Scottish farmed salmon enjoys an excellent international reputation for quality and we should never take that for granted. It is important that an industry with exports that are worth £600 million continues to thrive—that point is lost in the committee report but it must be recognised, and I am glad that Edward Mountain emphasised it today.
Therefore, it is in all our interests to get salmon farming right in Scotland. To fail would damage the Scottish economy and put at risk high-quality jobs in remote rural areas. Some of those areas are barely surviving and the last thing that we want to preside over is dying communities. If we are to see the repopulation of rural Scotland, we need to ensure that those areas have thriving economies. Fish farming is part of that mix.
We need to skill our rural workforce for jobs in fish farming, and we need schools and colleges to get involved in attracting young people into the industry. Young people need to have their horizons broadened. No one says that they must all stay in the communities that they were brought up in but, far too often, young people are forced away from remote rural communities because of the lack of careers and opportunities. When we have an industry that can provide young people with that future and a career, we need to make sure that they know about it and that they have the opportunity to gain the skills that will allow them to work in it. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement today. We really need to capitalise on the opportunities that fish farming provides.
However, that does not mean that we accept or condone bad practice—we do not. Government, producers and agencies have to ensure that our reputation is not further damaged in order to allow the maximisation of the economic impact of fish farming. We need to aspire to be the best fish farming industry in the world—an industry that is sustainable and that has animal welfare at its heart.
For many years, the industry has said to me that the bureaucracy that surrounds fish farming is huge: there is a myriad of organisations, each pulling in different directions. When I read the committee report, and the Government’s response, that really came home to me. The report listed stakeholders and regulatory bodies, the Scottish Government, local government, SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage, the EU, the Prince of Wales’s sustainability group, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, fish health inspectors from Marine Scotland, Crown Estate Scotland—my list had many more and a number are not on that list, but, frankly, I gave up counting them all.
We need to streamline the system for regulating, planning and managing fish farming. I wonder whether the complexity leads to some of the problems that we have seen; it certainly does not help with finding solutions. We need an industry that is well regulated and which meets the highest possible standards. However, in such a cluttered landscape, it is impossible to see how that can be done. I urge the Government to look at that. I do not think that the committee looked in depth at the Norwegian system of management and regulation, but I understand that it is much more streamlined and, because of that, its industry is much better regulated than ours.
E nsuring that fish farming thrives is not just an economic argument; it is also a health issue. We need to eat more oily fish, which is important to our health. We are not eating enough fish. The recommended amount is two servings a week, with at least one being oily fish. Obviously, vegetarians and vegans need to find those nutrients elsewhere, but those of us who eat fish should follow those guidelines.
Recently, I listened on the radio to a health specialist who recommended that people take supplements to get those nutrients.
They were clear that that was not what they would normally recommend, given that our diet could easily provide what we need. However, their view was that, because there is such a shortage of oily fish in our diet, we need to consider taking supplements.
Farmed salmon is part of the solution. Salmon is rich in long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, which are crucial to the fight against heart disease. It is simply not right that people need to rely on supplements when we can produce an abundance of a food that would help our nation to fight heart disease.
As others have mentioned, the report also touches on the tensions between wild and farmed salmon. Those tensions are long running. To be frank, the science has not reached a conclusion. Wild stocks ebb and flow throughout Scotland. That tends to happen in the same way on the west and east coasts, despite the fact that there are no fish farms on the east coast. It simply does not add up that salmon farming is to blame. I welcome the further research that is being carried out into that issue, because it is extremely important. We need to protect wild stocks and we need much more research into what is leading to the changes. Is it climate change, or is it something that is happening further out to sea?
The salmon farming industry and those who fish wild salmon have an interest in the species and in what helps the fish to thrive. Working together to find out more about the species and what is impacting them is the way forward for both industries.
The report mentions concerns about escapes. It is strange that it suggests siting fish farms in rougher water as part of the solution to the problem. Rougher water risks more escapes because of higher seas and worse conditions. If that is the way forward, we need to ensure that the science and the engineering of cages allow them to withstand those conditions.
Our salmon farming industry faces many challenges, including from those who wish that it did not exist at all. There are also natural disasters, some of which have been mentioned. Brexit poses a threat to fish farming, because it has been dragged into the backstop issue. All fish exports will be subject to controls and levies, which could damage the industry. I understand why the EU would want to have sea fish imports in the same bargaining space as access to United Kingdom waters, but that approach makes no sense for farmed fish.
We have to get it right for fish farming. There are huge health, social and economic benefits from the industry. We do not have to ignore the threats in order to get those benefits; we need to face up to them and get our house in order.