Scottish salmon farming seeks to expand as publication of Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy Committee report approaches

Whilst the report of the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee into salmon farming in Scotland is awaited (scheduled for “early autumn”), applications for new salmon farms, or expansion of existing farms, are continuing apace.

Applications to increase tonnage are in the pipeline from southern Argyll to the northern isles. These applications are generally not in the offshore locations that the fish farmers claim they want to develop to reduce the impact on wild fish.

Local council planning departments are attempting to secure some limited protection for wild fish and meet their statutory duty under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 to protect wild salmon and sea trout from significant harm from fish farms, by tightening up planning conditions.

Whilst councils are usually minded to grant planning permissions, on the basis of inconclusive advice from Marine Scotland, they are requiring Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) to be put in place during the operation of these fish farms.

EMPs are supposed to offer a degree of protection for wild fish, but S&TC Scotland believes, as do the councils themselves, that these EMPs are little more than ‘sticking plasters’ and will not be effective unless these plans have real ‘teeth’ and can be enforced.

 

While these new farms continue to get planning permission, S&TC Scotland is working behind the scenes to make sure that the EMPs are not just simply tick-box exercises.

S&TC Scotland has already taken Senior Counsel’s advice over one case in Argyll and secured an important understanding from both the local council and fish farmer, that an EMP must be approved and in place before any increase in biomass of farmed fish could be allowed at the site in question.

S&TC Scotland is also finalising a draft EMP planning condition - one with real teeth - that will be promoted to Councils, to be utilised in the interim period before, we anticipate, Scottish Government/Marine Scotland acts to tighten up the planning process, to provide proper protection for wild fish, following what we hope will be robust recommendations within the imminent REC Committee report.

 

The RECC report follows the S&TC Scotland’s petition to the Scottish Parliament in 2016, which prompted inquiries at Holyrood and has resulted in three committees examining the issue.

Concerns regarding sea lice impacts upon wild salmon and sea trout (in the aquaculture zone of the west coast, and in the western and northern isles of Scotland) are shared by the Petitions Committee, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee and the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee.

The inquiries conducted by the various committees simply would not have happened without the help of S&TC; who  has provided extensive evidence, written and oral, to the committees.

 

The ECCLR Committee Report, published in March 2018, was clear on sea lice impacts, advising:

  • That fish farms should be located away from salmonid migration routes.
  • That there should be a mandatory requirement to keep sea lice levels within those identified in the industry’s Code of Good Practice.
  • That the efforts of the industry have proven to be largely insufficient to address lice issues.
  • That sea lice data should be published on a farm by farm basis in real time.

Despite a commitment made by the salmon farmers to the ECCLR Committee in oral evidence earlier this year, salmon farmers are still not publishing real-time data relating to sea lice numbers on their fish farms, nor any historic farm specific data.

After S&TC Scotland’s ground-breaking referral to the Scottish Information Commissioner last year, who then ordered Scottish Government to publish farm specific data on the worst performing farms, we are now getting farm-specific data, but only three months in arrears.

S&TC Scotland has written to the Conveners of both the ECCLR and REC committees, expressing exasperation at the failure of the industry to live up to its commitments made to MSPs, and asking Scottish Government to act.

S&TC Scotland now looks to the upcoming RECC report to back their demand that full disclosure of real-time farm specific sea lice data and historic trend data should be made a statutory requirement upon the fish farmers.