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Heavy events athletes and landowner Joanna Macpherson of Attadale Estate at last year's Lochcarron Highland Games, sponsored by the Scottish Salmon Company. Aquaculture is helping maintain the viability of remote communities, a report says. