I am pleased to speak in this debate on the conclusions of the “Salmon farming in Scotland” report by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
I have a particular interest in the report, as I sat on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee during its inquiry into the environmental impacts of salmon farming in Scotland. While listening to evidence and reading up on the issues, I found myself shocked by some of the concerns that were raised. As someone who ate salmon on a regular basis, the levels of disease, mortality and the use of harmful chemicals in the treatment of disease left me concerned.
Given that farmed Atlantic salmon is Scotland’s and the UK’s largest food export, and that Scotland is the largest producer in the whole of the EU, addressing failings in the industry should be a priority. That is not to be negative about the industry; it is surely common sense if we want the industry to grow. In truth, the industry has shown that it cannot self-regulate. That is why we need and must demand much stronger regulation and action from the Scottish Government. The ECCLR Committee’s report makes that point when it says that
“the same set of concerns regarding the environmental impact of salmon farming exist now as in 2002 but the scale and impact of these has expanded since 2002. There has been a lack of progress in tackling many of the key issues previously identified and unacceptable levels of mortality persist.”
It is clear that something is not right if the problems in the industry are still present nearly 20 years later and are, in fact, getting worse. That is why it is incredibly important that the Scottish Government takes note of the recommendations of the REC Committee’s report as well as those of the ECCLR Committee’s report, both of which highlight a desperate need for urgency in tackling the problems of intensive farming, sea lice, disease and escapes of farmed fish.
Those problems mean that questions need to be raised about transparency and the publication of data, which are mentioned in both committee reports. By making data on mortalities, sea lice, disease and escapes more transparent, we will be able to get a much clearer picture of what is actually going on in the industry. The public has a right to know what chemicals are being used in those farms and what the impact of those chemicals is in lochs across Scotland as well as in our food.
The committee reports also highlight action that can be taken now to address and alleviate those problems. The Scottish Government could commit to the development and introduction of full closed containment farming. I recognise that that would need further research, but by outlining a realistic target, the Scottish Government would be taking a bold step and showing a commitment to addressing the negative effects of salmon farming on wild stocks.
Questions around the pace of growth in the salmon industry mean that there remain very real concerns and that the industry must get its act together before any major expansion takes place. Again, that would show commitment to tackling the issues so that, 20 years from now, we are not simply talking about the problems that exist now.
With regard to the concerns that have been raised about the impact of salmon farms on wild stocks, it is clear that
“the Scottish Government has not understood and appreciated the urgency of the situation in merely talking about ‘a mechanism to inform the longer term determination of a regulatory framework in this area and ... a staged approach to building a long-term set of arrangements to fill the current regulatory gap’.”
Those are not my words, but those of Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland, which is clear that the Scottish Government’s response shows a general lack of urgency in key areas. Urgent action and enforcement are required to control the negative impacts of the salmon farming industry. There is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to show leadership by taking on board the recommendations of both committee reports.
Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland also states that
“MSPs should be suspicious of announcements of further working groups on fish health or further repeat reviews of existing licencing and permitting, designed to kick the Committees’ concerns into the long grass. We have been there before. This time we need action, not words.”
I hope that the Scottish Government will realise the seriousness of the situation and take the action that is necessary.