It has been a long process from the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s agreeing to conduct the inquiry in June 2017 to our getting to this point. I, too, thank everyone who helped us to produce the report, and who worked so well with the committee throughout the consultation process and during our evidence sessions. I also thank everyone who hosted the committee on site visits last April. We also received 160 written submissions and met Norway’s Minister of Fisheries, Per Sandberg. It has been a big job, and that thorough process has delivered an important report.
Two things have been made abundantly clear by all parties across the chamber today. First, we all recognise the huge importance of the salmon farming industry for Scotland. It provides economic prosperity, and good well-paid job opportunities in some of our most remote and disadvantaged areas. In those remote areas, as my colleague Donald Cameron mentioned, the industry provides huge social benefit through sustaining rural schools, shops and local businesses.
Salmon farming has created an estimated 12,000 jobs. Farmed salmon has become our biggest food export, having an estimated value of £600 million in 2017. We are the top producer in the EU and one of the top three producers globally. There is no doubt that the economic benefits are huge.
Farming has made salmon affordable. It is no longer a luxury food, as Gillian Martin said. As she does, I remember well when it was a luxury food.
As the cabinet secretary said, salmon is sold in 50 countries worldwide, so it is a huge export success story. Rhoda Grant said that we should all be eating more oily fish. It is good for our health. Despite what the vegans and vegetarians might say, I believe that it is good for us.
The second thing that became clear during our inquiry, and which has been expressed multiple times by members across the chamber, is that the status quo is not acceptable. More enhanced and effective standards of production and environmental sustainability must be introduced. We need to ensure that the regulatory deficiencies that exist in the industry are addressed in order to improve fish health and to reduce environmental impacts.
There is no doubt that rates of compliance have, in the past, been poor, as the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s convener, Edward Mountain, mentioned. He also said that we must locate farms in more suitable areas. Some farms are in the wrong places; we need to be able to move them. I totally disagree with John Finnie: there are right places for fish farms, and there can be wrong places, too.
We also need to understand better the effect that salmon farming has on the wild salmon population. That is a hugely difficult subject. Stewart Stevenson addressed many of the issues in that regard and highlighted just how difficult the problems are: they are multifaceted.
I agree that mortality levels on salmon farms are often too high, but there is no doubt that the industry takes the issue very seriously, so I am pleased that mortality levels are beginning to fall.
Rhoda Grant spoke about escaped fish. Thankfully, that does not seem to be a big issue right now, but moving to more exposed sites could make escapes more likely.
Mike Rumbles made the important point that no single body takes responsibility for regulating the industry, which he considers to be a huge failing. I agree.
There are many issues to consider. The industry should expand only with care until those issues are addressed. With the Scottish Government’s target to grow our food and drink industry to be worth £30 billion by 2030, it is vital that we grow our biggest food producer—the salmon industry.
I welcome SEPA’s “Finfish Aquaculture Sector Plan”, which was published in November 2018. The consultation on the plan referred to the proposed world-leading framework for regulating marine cage fish farms. It is vital work, and I look forward to hearing its results.
The focus on the necessary environmental improvements for the industry has resulted in significant improvements in sea lice numbers. As Finlay Carson pointed out, numbers in Scottish salmon farms in September 2018 were the lowest for that month in five years. That has been achieved by various methods, and certainly not only by using chemicals. The use of cleaner fish is a new and important way to tackle the issue. Finlay Carson and Mark Ruskell highlighted the dangers to wild wrasse stocks, but the increasing numbers of such fish being grown on farms rather than being caught in the wild will help to keep that method of control sustainable.
I also want to say how much I agree with Tavish Scott’s comments on Mark Ruskell’s entirely negative speech, which I, too, do not recognise as being fair comment on the industry.