That is a very interesting question, and I wish that I knew the answer to it. I will not be prescriptive. It is the job of Fergus Ewing, who is sitting in front of us, to answer that question. That is a very important and responsible task, and I am prepared to listen to what he says. I hope that he will answer it.
On planning applications for fish farms, the committee believes that a more strategic approach is needed. A strategy seems to be missing. The Scottish Government should develop guidance for local authorities on which areas across Scotland are suitable for new fish farms and which areas are not, so that, instead of local authorities judging specific applications that they receive relating to a specific place at a specific time—the law requires them to look at specific applications—they should be able to take a strategic view of an application in the round. That is really important.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government says in its response that it will meet the local authorities
“to discuss a more strategic approach to sustainable aquaculture across their areas of accountability”,
but official guidance from the Scottish Government is needed.
Another important point is that members of the committee worked well together across party-political divides to produce the report. I hope that the Scottish Government has got the message about robust, effective and co-ordinated regulation to ensure that the very highest standards underpin a hugely important industry for Scotland.
We all want the industry to continue to succeed. The way to ensure success is to maintain the very highest standards of fish health and environmental protection. Those are what will underpin consumer confidence, and it is consumer confidence that will secure the success of this important industry.