Salmon farming being supported by hands-off regulation and taxpayers’ money

FOI reveals hands-off regulation of salmon farming’s environmental impactand the lavish use of taxpayers’ money to support the industry

 Freedom of Information requests made by Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Marine Scotland, the Fish Health Inspectorate and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have shown the extent of Scottish Government use of taxpayers’ money to fund the salmon farming industry and the very light touch regulation of its environmental impact.

Weak regulation - SEPA

Information supplied by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (note 2) shows that only two applications for marine fish farm licences, issued under the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR), have been refused in the last five years and, over the same period, there have been no enforcement notices served for any failure to comply with the CAR licence and no prosecutions.

SEPA’s own annual compliance assessments show that Scotland’s aquaculture sector saw overall compliance levels drop during 2017 to 81.14%, against 85.75% in 2016 – meaning almost 20% of farms breached their CAR licences in 2017 (note 3) with 56 of the country's 297 licensed fish farms rated "poor", "very poor" or "at risk".

Over the last five years, 147 benthic surveys under salmon farms have been rated as ‘unsatisfactory’ which SEPA itself categorises as “an indication that the emissions arising from the site in question are of a scale that is beyond the assimilative capacity of the local environment. This classification may relate to impacts on benthic fauna or sediment chemistry, unacceptable infeed medicine residue concentrations, or a combination of these parameters”.

This is completely at odds with the assurance of Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s Chief Executive, who said last year that compliance is“non-negotiable”for fish farms (note 4).

Weak regulation – Fish Health Inspectorate and Marine Scotland

Information provided by the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate(note 5), that polices farms for parasites and diseases, and investigates escapes of farmed fish, shows that, in the last five years, the FHI has served only two enforcement notices under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, relating to the failure to control sea lice on fish farms - at the Ardmaddy farm in 2015 and at Score Holms in 2017.

There have been no prosecutions of fish farms or fish-farm well-boat operators in the last five years for failure to have adequate measures in place to control sea lice to protect wild fish – this despite a huge number of fish farms breaching the Scottish Government’s 3 and 8 average lice trigger levels since their inception in 2017.

Calling time on weak regulation?

No wonder that the recent Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee Inquiry into Salmon Farming in Scotland (note 6) concluded this year, per Recommendation 2, that “The Committee strongly agrees with the view of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLR) Committee that… the “status quo” in terms of regulation and enforcement is not acceptable” and, per Recommendation 60, that the Committee, “considers that there is a need to raise the bar in Scotland by setting enhanced and effective regulatory standards to ensure that that fish health issues are properly managed and the impact on the environment is kept to an absolute minimum”.

 The Committee also recommended that, “a comprehensively updated package of regulation should be developed by Marine Scotland and other regulatory bodies…”

 Importantly, the vital wild fish protection part of that package is expected to be announced by Scottish Government in June.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TCS, said:

“The almost incredibly soft touch regulation that has been applied by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Fish Health Inspectorate, and the closeness of the relationship between Marine Scotland and the industry, paints an unhealthy and unsustainable picture that the REC Committee of the Scottish Parliament decided could and should not continue.

 We look forward to the Scottish Government announcing very shortly robust measures to protect wild salmon and sea trout from the damage that has been, and is still being, caused by salmon farms”

The use of taxpayers’ money to support salmon farming in Scotland

At the same time as applying the softest of soft touch regulation, the Scottish Government has also been using significant sums of taxpayers’ money to fund the industry.

Over the last 10 years, the Scottish Government has provided £2 million to the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum (SARF) by way of annual grants (note 7).  It was the withholding of information about one SARF project - that had showed unexpected negative impacts from the use of the sea lice treatment, Slice, in salmon farms, on wild lobster and prawns - that led to five formal decisions of the Scottish Information Commissioner in favour of S&TCS and against SEPA and Scottish Government (note 8).

The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre was awarded further grants during 2016 and 2018 from the European Fisheries Fund, totalling £3.9 million (note 7).

