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Anglers' claims don't hold water, say salmon farmers

Angling lobby group S&TCS has issued an
Angling lobby group S&TCS has issued an

Scotland’s salmon farmers have pointed to scientific evidence – or a lack of it – to counter allegations from an angling lobby group which is threatening to campaign for a boycott of all Scottish salmon products if changes to regulations to slow down or halt industry expansion are not made quickly.

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Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) claimed rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing has not honoured a commitment to deliver “tangible early progress” following recommendations by two Scottish Parliament inquiries into the industry.

In a press release, S&TCS said: “Almost two years after the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee issued its report in March 2018 and 15 months after the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee reported in November 2018, that the “status quo” in terms of the regulation of the salmon farming industry was not an option, the old regulatory system remains in place and is still failing wild salmon and sea trout.”

What the S&CS wants

  • The identification of a Scottish authority with the statutory function of protecting wild fish from the “negative” interactions of salmon farming
  • An effective regulatory system for all salmon farms, including much stricter limits on-farm sea lice numbers
  • A “genuinely precautionary approach” to the licensing and permitting of new farms or expansion of existing farms
  • A review of biomass and location of all existing farms against their environmental impact, with a mechanism to compel reductions in biomass and relocation  
  • ‘Real time’ publication of lice numbers, escapes, chemical use, mortalities and disease 
  • No salmon farm permission without an independent cost benefit analysis of the potential impact on coastal communities including businesses. 

No confidence

Director Andrew Graham-Stewart said: “We no longer have any confidence that introducing effective regulation of salmon farming is a Scottish Government priority.”

He added: “Unless Scottish ministers have confirmed by Easter that they are putting in place appropriate statutory and/or regulatory measures to protect wild salmon and sea trout and that these measures will be in place and in force by the end of 2020, then S&TCS, together with many other organisations supporting this statement, will call and campaign for a full and complete boycott of all Scottish farmed salmon products.

“If we have to go ahead with this, it will be the fault of Scottish Government.”

Another 18 groups, largely linked to angling or coastal residents opposed to fish farms in their areas, have backed what the S&TCS calls its “ultimatum”.

Groups backing the S&TCS

  • Angling Trust
  • Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST)
  • Craignish Restoration of Marine & Coastal Habitat (CROMACH)
  • Fairlie Coastal Trust
  • Friends of Loch Etive
  • Friends of the Sound of Jura
  • Loch Visions
  • North and West District Salmon Fishery Board
  • Open Seas
  • Orkney Trout Fishing Association
  • Save Seil Sound
  • Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF)
  • Scottish Salmon Think-Tank
  • Sea Change Wester Ross
  • Sealife Adventures
  • Skye Communities for Natural Heritage
  • South Skye Seas Initiative
  • Tay Ghillies Association

The shopper’s choice

However, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), which represents all of Scotland’s salmon farmers, pointed out that changes had been made since the Parliamentary inquiry reports  and that there was no scientific evidence to support the S&TCS’s claims that farming harmed wild fish.

SSPO strategic engagement director Hamish Macdonell said: “Scottish salmon farming has a great environmental story to tell. It remains the UK shopper’s fish of choice, in supermarkets and in fishmongers, because it is a healthy, tasty, responsibly sourced product.

Raft of measures

“It is unsurprising that these pressure groups, having failed to get what they wanted during an exhaustive parliamentary process which found ‘a lack of definitive scientific evidence’ of any link between salmon farming and wild fish numbers, are leading this latest initiative.

“Scotland’s farmed salmon sector has adopted a whole raft of new measures in the year since the RECC report came out, proactively publishing more data than ever before, more quickly than ever before. Fish health and welfare has never been a higher priority with sea lice levels at their lowest levels for six years, and medicine use significantly reduced.

“We are confident in the ability of our sector to continue to enjoy the trust of consumers, not just in the UK but all over the world, for many years to come.”

Taking action

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The decline in the numbers of wild salmon returning to Scottish rivers is of great concern and we are taking action to safeguard the future of this iconic Scottish species.

“While the downturn in salmon numbers is evident across the whole North Atlantic region, we continue to work collaboratively with key partners, including Fisheries Management Scotland, to address the identified 12 high level pressures affecting wild salmon in Scotland, including developing a Wild Salmon Strategy in 2020.

“We set up the Salmon Interactions Working Group, with involvement from the farmed and wild salmon sectors, with the aim of moving forward the dialogue on these often contentious issues. We have also established a Farmed Fish Health Framework with the aim of improving farmed fish health.

“The Scottish Government has also introduced a number of conservation measures, including new regulations in 2016, to restrict the taking and killing of wild salmon.”

A PDF of the SSPO’s list of what has changed since the RECC report can be seen here.

More detail on the S&TCS complaints can be found here.

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