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Salmon farming cages in Scotland. (Photo: Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation)

Scottish Parliament shares environmental concerns over salmon farming

Click on the flag for more information about United Kingdom UNITED KINGDOM
Tuesday, March 06, 2018, 03:00 (GMT + 9)

Scotland's marine ecosystem faces "irrecoverable damage" from salmon farming if environmental concerns are not addressed, warns the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

That is the key finding of a report issued by the Committee containing concerns about the environmental impacts of salmon farming in the country.

The document is intended to help inform a wider inquiry into the current state of the industry, which is being carried out by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

Salmon is Scotland's single biggest food export - worth GBP 600 million - and is estimated to provide nearly 2,500 jobs with thousands more supported by the aquaculture sector in rural and coastal communities.

However, the Environment Committee stressed it has faced continuing problems tackling parasitic sea lice which attach themselves to the skin of the fish and can be transferred to passing wild salmon.

With the industry planning a huge expansion over the next decade, the committee said Scotland is at "a critical point in considering how salmon farming develops in a sustainable way in relation to the environment".

Some environmental groups have raised concerns about the use of chemicals to treat the lice and the risk of killing the salmon by bathing them in warm water to "shock" the lice into falling off.

Some of the key findings included in the report are the following ones:

  • The planned expansion of salmon farming over the next 10 to 15 years, which aims to grow the industry by 300,000 - 400,000 tonnes, is unsustainable and may, without changes in approach, cause "irrecoverable damage;"
  • The salmon farming industry raises the same environmental concerns as in 2002, but the scale and impact has expanded;
  • It is ‘deeply concerned’ that the growth of the sector is taking place without a full understanding of the environmental impacts;
  • The Committee is not convinced the sector is being regulated sufficiently and this requires urgent attention;
  • There are significant gaps in data, monitoring and research around the adverse risk the sector poses.

"The sector has ambitious expansion targets but the Committee is concerned as to how these can be achieved in an environmentally-sustainable way,” pointed out Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee Convener, Graeme Dey MSP.

In his view, the sector continues to grow and expand with little meaningful thought given to the impact this will have on the environment.

Parliament assured that the Committee is supportive of aquaculture but expansion must be based on a precautionary approach and on resolving environmental problems.

For its part, the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation welcomed the report and highlighted that the industry takes this Inquiry very seriously and has provided written and oral evidence to the committee to highlight the commitment to long-term sustainability through high standards of fish health, husbandry and environmentally responsible production.

On the other hand, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland director Andrew Graham-Stewart said this is a complete vindication of what has been argued for many years, often in the face of denials and opposition from within Scottish government and Scottish public authorities, that open cage salmon farming in sea lochs is way out of balance with the environment, particularly with the conservation of wild salmon and sea trout.


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