Aquaculture — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 4:00 pm, 17th July 2019

I agree; there is a tremendous future ahead for aquaculture. My constituency has always been at the centre of aquaculture. The historic fishery at Howietoun was created by Sir James Maitland in 1873. Many of the methods used today in fish farming were developed there. It was part of the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling until recently, when it was taken over by Michelle Pearson, who is a model social entrepreneur. She has hugely impressive plans for the environmental and ecological enhancement of the site.

The Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling has a growing global reputation as a centre of excellence, and the university has a long history in this field. Even as long ago as when I was a student there in the 1980s, Stirling had a formidable reputation in aquaculture and that continues to grow. It is truly global in its scope. The university is a pioneer of aquaculture as a solution to the challenges of feeding a growing global population. Its contribution should be celebrated. It has done significant work on aquatic animal health, focusing on aquatic infectious diseases, studying how diseases spread and how to fight them with vaccines and other systems.

Let us not shy away from that issue. Significant environmental issues need to be addressed, including the destruction of natural ecosystems, the acidification of water environments and riparian ecosystems, the general pollution of water that could be used for human consumption, invasive non-native species and the spread of disease to wild populations. Those are real accusations that have been levelled at the sector, but they are surmountable.

Given the current value of this industry to the Scottish and UK economies, and the vast potential promise and future prosperity connected to the industry, we are rightly investing and must continue to invest in this sector. We must push on with the necessary research and development and give the champions at the University of Stirling the space and the resources they need to develop solutions to those challenges. That is why, as part of the Stirling city region deal, the UK Government are rightly and properly investing in the Institute of Aquaculture on the campus of the University of Stirling. The UK Government have already committed to invest £17 million through the deal, to support research by building brand new, state-of-the-art facilities in Stirling.

The University of Stirling campus is also home to the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, led by the excellent chief executive Heather Jones. It works to ensure that commercial opportunities from aquaculture research are fully realised. Its first five years of activity are expected to create additional sales of £284 million. It brings industry and academia together, from research and development to retail. It houses the ecosystem of a whole industry, by bringing the whole industry together in one place, acting as an engine, delivering real benefits in the sector, developing markets and partnerships, growing the number of jobs, growing sales, promoting best in class practices, driving up standards and securing the industry for the future.

I strongly urge the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to co-invest in the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, to bring those benefits to the whole of the UK. The Institute of Aquaculture and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre are invaluable assets to Scotland and the United Kingdom. They have the potential to become a much bigger global player—a world centre of excellence, putting the UK at the forefront of this important and valuable agenda. I welcome the creation by BEIS of a new seafood innovation fund, announced in last November’s Budget; it is a welcome recognition that new technologies and innovations can drive economic growth and productivity across the sector.

As I said, capture fisheries and aquaculture add disproportionate value to the Scottish economy, notably the latter: Scottish salmon is worth more than all wild fish landed into UK ports put together, and it represents 93% of UK aquaculture. Given those facts, I call on the Minister to commit to ensuring a proportionate distribution of innovation funding to aquaculture, giving it at least 50% of the total, and at least 50% going to Scotland.