A Holyrood inquiry has concluded that Scotland’s marine ecosystem faces ‘irrecoverable damage’ from salmon farming if environmental concerns are not addressed.
The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform committee, which took evidence last month from environmental campaigners, scientists from the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), said fish mortality was at ‘unacceptable levels’.
Its report concluded that there has been little progress in tackling environmental problems since 2002, the BBC reported this morning.
The SSPO insisted it was committed to long-term sustainability.
Salmon is Scotland’s single biggest food export – worth £600 million – and is estimated to provide nearly 2,500 jobs directly with thousands more supported by the aquaculture sector in rural and coastal communities.
With the industry planning a huge expansion over the next decade, the committee said Scotland is at ‘a critical point in considering how salmon farming develops in a sustainable way in relation to the environment’.
The environment committee – which did not take evidence from any salmon farmers – came to 12 conclusions, including: an ‘ecosystem based approach’ is needed for growth which identifies where new farms can be located without impacting on the environment; and the sector is not being regulated sufficiently or effectively.
It said ‘the status quo is not an option’ and called for a ‘precautionary’ approach to expansion of the industry based on outstanding environmental concerns being resolved.
The SSPO said: ‘Until the report is officially published and the industry has time to read and consider its findings we cannot make any specific comments.
‘However, the industry takes this inquiry very seriously and has provided written and oral evidence to the committee to highlight our commitment to long-term sustainability through high standards of fish health, husbandry and environmentally responsible production.
‘With investment of over £50 million in new innovations and around £10 million per year spent on research, it is clear that the Scottish salmon farming industry is proud of its achievement to become the UK’s top food export.
‘We are determined to address any challenges to the sector maintaining that position.’
The report on the environmental impact of salmon farming is being sent to the Scottish parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity committee which is conducting a wider inquiry into the sector.
It is due to take its first evidence on Wednesday, with witnesses including Professor James Bron and Professor Herve Migaud of the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, and Professor Paul Tett, reader in Coastal Ecosystems, from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).
Picture: Eric Verspoor of Inverness College giving evidence to the committee