In accordance with rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.
The sustainable development of aquaculture and freshwater fisheries in Scotland was the principal reason for introducing the bill, which provides new powers to help to realise the vision of the strategic framework for Scottish aquaculture and lays the foundations for the forthcoming strategic framework for freshwater fisheries.
This has been a collaborative bill, drawn up with the close and active involvement and participation of stakeholders. The welcoming reaction to the bill as it progressed through its parliamentary stages is testament to the open and inclusive approach that we adopted.
On aquaculture, the bill provides powers to tackle two important and long-standing problems of public and international concern: sea lice and escapes of fish from fish farms. The bill takes a pragmatic approach, acting as a backstop to the fish farming industry's code of good practice. It strikes the right balance on the degree of regulation. I believe that that legislative underpinning will increase public confidence in the industry's code by ensuring that all fish farm operators have to meet certain agreed standards.
On freshwater fisheries, the bill puts in place measures to deal with the parasite Gyrodactylus salaris, should it ever come to Scotland. We all of course agree that it would be infinitely preferable to keep the parasite out, as we have discussed. I reassure Parliament that we will be putting every effort into our preferred approach of a high-profile, focused education and awareness campaign. The new phase begins on Monday.
The bill introduces important reforms for freshwater fisheries, which will help to ensure a balance between the conservation of freshwater fisheries and responsible access to fishing. Not all the measures have been universally welcomed, as
The bill makes important improvements in the regulation of sea fisheries, including the introduction of administrative penalties for certain sea fisheries offences. Although the concept of fixed penalties as a voluntary alternative to court proceedings is not new, it is an innovative development in sea fisheries, where legislation can be highly complex and very technical in nature. Stakeholders welcome the fact that the Executive is bringing in those measures.
For the first time ever, we are introducing a discretionary power to make payments for fish that have been destroyed by measures taken to control fish diseases. That explicit reassurance on the issue of fish disease underlines the Executive's commitment to supporting the aquaculture sector in Scotland.
The bill is widely recognised to have cross-party and wide stakeholder support and I believe that it will make a real difference.
That the Parliament agrees that the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill be passed.
I note that the minister took only three of his six minutes to make that speech; I expect that I will be equally brief. Speeches in debates such as this tend to repeat many of the points that were made during consideration of amendments.
I pay tribute to the Environment and Rural Development Committee. That of course includes paying tribute to myself as a member of that committee.
I also pay tribute to the clerks, and to all the stakeholders who gave such good submissions in response to the consultation on the bill and to the committee. The Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development will today find herself in the strange position of summing up in support of the motion to pass the bill, having been convener of the committee that scrutinised it.
Scotland's natural environment is very precious. The bill is about protecting it and promoting and protecting two vital sectors in Scotland. On aquaculture, the Scottish National Party welcomes the steps to prevent escapes, to control parasites and to put in place the new inspection regime. We
On the freshwater fisheries element of the bill, speaking as the member for Moray, which contains the Findhorn, the Lossie and, of course, the Spey, I know only too well the value of the freshwater fisheries sector to Scotland. Anglers, managers and others who are associated with the sector bend over backwards to conserve fish stocks in those rivers; they do what is best for biodiversity and the environment. I believe that elements of the bill will help them to achieve that and to develop that valuable sector.
It is vital that we do all that we can to prevent GS from arriving in Scotland. If there were an outbreak and we had to kill all life in our rivers to contain it, that would be devastating. The SNP has used the debates on the bill to convey to ministers the fact that it is about the future not just of anglers but of tourism and renewable energy, including hydroelectricity and other renewable technologies that make use of our rivers. It is also about the future of the whisky-distilling sector, to which I referred during consideration of amendments.
There would be enormous ramifications across many sectors in Scotland if there were an outbreak of GS. That is why there has been such an emphasis on trying to prevent it from coming to Scotland in the first place and on ensuring that we take appropriate measures at our ports of entry. Future ministers will be held to account in relation to the measures that they take and the negotiations that they hold with the United Kingdom authorities in that regard.
The minister mentioned that the information campaign will begin on Monday. I recall that the minister's study found that it would cost £6 million to run the campaign. It would be good if the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, when she winds up, could detail how that will be funded. Will £6 million be made available? If so, over what timescale? If not, how much will be made available?
During the stage 3 proceedings, Dennis Canavan raised the important issue of freshwater fisheries management. We are 60 days away from the third election to the Parliament. After each of the previous elections, ministers have made commitments to address the issue. Our current system is archaic. As other members have said, we have to replace it with a modern, up-to-date system. We have to keep in place what is good about the existing system but fix what can be improved. We have to think about having a catchment area basis for managing our freshwater
We welcome the bill and will support it at decision time.
The Scottish Conservatives are pleased to be supporting the bill today, primarily because of the package of measures relating to fish farming in part 1.
Aquaculture is an extremely important industry in the Highlands and Islands, which is the part of Scotland that I represent. Across Scotland, salmon farming supports some 10,000 jobs, chiefly in the rural areas, and is estimated to be worth around £300 million a year. That is why I pressed my amendment for mandatory compensation for fish farmers, which would simply have brought the rights of fish farmers into line with those of terrestrial farmers in cases of slaughter by Government.
I would like to pay tribute to the excellent code of good practice that regulates about 97 per cent of the industry in Scotland. That is a welcome alternative to the myriad statutory regulations that govern other sectors. Although I support the Executive's intention to provide a legislative backdrop to the code, ministers must ensure that the provisions of the bill are used to reinforce and encourage the voluntary approach rather than to usurp it.
Nonetheless, the legislative powers in the bill are important and necessary, not least because we have an obligation to protect an equally important industry: recreational angling. It is vital that aquaculture and wild fisheries can live together. Sometimes, that requires compromise on both sides. Scotland is famous for having some of the best salmon and trout angling anywhere in Europe. Although views about the extent to which escaped farmed fish are harming native stocks vary enormously, we must ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to protect the reputation of Scotland as a first-class destination for game angling. Therefore, I have no hesitation in welcoming the tougher measures on fish farm escapees that the bill puts in place. I trust that ministers will ensure that those measures are rigorously enforced and, possibly, tightened at a later date, if that is deemed to be necessary. I also hope that they will watch over the times when smolt, when migrating out of rivers and into the sea, have to go past fish cages that are home to sea lice that can kill them. That is another big issue that the bill addresses.
I have spoken about my strongly held belief that we have to put in place the toughest possible measures to prevent GS parasites from entering Scotland. As the Executive's summary report from October last year says, the prevalence of GS in this country would "destroy" salmon angling. The economic impact of that in terms of lost revenue and jobs would be devastating. It is truly a nightmare scenario and we pray that it never happens.
Scotland's rivers and their diverse ecosystems are the envy of the world and the industries that depend on them—notably angling, tourism, whisky and, of course, hydro—are among our most precious commodities. GS could destroy all that and rip the heart out of rural Scotland. I therefore plead with the Executive to ensure that the measures contained in both the Environment and Rural Development Committee's report and the Executive's own expert report on GS are implemented without delay.
The other undoubtedly controversial aspect of the bill is the use of live fish as bait, on which I have already outlined my party's position. I simply add that there is much potential in marketing Scotland not only as the top salmon and trout fishing destination, which it is, but as a leading coarse fishing destination. I hope that ministers will ensure that the powers in the bill relating to coarse angling will be used to promote and grow, rather than discourage or undermine, coarse angling.
In conclusion, I welcome the balance in part 1 of the bill in seeking to protect two of our most important industries—aquaculture and angling. I simply hope that our efforts are not nullified by the sudden appearance of the GS parasite in Scottish waters. Once again, I plead with ministers to ensure that steps are taken to prevent that from happening.
The bill has been a long haul, not just from when it was first introduced in Parliament or even from when the first consultation began, but from when the Parliament, in the shape of the former Transport and the Environment Committee, and the Executive began to interrogate and bring together fish farmers, river proprietors, local communities, non-governmental organisations and others with a view to finding the sustainable development balancing point for the aquaculture industry, which is so important to the Highlands and Islands.
At that point, there was a stand-off between salmon farmers on one hand and wild salmon interests on the other. Environmental groups were
The industry had to face real issues, particularly the proliferation of sea lice and the impact of that on migrating wild salmon, and the genetic impact of escaped farmed salmon on the wild stock. However, the environmental groups and the wild salmon advocates would not always admit the social and economic rationale for aquaculture or be realistic about what was possible for the industry to deliver and still remain viable.
The industry has matured considerably over the years. Its efforts to address concerns such as fish lice and salmon escapes and sustainable feed, and the efforts of other stakeholders to meet it halfway, have made the bill possible. It is finely balanced, and all parties know that. It is based on codes of practice that are now underpinned by law—the iron hand in the velvet glove. Enforcement by the industry must be rigorous, or enforcement by the law will be.
The bill is not just about aquaculture; it embraces freshwater fishing too. I commend Dennis Canavan for his unwavering devotion to the rights of the common fisherman or woman. Protection orders have been misused in the past in some areas and they must be properly policed. However, in evidence to the committee, the representatives of the Tay liaison committee said that not all the available permits on the Tay were being taken up. I am afraid that the legislation that Dennis Canavan hoped for will not come until the next session.
We have all learned to pronounce Gyrodactylus salaris, and some of us have even learned how to spell it. It is a fearsome parasitic predator. Its very name tells us that it leaps and birls, and it would devastate the fish in our rivers if it were introduced by fish or fish egg imports from areas of Europe where it is rife or by careless fishermen tourists. The chemicals that are needed to treat it would devastate the biodiversity of our rivers and our river networks would not make treatment easy. I welcome the amendment at stage 2 that would allow the creation of barriers in rivers to prevent its spread.
It is no wonder that members are anxious to do all that is practicable to keep GS at bay—I emphasise "practicable". The risk is small, so we should not overreact but should keep vigilant. The bill strikes the right balance.
I end by thanking committee members, our hard-working clerks and those who gave evidence to us, both oral and written. I was there at the beginning when Dennis Overton of Aquascot first lobbied me about support for aquaculture eight years ago, and Andrew Walker and Hugh Raven lobbied me about the environmental impact of fish farming on wild salmon. I visited fish farms in the northern isles and the Western Isles, and I was driven like a mad thing around the west Highlands by Graeme Dear of Marine Harvest. I visited harvest stations and fish processors, I consulted the Scottish Association for Marine Science at Dunstaffnage and Fisheries Research Services at Aberdeen. I reported to what were then the European Committee and the Transport and the Environment Committee, and I sat on the ministerial working group.
Aquaculture has truly been part of my political life; I am glad to have seen the bill to its conclusion.
I add my thanks to everybody who was involved in producing the bill, to people who gave evidence to the committee and to people who lobbied us—even those with whom I did not end up agreeing.
The bill was not generally controversial and it attracted an awful lot of agreement. Much of the bill was welcome and most of the haggling concerned fairly detailed and small parts. The provisions that relate to the aquaculture industry were very much welcomed, as was the code of good practice on sea lice and escapes.
Some of us felt slightly disappointed that strict liability for escapes from fish farms was not pursued. I know that strict liability has a clear meaning in law and that it was felt that that would go too far and would be unreasonable and unenforceable. Escapes could occur because severe weather events damaged fish cages, for example, which would not be the aquaculture enterprise's fault. I want the Executive to keep an eye on that, because the number of severe weather events will undoubtedly increase with climate change and I do not want them to be used as an excuse for repeated large-scale escapes.
