As the Scottish Government continues to try to downplay the harm being caused by open-cage salmon farming, S&TC Scotland has just secured its fifth favourable decision in a row this year from the Scottish Information Commissioner. Putting information about salmon farming and its impacts - information that the Scottish Government and its agencies would rather you didn’t see - into the public domain.
In November 2017, we secured a Decision from the Commissioner, who found that SEPA was not entitled to withhold a report that had been provided to SEPA, regarding a future study into the use of emamectin benzoate (Slice) for the treatment of sea lice, to be carried out for the Scottish aquaculture industry. This future study appears to be a very clear attempt to undermine the proposed SEPA phasing-out of the use of Slice. SEPA tried to argue that the information was subject to the exception in regulation 10(5)(f) of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004, that:
“...its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the interests of the person who provided the information...” namely the salmon farming industry.
However, the Commissioner agreed with legal arguments put forward by S&TC Scotland, that the information about this future study related to emissions to the wider marine environment, with the result that the exception that SEPA had tried to invoke, could not apply. The Commissioner has required SEPA to disclose the information. If SEPA wishes to appeal, it has 42 days to do so. The Decision is expected to be published very shortly – keep an eye on it HERE
Earlier in November 2017, we secured another Decision from the Commissioner who decided that Scottish Ministers had unlawfully tried to withhold information concerning a Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum-commissioned report on the environmental impact of the sea lice medicine, emamectin benzoate (Slice). Ministers had tried to conceal the fact that the report was peer-reviewed by six scientists, five or whom were linked to or worked for the multinational corporation that produces emamectin, Merck. Learn More
In September 2017, we secured another Decision from the Commissioner, that Scottish Ministers unlawfully tried to withhold information naming fish farms that had breached Scottish Government trigger levels for the numbers of adult female sea lice on the farmed salmon Read More Here. In 2016 and 2016, we had made a number of requests for information for details of those farms that had notified Marine Scotland that the new Scottish trigger levels, announced to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization in 2016, had been exceeded, but Scottish Ministers had declined to provide the information, on the basis that to do so would cause “substantial prejudice” to the interests of the fish farmers which had provided the information. Scottish Ministers argued that the salmon farmers feared that information on the performance of individual fish farm sites could be used to undermine commercial contracts through undue media pressure, or to call for local authorities and other regulators to revoke consent for sites reporting higher sea lice levels. Scottish Ministers supported the industry in those fears. After two separate and detailed referrals, the Scottish Information Commissioner ruled that arguments put forward by S&TC Scotland for full disclosure of the names of the most lice-affected fish farms in Scotland were correct and that the Scottish Ministers had unlawfully tried to prevent public scrutiny.
Two earlier 2017 Decisions had also shown that Scottish Ministers were not complying with freedom of information law by failing to respond in time and within statutory deadlines to requests made by S&TC Scotland. See Decision 038/2017: Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Ministers -Whether a request was complied with as soon as possible - See Here and Decision 063/2017: Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland and Scottish Ministers - Control of sea lice on fish farms: failure to respond within statutory timescales - See Here.
Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor for S&TC Scotland said:
“The right to environmental information is enshrined not just in Scottish law, but in European law and in an international convention, the Aarhus Convention, to which the UK is signatory.
Scottish Ministers and SEPA cannot keep ignoring the law, just because the information S&TC Scotland requests from them might be embarrassing or show that they lean too far towards protecting the fish-farmers from proper public scrutiny.
It must never be forgotten that the impact of fish-farms outside the cages - on wild fish, on benthic species and on the wider sea loch environment - is of very real, substantial and legitimate public interest.”