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

That title is based on her past experience and nothing else.

The committee took quite a bit of evidence on sea lice and heard differing opinions on how the challenge is being dealt with. We even heard disagreement about whether the numbers are decreasing or increasing. We made a number of recommendations, including on the creation of an easily accessible information source and on compliance and reporting being mandatory and effectively monitored. Alex Rowley talked about the reporting issue. As Stewart Stevenson stated, producers do not want sea lice on their fish.

The issue of cleaner fish was mentioned by Finlay Carson, Peter Chapman and Mark Ruskell. The Scottish Government has confirmed that Marine Scotland and the industry have agreed a range of voluntary measures for wild wrasse fishing and there are positive moves towards increasing the number of hatchery-reared cleaner fish, although Finlay Carson said that we will need more and more, and Mark Ruskell stated that we might not need cleaner fish at all if we move to a closed containment system.

Most members spoke about the interaction between farmed and wild salmon. However, as Stewart Stevenson rightly pointed out, there are many reasons for the decline in wild salmon. A lot of members noted that fish farms are only a small contributory factor in that decline and that wild salmon stocks are also declining on the east coast, where there are no fish farms. I believe that Rhoda Grant stated that. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement of the setting up of a group to look at the issue, which Claudia Beamish mentioned.

Members talked about other matters including planning, the role of local authorities, poorly sited fish farms and how we can support the industry in ensuring that farms are sited in the right places. Further, we had good news recently on the shooting of seals—again, that is an animal welfare issue. Nobody wants to see seals shot. By using new types of netting, Scottish Sea Farms managed to reduce the number of seals that were shot by 31 per cent last year. Tavish Scott referred to that.

We must support the industry to strive. I heard and read a lot in the run-up to the debate, and I take this opportunity to thank every person who has been involved. As John Mason rightly said, a lot of people got in touch. It is not about right and wrong or about winning and losing. We have heard about the range of activity that is being undertaken by the Scottish Government, via its farmed fish health framework and its salmon interaction working group, and we know that SEPA intends to introduce proposals to strengthen regulation, driving operators towards full compliance and improving environmental protection.

The REC Committee believes that it is critical that those proposals result in meaningful and tangible action that will allow the salmon industry to continue to be an economic success story while ensuring that it operates to the highest possible health and environmental standards. I am sure that I speak for the members of both committees in saying that we hope that our inquiry reports have made a worthwhile contribution to achieving that ambition.