If large-scale escapes happen repeatedly after severe weather events, the industry will have the responsibility to examine the design of fish farm cages, which must be fit for the purpose of containing fish in the waters around the west coast. I was a bit disappointed that the bill was not slightly stronger on that but, apart from that, I am happy with the aquaculture provisions.
As for freshwater fisheries, I will not revisit the debates about live bait, other than to say that I was slightly startled to read in a tabloid newspaper even before stage 2 that I was the author of a possible amendment to ban live vertebrate bait. I hope that everybody now realises that I was not the author; I support the measure, but I did not think of it. As a Green, I support angling and I value local relationships with anglers, who often alert environmentalists to problems in the ecosystem of their local body of water. I put on record again my support for angling and the fact that there was no nasty Green plot to stop angling. The amendment had nothing to do with the Greens and was not nasty or a plot. In any case, Greens are not nasty and never plot.
We always learn something new in scrutinising a bill; in this case, the committee learned about Gyrodactylus salaris. I might have the honour of being the first person to write about it. Having learned to spell the term, as Maureen Macmillan said, I put it in a column in the Ross-shire Journal, which some people must have read with slight astonishment if, like me previously, they had never heard of the parasite. It was surprising to be made aware of a parasite of which one had never heard but which could have a devastating effect on our salmon rivers.
Many unanswered questions about the parasite remain. Could we treat an infestation, should it come to Scotland? Are our river systems comparable to those in other places where treatment attempts have been made? Would the chemicals that would have to be used to treat the parasite be so devastating that we could not even attempt treatment? We know that the risk of recreational water users transmitting the parasite from countries where it is endemic is very small, but I am glad that awareness has been raised. During the bill process, awareness among interest groups has been raised, and I hope that the publicity campaign will raise awareness further.
I have quite enjoyed the bill. We enjoy most pieces of legislation, but the bill has been interesting. It was not hugely controversial or headline grabbing, but scrutinising it has been worth while and I am glad to have been part of that.
I have been sent a note that tells me that I have less time than I thought I had, so I shall go a little faster.
As the minister said, the debate has been worth while. I like his description of the bill as a strategic framework for Scottish aquaculture. In my constituency and that of Rob Gibson and Eleanor
Although I am not a member of the Environment and Rural Development Committee, I serve a constituency that is connected with fish farming and I am aware of what has been done. I pay tribute to the inclusive approach of the Executive. I have seen with my own eyes that it has talked directly with the industry and the rod-and-line interests. That has been a template of how to do things in the future, as is recognised by members of other parties.
The debate has covered many different aspects, but of particular interest was the issue to which Eleanor Scott referred—the parasite Gyrodactylus salaris. As Ross Finnie said, there is a low risk of the parasite coming into the country, and I understand that the use of fishing equipment has never been implicated in that. Nevertheless, I am assured that the Executive remains ready and poised, should the dreadful parasite appear. I accept the minister's point that the legislation should not be prescriptive.
So, what do we do? The world could fall on our head. I believe that, if GS appears, the Executive will be prepared to take it on. The evidence is that the use of fishing equipment has not been implicated in the spread of GS—it is worth remembering that.
Notwithstanding the passion with which Dennis Canavan spoke, I cannot agree with what he said.
I see that I am in my last minute.
The miracle of the debate is the fact that Mr John Farquhar Munro has not spoken, although he has huge fisheries interests ranging far across Scotland.
The bill is a useful, workmanlike piece of legislation that underpins an industry that is crucial to all of us in the Highlands, including Jamie McGrigor. It will strengthen that industry and will, I believe, serve the best interests of the rod-and-line interests. As Mr McGrigor has said, that is crucial to the economy of the Highlands and of Scotland in general.
