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Scottish Greens call for moratorium on new fish farms

Image credit: Ben-Benjamin  

Scottish Greens call for moratorium on new fish farms

The Scottish Greens have called for a moratorium on new fish farms until the industry deals with environmental concerns, ahead of a Scottish Parliament debate later today.

With a recent report from the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee warning the aquaculture industry would cause “irrecoverable damage” to the marine ecosystem if environmental concerns are not addressed, Green MSP John Finnie called for a moratorium “to give the industry and regulators time to control environmental pollution, high fish death rates and the impact of farm fish disease on wild fish.”

The environment committee report was then followed by new plans from SEPA for closer monitoring of waste from fish farms and tighter controls on medicinal chemicals as well as the creation of a new enforcement unit intended to ensure “compliance is non-negotiable”.

But with aquaculture exports generating £600m last year, Scottish Labour argued the industry should be given time to introduce the new regulatory measures, while accusing the Scottish Government of a lack of “firm management or leadership” on sustainability.

Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Rhoda Grant MSP said: “Sustainable salmon farming in Scotland must be protected as it is crucial to the rural economy, providing much needed jobs to fragile mainland and island communities in Scotland.

"The Committee’s report brings into sharp focus the extent to which the Scottish Government have let the sector down through no firm management or leadership that would ensure the industry is sustainable.

“Things have to change in the sector if it is to expand sustainably and continue to bring a high quality and healthy product to local and international markets. Regulation must be streamlined to ensure a common approach and guidelines for farms to follow.

"It is imperative that SEPA’s tightened regulations on the industry must have time to bed in and then their impact on the environment, industry and economy measured.”

But while a rural economy committee inquiry concluded that regulation had failed, it also found "insufficient evidence" to support calls for a moratorium.

MSPs instead recommended a "precautionary" approach, with no expansion at sites where fish mortalities were classified as significant or high.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, welcomed the rural economy committee’s report at the end of last year.

She said: “We produce the world’s most sought-after farmed salmon and are fully aware that, with that, comes the responsibility to ensure world-class fish welfare and environmental standards. To that end, the sector is already voluntarily reporting lice levels and is world-leading in publishing survival data on a farm-by-farm basis and we are leading participants in the Scottish Government’s 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework which will promote collaboration between industry, regulators and scientists to underpin long-term improvements in fish health and welfare.

“We intend to continue that work and investment and we welcome involvement in regulatory discussions to help us do that to help ensure future regulation inspires confidence in all those with an interest in salmon farming.”

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie said: “In my view there is plentiful evidence that a moratorium is justified, to give the industry and regulators time to control environmental pollution, high fish death rates and the impact of farm fish disease on wild fish. Approving a ‘precautionary approach’ sounds good but in reality gives control to businesses and a government agency with little public trust.”

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