Further grants totalling £1.5 million were given by Scottish Enterprise to the salmon farming industry between 2011 and 2018 to a range of fish farming companies, including two of the bigger companies active in Scotland, The Scottish Salmon Company, and Scottish Sea Farms (note 7), both of which are highly profitable and thus entirely capable of absorbing the cost of such routine expenses as “website development” and “international market development”. Grants for “international market development” are said by Scottish Government to consist of assistance to companies (travel, accommodation etc) to attend international trade events, trade missions etc.

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise also awarded grants to the salmon farming industry totalling £3.9 million between 2010 and 2018 (note 10) for anything from the redevelopment of fish-processing facilities to attendance at Asian trade fairs.

Of particular note is Scottish Enterprise providing £1,075,000 of Scottish Investment Bank investments to Loch Duart Limited over the period 2012 to 2016, to support the company’s sustainable farming practices” (note 7). Despite this investment, in 2019, Loch Duart Limited agreed with the Advertising Standards Authority to stop using claims of sustainability, having described itself as “the sustainable salmon company,” which prompted complaints (note 9). Overall, the relatively small firm of Loch Duart Limited has received, from various government and official sources, a total of £3.25 million over the last 10 years. According to its accounts to year end March 2018, Loch Duart made a profit of £2.6 million and paid £555,981 to its directors.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to S&TCS, said:

“Given the amount of taxpayers’ money that has been poured into this industry over the last decade, the public has a right to expect the Scottish Government to put into effect all the recommendations of the REC Committee Report, and quickly. If the Report is allowed to gather dust, the Scottish environment and wildlife will continue to suffer.

 We call on the Cabinet Secretary to make it crystal clear to the fish farmers to expect tough regulation and not to rely on the old cosy relationship with government and regulators to protect it from proper scrutiny”. 

Supporting images available here: http://bit.ly/2x34mNH (Credit: Corin Smith)

Ends

 Issued by comms@salmon-trout.org(T: 07463 576892).  

Notes for editors

1) Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) was established as the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) in 1903 to address the damage done to our rivers by the polluting effects of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, S&TC UK has worked to protect fisheries, fish stocks and the wider aquatic environment for the public benefit. S&TC UK has charitable status in both England and Scotland (as S&TCS) and its charitable objectives empower it to address all issues affecting fish and the aquatic environment, supported by robust evidence from its scientific network, and to take the widest possible remit in protecting salmonid fish stocks and the aquatic environment upon which they depend. www.salmon-trout.org www.salmon-troutscotland.org

 

2) FOI response to S&TCS from SEPA 15thMarch 2019

 

3) See http://media.sepa.org.uk/media-releases/2018/environmental-compliance-of-scottish-business-exceeds-90-for-third-year-in-a-row.aspx

 

4) See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45752796

 

5) FOI response to S&TCS from FHI 11thMarch 2019

 

6) Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Report into Salmon farming in Scotland, 9th Report (Session 5), 2019

 

7) FOI response to S&TCS from Marine Scotland 7thMarch 2019

 

8) Scottish Information Commissioner’ decisions – at https://www.itspublicknowledge.info/ApplicationsandDecisions/Decisions/Decision_Listing.aspx

 

Decision 043/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Information relating to the use of sea lice medicine

For applicant             26 Mar 2018

 

Decision 013/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Correspondence with Marine Scotland

For applicant             31 Jan 2018

 

Decision 010/2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Report on the environmental impact of sea lice medicine

For applicant             29 Jan 2018

 

Decision 199/2017

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Information concerning sea lice medicine

For applicant             30 Nov 2017

 

Decision 191/2017

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

Scottish Ministers

Report on the environmental impact of sea lice medicine

For applicant            20 Nov 2017

 

9) See https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/rulings.html?q=Duart#informally-resolved

 

10) FOI response to S&TCS from HIE 8thMarch 2019