This Parliament passes laws on all sorts of things, but only rarely can we honestly say that it is faced with an issue as important as that of Gyrodactylus salaris, the infamous salmon parasite that has devastated fish stocks and river systems on the continent. Although GS has not yet appeared in Scotland, it might be only a matter of time until it does unless we take action to combat the threat. At present, if anglers take a fishing trip to Norway, there is nothing to stop them, upon their return to Scotland, continuing to fish with equipment that might be contaminated. The threat is obvious, but what should we do about it?
Let me quote directly from the Executive's document on GS, which was produced for ministers by experts at the institute of aquaculture at the University of Stirling and Glasgow Caledonian University business school. According to that document, which I have with me, the cost to the economy if GS became widespread would be £34.5 million per year in lost household income, £44.8 million in lost expenditure, and a staggering £633 million in net economic value lost. The document also estimates that almost 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs would be lost annually.
What does the excellent document suggest that we should do to prevent such an economic and ecological catastrophe? I quote:
"The probability of GS entering the UK could be reduced considerably by the provision of disinfection stations at ports".
It also says:
"The total estimated cost of these measures ... is £6m".
That cost is small in comparison with the net economic value of £633 million.
Furthermore, the measures that are outlined in amendment 1 were enthusiastically endorsed by every member of the Environment and Rural Development Committee in its stage 1 report. At that time, the deputy minister was convener of the committee. Paragraph 99 of the report states:
"The Committee does not see why more robust measures should not also be developed at ports of entry—such as a requirement to make a declaration at customs points if carrying fishing gear or other water-sports equipment".
We know who the convener of the committee was, so why, when Ted Brocklebank heeded the committee's recommendation and duly lodged an amendment at stage 2, did the deputy minister reject it and her Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues on the committee vote it down?
The measures that are outlined in amendment 1 may not be enough to stop GS, not least because it could arrive via England or Wales, but they would send a signal to the United Kingdom Government that we are deadly serious in combating that parasite and that similar measures must be implemented across the country.