Urgent action needs to be taken to improve the regulation of the Scottish salmon farming industry and to address fish health and environmental challenges, a Holyrood Committee has concluded.
Following its in-depth inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has determined that, if the industry is to expand, there is a need to introduce enhanced and more effective regulatory standards to ensure that fish health issues are properly managed and the impact on the environment is kept to an absolute minimum.
The Convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Edward Mountain MSP, said: "The salmon farming industry offers significant economic and social value to Scotland, providing jobs and investment in rural areas. There is a desire within the industry to grow.
“However, if this is to happen, it is essential that the serious challenges it faces such as the control of sea lice, lowering fish mortality rates and reducing the sector's impact on the environment are addressed as a priority.
“Our report contains 65 recommendations on how this should be taken forward.
"If the reputation of Scottish salmon as a premium product is to be maintained, Scotland's salmon farmers must demonstrate responsible and sustainable production methods. Importantly, the Committee is strongly of the view that the status quo in terms of regulation and enforcement is not acceptable, and that we need to raise the bar in Scotland by setting enhanced and more effective standards."
In addressing specific fish health challenges, the Committee noted that while there has been a variety of actions by the sector to address sea lice infestations, there is still not an effective way to deal with the parasite. It is strongly of the view that there should be a mandatory approach to the reporting of sea lice infestations. The Committee considers that the sea lice compliance policy must be robust and enforceable with appropriate penalties.
The Committee also deems the current level of fish mortalities to be too high in general across the sector and is concerned about extremely high mortality rates at particular sites. It is of the view that no expansion should be permitted at sites which report high or significantly increased levels of mortalities, until these are addressed to the satisfaction of regulators.
In terms of environmental impact, the Committee noted recent SEPA research which concluded that medicine from Scottish salmon farms "is significantly impacting local marine environments". The Committee is therefore in no doubt that effective regulation of medicine used by the farmed salmon industry is a key requirement. The Committee also considers it to be essential that waste collection and removal from salmon farms is addressed as a matter of urgency.
The Committee makes several recommendations on the siting of salmon farms:
- A precautionary approach must be taken to address any potential impact of sea lice infestation from salmon farms on wild salmon. There should be an immediate and proactive shift towards locating new farms in more suitable areas away from wild salmon migratory routes.
- Until such time as an enhanced regulation and enforcement is in place, the precautionary approach to applications for new sites and expansion of existing sites should be firmly and effectively applied. The Scottish Government should provide strong and clear leadership to ensure this occurs.
- A more strategic approach should be taken to identify those areas across Scotland that are either suitable or unsuitable for siting of salmon farms.
- There should be immediate dialogue with the industry to identify scope for moving existing poorly sited farms.
- Examining the scope for siting salmon farms in suitable offshore locations should be treated as a high priority.
The Rural economy and Connectivity Committee launched the enquiry into Salmon Farming in Scotland earlier this year, and took evidence from aquaculture research bodies, environmental organisations, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, salmon farming representatives, and regulatory bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Council, SEPA and the Crown Estate.
Further information on the Committee's inquiry can be found on its webpage.
The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee published their report in March 2018 inform the REC Committee's wider inquiry into the current state of the industry.
A report commissioned by SPICe and undertaken by SAMS Research Services Ltd (SRSL) on a review of environmental impacts of salmon farming in Scotland is available here. This report contains a review of literature on the environmental impacts of salmon farming in Scotland, the scale of the impacts and approaches to mitigating the impacts.