Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:31 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:31 pm, 1st March 2007

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.