No one who has been a member of the Parliament
The parasite Gyrodactylus salaris—I pronounce its name publicly for the first time—is one of the biggest threats that could conceivably enter our rivers. I was especially impressed with the way in which Richard Lochhead made that point. Not only would GS be a great threat to our wild salmon populations and the economic development associated with them, the process of flushing out some of our rivers with dangerous chemicals could be a massive threat to our whisky industry. Considering the exports that our whisky industry achieves, we cannot afford to take risks.
I wonder whether, when we discuss biosecurity and GS—and, perhaps, bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease, which we have often discussed in the same context—it is sometimes difficult to assess how dangerous the situation would be and what reaction would be appropriate. I worry that we may be observing complacency, to some extent, in relation to GS. Time will tell. If GS does appear, perhaps complacency is what we will have seen.
The use of live bait was passed over quickly in the debate, but I am glad that we had the opportunity to debate it. I am not convinced that we have made the right decision, but I have been given cause to reflect on how the Executive used the same biosecurity arguments against the use of live bait.
We must concern ourselves with how new people—especially those who can least afford to become involved in the sport of angling—can be given access to fishing. Various organisations in Scotland are working hard, in conjunction with our angling clubs, to achieve that. I am glad that we will preserve our angling clubs and not undermine their authority through decisions that we have made today.
It was interesting that a Conservative amendment provided the opportunity to test the concept of compulsory compensation when fish are compulsorily destroyed by the Executive. The fact that the Executive has taken a discretionary power to compensate for destroyed fish is a major
Although I generally support the slightly better set of arrangements for the management of aquaculture and fisheries that the bill provides, I look forward to the potential that will be available when we reconsider these matters in a few years' time.
In our consideration of the aquaculture measures in the bill, we had to think about how salmon farmers behave and the effect that their farms have on the environment, but we should not forget that the large and diverse shellfish farming sector is much more organically based. Although the approved code of practice applies to both types of farm, we will need to keep under scrutiny the potential that exists for people to get involved in the fish-farming industry. It is still my view that, when people get a licence, they should use it or lose it. That issue will continue to be tested if more than half the sites for fish farms continue to be unused. That is a glaring issue. Although the Parliament has today rejected any tightening up of the licensing arrangements, I think that the matter will be kept under scrutiny.
Does the member agree that a great many of those so-called unused sites are in fact used—or could be used in future—by the fish-farming industry for fallowing, which is a way of improving the environmental impact of the aquaculture industry?
I happen to know that very few of those 140 sites are being used for fallowing. They are maintained by the companies concerned for their own purposes—to restrain competition.
We need to recognise that the spread of GS requires a wider view to be taken that involves the European Union. The affected areas need to be identified and a plan among the different countries needs to be worked out. We should expect the Scottish Executive to move in that direction because we know that GS is endemic not only in parts of Norway but in other EU countries, including France. We have a major job to do to ensure that we are able to stop the parasite spreading to Scotland. Of course, the major element of such efforts must involve controlling the importation of fish and smolts, given that that is easier to control than the behaviour of anglers.
Regarding how we control and develop the management of fisheries, we look forward to the next stage, when the freshwater fisheries forum reports and we can move on to total catchment management. These interim measures are all very
It was interesting that, with amendment 7, Dennis Canavan wanted to hold out for what he regarded as the best solution. I had a great deal of sympathy with his proposal. The aim was not to take powers away from local angling clubs but to ensure that anglers can be organised at a national level so that common standards can be brought into play. However, when he questioned why people should be able to be convicted on the evidence of only one witness, I was sorry that the minister did not refer him to the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, under which people can be so convicted of taking birds' eggs. That provision is a good way of dealing with the issue because of the difficulty involved in getting witnesses.
For some of us—if not for the minister—the reference to the ways in which salmon fishery boards and bailiffs acted in the 19th century did not bring back happy memories. In those days, I think they still used mantraps. The minister should have pointed out that convicting on the evidence of one witness is a modern way of dealing with such matters. As Stewart Stevenson said, when he was a water bailiff, he had more powers than a constable. I will not list any of Stewart Stevenson's other jobs just now.
