I joined the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee after it had taken its evidence on the salmon industry, so I had to start by reading the ECCLR Committee’s report, all the written evidence and the
Official Report of the meetings in which the committee took oral evidence, so that I could contribute to the report as it was being written.
It is important that the REC Committee framed its report around the significance of the industry to the rural economy and that it did not produce an environment committee report mark 2. As others have said, in 2017, the salmon farming industry harvested 189,000 tonnes, which was the sector’s highest-ever output. Exports reached an all-time high and were worth £600 million, going to 50 countries worldwide, with the US, France and China being the top three countries. Interestingly, salmon sales to the EU account for 40 per cent of export value. As the cabinet secretary said, according to HIE, employment in the industry and its wider supply chain has topped 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs, with direct and indirect earnings valued at around £271 million. As Tavish Scott said, the jobs are well paid with good promotion prospects. Salmon farming has a gross value added for Scotland of £540 million. In 2016, salmon farming companies spent £164 million on suppliers and services in the Highlands and Islands alone.
The importance of this relatively new industry to rural and remote communities and their sustainability cannot be overstated, but the industry’s importance to other parts of Scotland, such as Rosyth and Bellshill, should also be recognised. As others have mentioned, it is also important to Stirling, through the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre. I, too, recognise that a huge amount—almost half—of the money that is provided to the centre for innovation and research and development comes from the industry.
As Gillian Martin said, the industry has transformed our population’s access to a healthy source of food and protein. It is now an affordable source of food and is on school dinner menus and in supermarkets. However, in relation to the supermarkets, the sector is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why in my view, in the view of everyone connected with the industry, and as Heather Jones, the chief executive of the SAIC has said, the industry needs to be
“stable, well-regulated, animal-friendly, and scientifically robust.”
She went on to say:
“That’s why we welcomed” the report’s
“publication and focus on how aquaculture can deliver benefits to the Scottish economy and local communities.”
I have not come across anyone in the industry who believes that the industry should continue to grow in anything other than a sustainable way. The industry recognises the problems of mortalities, gill disease and sea lice, and it is already taking action to address those issues. It is not in the industry’s interest, in terms of its markets or profitability, not to deal with such issues. We know that the business is highly competitive and how hugely competitive the industries are in Norway, Chile and Canada.
In my remaining time, I will address the role of the regulatory bodies, particularly SEPA, in improving the industry. On 7 November last year, members will know that SEPA published its draft “Finfish Aquaculture Sector Plan”. SEPA held a drop-in event in Parliament to allow members to discuss the plan, and it has consulted widely with the sector, NGOs and partner public bodies. By my calculation, I think that 14 of the recommendations in the committee’s report on salmon farming are directed at SEPA. In its briefing, SEPA goes through the recommendations and outlines how it is addressing them. Recommendation 2 addresses
“regulatory deficiencies as well as fish health and environmental issues”.
SEPA believes that its “Finfish Aquaculture Sector Plan” deals with that.
Other recommendations relate to medicines, and the UK technical advisory committee, of which SEPA is a member, is dealing with that issue. Recommendations 40 to 42, which relate to the protection of wild salmon, are addressed by the interactions working group. It is important that regulatory regimes are co-ordinated, enhanced and robust, and that they effectively enforce compliance with high environmental standards.
In order to meet all the recommendations in the committee reports, I am sure that everybody is engaged in the continuous improvement of the industry. As legislators, we must enhance this exciting industry.