Scottish gov’t committee proposes ‘urgent’ measures for salmon farm regulation
By Dan Gibson Nov. 27, 2018 09:21 GMT
Scotland's rural economy and connectivity committee has released its report on the current state of the country's salmon farms, which have been under intense scrutiny this year due to their high mortality rates and ongoing sea lice concerns.
The report proposes 65 recommendations for improving the regulation of the farms, in order to maintain the "reputation of Scottish salmon as a premium product".
Member of Scottish parliament (MSP) Edward Mountain, convener of the committee, said: "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."
"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," Mountain said.
Regarding the high mortality rates, the committee has noted that there is some disparity in fish mortality rates from farm-to-farm. It has concluded that farms with high or significantly increased mortalities cannot expand until levels have been reduced to levels that meet "the satisfaction of regulators".
Similarly, the committee believes that the reporting of up to date sea lice data should be mandatory since there is currently not a realistic solution to the problem raised by the parasite.
"The committee considers that the sea lice compliance policy must be robust and enforceable with appropriate penalties," stated the report.
Attention was also paid to the environmental impacts of the medicine used in Scotland's salmon farms. According to research from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, the medicine is "significantly impacting local marine environments".
The committee has therefore called for urgent regulation of the industry's medicine usage and waste collection, alongside a recommendation that the Scottish government decides on an agency that can fill this current regulatory gap.
Possible farm relocation
The 65 recommendations published by the committee also includes several highly significant measures aimed at changing the process by which Scotland's marine fish farms are sited.
In particular, the committee has called for "an immediate and proactive shift towards locating new farms in more suitable areas away from wild salmon migratory routes," with this precautionary approach to be applied until enhanced regulation can be put in place.
Furthermore, beyond the placement of new farms, the committee has also recommended that "immediate dialogue with the industry" should be established in order to discuss the possibility for relocating existing, poorly-sited facilities.
A final recommendation has been made suggesting that identifying offshore locations for salmon farms far from wild salmon fisheries should be considered a "high priority".
Heather Jones, chief executive of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), said the report means, "as a collective, the aquaculture sector can now focus its attention on delivering sustainable growth in an increasingly important area of Scotland’s economy".
“Further innovation will be a critical part of how we take salmon farming forward, with SAIC playing a critical role in bringing universities and industry together to maintain Scotland’s position as a pioneer in global aquaculture. Working with the Scottish government and other stakeholders, we will also continue our work with the delivery of the 10-year 'farmed fish health framework' which, along with the many research and development projects that are already underway across the country, will support many of the report’s recommendations.”
A warm reception from conservationists
The report from the committee has been well received by salmon conservation groups, including Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), which claims its formal petition to the Scottish parliament launched this year's inquiry into salmon farming practices.
Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of S&TCS, believes the report goes some way towards vindicating the organization, which says it has been heavily criticized by the industry for several years now.
"We applaud the REC Committee’s report, which cuts through many years of Scottish government and industry spin and prevarication," said Graham-Stewart in a press statement.
In particular, the S&TCS has praised the report's admission that the current laws and regulations do not do enough to resolve the environmental problems incurred from salmon farming.
It now calls upon the Scottish authorities to take action upon the guidance offered by the committee's report.
"The onus is now on Scottish government to act without delay to implement the report’s recommendations, giving wild fish much-needed protection from sea lice and diseases emanating from salmon farms," Graham-Stewart added.
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