Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:36 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 4:36 pm, 1st March 2007

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 lobbying against aquaculture, sometimes blaming it for conditions that it was certainly not responsible for, such as amnesic shellfish poisoning. The local enterprise companies were backing the industry as it supported about 5,000 jobs, mainly in the west Highlands and on the islands. Communities were caught in the middle of that, worried both about losing fishing tourism and aquaculture jobs and about the environment.

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.