We agree that the modernisation of the powers of control over our inland waters is welcome. We can handle those measures for aquaculture. We are happy to support the bill in general.
I am conscious that this has been neither the longest nor the most contentious or fractious debate that we have ever had in the Parliament, so I hope that I can follow the example of previous deputy ministers in speaking until 5 o'clock—I cannot guarantee it.
As many members have said, the bill is absolutely not an end to the Parliament's interest in aquaculture and fisheries. There will be monitoring of the implementation of the bill. We have been supported ably by the freshwater fisheries forum. The speeches that have been made reflect the fact that there has been a lot of participation and that a lot of work has been done by different sectors of the fishing industry. Right from the start, a range of stakeholders have been involved in producing the bill that the Executive has taken through the Parliament. I know that there is enthusiasm throughout the Parliament for further work to be done on the issue.
Dennis Canavan was right to point out that there has been a long-standing commitment to do further work. In the next session, the Parliament will need to address aquaculture in the forthcoming strategic framework on freshwater fisheries. I reassure Dennis Canavan and John Home Robertson—who also has a long-standing interest in the issue—that we want stakeholders to be fully involved in designing the future management structures. I got the sense from this afternoon's debate that there will be a lot of interest in this work throughout the country. We need to ensure that the different perspectives are brought around the table to design the next legislation that is required.
It was said that Dennis Canavan has shown consistent interest in aquaculture in this Parliament. Officials tell me that his interest goes way back beyond this Parliament, as he was active in representing the views of anglers at the United Kingdom Parliament throughout his time as an MP.
I thank the many individuals and organisations who helped shape the bill. Without their input, we would not have had a short and uncontentious debate this afternoon. They have helped demonstrate that the best solutions come from working through proposals with practitioners who have to live and work with the issues every day.
I also thank my officials and the legal team and the drafters who worked on the bill. I thank the Parliament, particularly the committee members and their clerks who helped in the process of consideration and scrutiny of the bill. A lot of technical issues had to be addressed. I thank Maureen Macmillan for her work in the Parliament and for taking over seamlessly as convener of the Environment and Rural Development Committee when I moved to the other end of the table.
When the salmon farming industry was consulted on the bill, it suggested that, in view of the code of practice that it had recently adopted, the bill was unnecessary in some respects. I did not agree with that view. What is the understanding between the Executive and the industry on that point?
The Executive's view is that the code is extremely useful and the vast majority of aquaculture companies are fully signed up to it. However, not absolutely everybody is and we want to ensure that there is pressure to do so and to push up standards throughout the industry.
Eleanor Scott mentioned escapes. The bill is absolutely clear that fish farms must have satisfactory measures in place for the containment of fish—an enforcement notice can be served if they do not. It is an offence if a fish farmer does not take the necessary steps set out in the notice.
There has to be a tough back-stop when there is not effective management.
A range of other issues have been raised, such as GS. The contingency plan was tested last month, in which all relevant stakeholders were involved. The process requires to be fine tuned. Although no major flaws were identified, we all agree that the last thing any of us wants is GS to move into Scotland. The precautionary measures, the publicity, posters and leaflets are crucial in getting across to people the message that we cannot afford to let GS enter Scotland.
Richard Lochhead asked a specific question about the available money. He referred to the sum of £36 million. That would be the cost of putting in disinfectant points at all ports, not the publicity that we are putting in place. I hope that colleagues will be happy to support and disseminate that in their constituencies.
This has been a good debate. I reiterate that we recognise the importance of aquaculture and freshwater fisheries in Scotland. They are incredibly important economically. They support many jobs in rural communities throughout Scotland, and they support our tourism industry by attracting people to Scotland to enjoy our wonderful natural environment. Continued strong commitment from the Scottish Executive and the public sector, working with the aquaculture and freshwater fisheries industries, is the way forward.
I welcome the consensus that has grown around the bill. All that remains is for the Parliament to formally support the motion.