on islands and in remote rural areas and support innovation and enterprise.”
In August 2020, auctions for additional fish farming sites attracted successful bids from 30 companies and raised NOK 5.6bn (£0.51bn) for the Norwegian government. On average, each additional tonne of production was sold for NOK 219,758 (£19,000).
The SNP manifesto also pledges support for innovation in aquaculture, including developing closed containment fish production on land and exploring “the potential to produce more shellfish in warm-water, land-based farms to cut the amount of unsustainably produced fish and shellfish being imported into Scotland.”
It reiterates the SNP’s support for the sector, stating: “Fish farming is something that Scotland is well placed to do well in, but it must grow sustainably, in harmony with the marine environment that supports it.”
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation has welcomed the commitment to reforming the consent process. Tavish Scott, SSPO Chief Executive said: “We have been clear: what we want to see is better regulation, not less regulation and this commitment in the SNP manifesto shows that the SNP wants to see this too.”
Scott said he hoped this would end the delays and bureaucratic confusion which plagues the system in Scotland – without restricting official scrutiny or public consultation on fish farm applications.
On closed containment systems, he said: “He said: “Our members have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in land-based closed containment systems to grow salmon to the stage when they can be put to sea. This is the most important phase of the salmon’s development, where most growth happens and Scottish salmon achieves its distinctive flavour.
“These developments will continue and our members will continue to invest in this technology so that our sector remains at the leading edge of aquaculture worldwide.”