Salmon Farming

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

This has been an extremely interesting and worthwhile debate. It is clear that there is broad recognition across the Parliament of the economic and social value of the salmon farming industry. However, at the same time, there is a clear acknowledgement that action must be taken to address the fish health and environmental challenges that the industry faces if we are to grow it sustainably. As Mark Ruskell said, we are at a crossroads.

The debate has involved members not only of the

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee but of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. I thank them, the clerks, SPICe and everyone who gave evidence for both reports.

We have heard that the status quo is not an option. That was the conclusion of the ECCLR Committee, and we agree with that view. The cabinet secretary also stated that view in his opening statement, and many other members expressed it. The salmon farming industry is only as strong as its weakest link. As we heard from Maureen Watt, the farms that are underperforming need support and guidance to perform better. One of our asks is for Marine Scotland to take responsibility for improvements and to assume the overarching role of regulator, as Mike Rumbles suggested. It is a multimillion-pound industry, and everyone needs it to succeed. It is also a big employer in constituencies such as mine. In uniquely fragile communities, even one or two jobs could be the difference between the local school closing and its staying open, as Peter Chapman and Colin Smyth said.

Nearly every member who spoke in the debate, including the conveners of both committees and the committee members who spoke, managed to state the benefits of salmon farming. Even Jamie Greene managed to say something nice. Tavish Scott gave a robust defence of the industry, and he was right to talk about Scotland’s food and drink strategy. Richard Lyle said that Scotland’s salmon is of superior quality. In the short time that I have left, I will not go over the stated benefits of the industry but will turn to members’ contributions to the debate.

Gill disease is one of the serious challenges that the industry faces. The fish health framework will take action on that disease to understand the underlying factors, support more research, establish good practice and formulate a long-term approach. As Maureen Watt stated, the industry recognises those issues. Sea lice are another challenge, as we heard from John Mason, Finlay Carson and—I do not know whether I am allowed to say this—the queen of sea lice herself, Claudia Beamish.