I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests with regard to both fish farming and wild fishing. I also state at the start that I was on the ECCLR Committee when it authored its report on salmon farming, and I was the ECCLR Committee’s rapporteur to the REC Committee during its evidence sessions.
It was an honour to work on the ECCLR Committee report. Although the work was at times challenging, I emerged with great respect for other MSP colleagues—many of whom are in the chamber today—as we combined collectively to produce that report. I mention in particular the departed Graeme Dey [
.] “Departed” as in departed from the committee—he is hale and hearty nevertheless. Gillian Martin has hit the ground running, as she showed in her speech.
Usually, for obvious reasons, I do not like to dwell on my entry in the register of members’ interests. However, I will make an exception to that today, not least because I hope to use my personal experience to explain one of the tensions at the heart of this debate.
My family business has a financial interest in a salmon farm on Loch Arkaig in Lochaber—Mr Finnie will know it well. It is a freshwater farm and is a relatively small operation. However, it has been there since the 1980s and has been a consistent local employer for several decades. It is owned and managed by the company formerly known as Marine Harvest, which is of course a major employer across the Highlands and Islands. From those who work on site on fish farms to those who process and package the end product, nobody can doubt the economic importance of the industry to a fragile area of Scotland. The cabinet secretary is quite right to highlight those points.
I also have an interest in the wild fishery side of life, in terms of the Arkaig, Spean and Lochy catchment areas. Wild salmon and sea trout numbers in those rivers, as in many other rivers on the western seaboard, have been in serious and severe decline over the past 20 to 30 years. The reasons for the decline are complex and not fully understood, but, undoubtedly, the increase in the number of fish farms in the west Highlands has had some detrimental effect on wild fisheries.