Urgent Changes Needed to Address the Environmental Impact of Scotland’s Salmon Farming Industry

SEPA finfish eventThe Scottish Environment and Protection Agency (SEPA) have been holding ‘listening’ events around Scotland with the focus on Scotland’s finfish aquaculture sector – to hear from as wide a range of possible views about salmon farming. On Tuesday 27th of November they were in Kirkwall, Orkney. This was the same day as the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee of the Scottish Parliament published its report on Scotland’s Salmon Farming industry. The second committee of the Scottish Parliament to do so.

Scotland’s Salmon Farming Industry is incredibly successful. It provides jobs in locations where they are often hard to come by, it has expanded rapidly over the last 2 decades and it has a product that consumers the world wide want to buy. It also divides communities where ever it locates its fish farms with concerns over the environment, its impact on other marine users, its visual impact and issues around animal welfare.

Figures from the industry indicate that its rapid expansion is set to continue from “163,000 tonnes in 2016 to about 200,000 tonnes in 2020, with the intention to produce up to 300,000 tonnes in 2030.” SPICe Report.

Research into its impact on the  marine environment and its regulation has not kept apace with the rapid growth –  that is about to change.

SEPA is just one of the organisations which is involved in the way the Salmon Farming Industry is regulated. Its view is science based with its focus on the environment. SEPA has conducted research not just in Scotland but has gone to the few other parts of the world where fish farming is taking place to see how other countries are regulating the industry. They have welcomed the report from the REC Committee.

Terry A’Hearn, SEPA Chief Executive, said:

map of fish farm survey

SEPA Fish Farm Survey Report

“We are currently in the middle of a Scotland-wide consultation, and encourage everyone with a view on the regulation of the finfish aquaculture sector to ensure they have their say via sectors.sepa.org.uk ”

With reports from both Scottish Parliament committees now in and the mounting evidence backing up their recommendations it is clear that the industry will have to change.


“The biggest negative effect” was “on the crustacean abundance and richness.” SEPA Fish Farm Report

Terry A’Hearn, said:

“SEPA welcomes the publication of the Rural Economy Committee Report. We agree that “the status quo” is not an option for the Scottish Aquaculture sector.

“We recognise that it’s an industry that attracts polarised positions, and that as a regulator we must do more to ensure that environmental standards protect the marine environment for the people of Scotland.

“That’s why we have done more science, more analysis and more listening than ever before – leading to the announcement of firm, evidence based proposals for a revised regime that will strengthen the regulation of the sector.

The event in Orkney heard from a diverse range of those in the community from “interested individuals and communities, to NGOs, in-shore fisheries, fresh water fisheries, angling interests and representatives of the industry.”

SEPA is keen to find out if the action they are taking with their sector plans is getting it right for an industry in transition. You can share your views here:Finfish Aquaculture Sector Plan

The consultation closes on the 24th of December 2018.

Recently 2 planning applications for fish farms in Orkney were approved by Orkney Islands Councils Planning Committee despite considerable objections.

Environmental Objections But Fish Farm Gets Approved

Scapa Flow is a proposed Marine Protected Area where its sheltered waters are abundant in marine life. It is those very sheltered waters, however, which means that the environmental impact of one industry will affect significantly that fine balance.

Sea lice which find an ideal breeding ground in the confined salmon cages, treatments for sea lice, escapees, the build up of waste under sea cages, the effects on birds and other wildlife including measures to prevent predation by seals – all of these affect the fine balance of the marine eco system in Scapa Flow. This in turn affects the livelihood of others like creel fishers as the evidence from the SEPA report linked above has shown.

Westray Seal

The licensed shooting of seals to protect fish farm cages is a highly emotive topic. The tourism industry is vital to the Orkney economy and many of those visitors delight in seeing grey and common seals in the islands waters and hauled up on the beaches.

In its report the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee stated:

“The Committee is extremely concerned to ensure seal welfare is maintained and promoted and it has not been convinced that seals in the vicinity of fish farms are being shot only as a last resort. Seals are a European marine mammal protected species and there is a requirement to ensure their protection. “

It went further to record its concerns that the shooting of seals will have an impact on the marketing of Scottish farmed salmon.

“The Committee considers Scotland needs to act now to ensure it does not fall foul of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the intentional killing or serious injury of marine mammals in all fisheries.”

“The Committee considers all fish farms in Scotland should be required, via legislative or any other appropriate means, to follow the position of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council in relation to marine mammals. This ensures farms cannot kill marine mammals”

The US Marine Mammal Protection Act has the power to prevent the importation of fish or fish products if marine mammals , in this case seals, have been shot or injured, in the process of producing the fish.

What is the Salmon Farming Industry doing to address these concerns?

fish farmScottish Sea Farms have recently received £1.2million from Scottish Enterprise for research and development. This will go towards a £18.3million project to improve fish welfare and protect the environment.

Jim Gallagher,  Scottish Sea Farms’ Managing Director,said :

“Researching and developing new approaches and technologies is key to ensuring that we continue raising the healthiest fish in the most responsible but also the most environmentally sustainable way, and this latest £18.3 million investment aims to advance our work in both areas.

“The £1.28 million support from Scottish Enterprise means that we will be able to do more of this planned R&D even sooner, accelerating both the innovation and the anticipated benefits for fish health and welfare and for the environment.”

Ben Hadfield, Managing Director of Marine Harvest has welcomed the report from the REC Committee.

He said:

“We are pleased to see the Committee’s appreciation for salmon farming’s contribution to our domestic and export foods, and the sustainability of rural communities.

“We also acknowledge, and agree with, the Committee’s statement that the future of the sector’s regulatory regime will not be the ‘status quo’. We would expect our regulatory system to advance along with and, in fact, lead sector development.

“Like all farming, we have our challenges that need to be addressed, and focus on reducing negative impacts should remain top priority for the business and its regulators.”

Urgent Change is Needed

Both Scottish Parliament committees concluded that the rapid continued expansion of the salmon farming industry was not being adequately regulated and that although it was supportive of the industry as a whole it could not go on the way it has been. Drawing short of demanding a moratorium for the development of new sites and expansion of existing ones the REC Committee said:

” urgent and meaningful action needs to be taken to address regulatory deficiencies as well as fish health and environmental issues before the industry can expand.”

The status quo is not acceptable for the salmon farming industry. Its regulation and how it impacts on the environment will have to change. Brexit will have a considerable effect on the marketing of Scottish farmed salmon if there are additional tariffs applied and/or hold ups at border crossing points. Access to the US market may also become restricted if the industry continues the practice of shooting seals.

The Scottish salmon farming industry has reached a pivotal point in its development. It cannot afford to have negative publicity and must show not just a  desire for change but must engage actively to drive the transformation it so badly needs. Improved scientific research and an evidence based approach by SEPA and other agencies involved in the regulation of the industry have shown clearly that this has to be done urgently. SEPA believes it has the right resources to do its job. It is crucial that the industry does so too.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Additional information and links:

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee: report on the  environmental impacts of salmon farming

Rural Economy and Connectivity Report: Salmon Farming in Scotland


Scotland’s Aquaculture

Marine Scotland

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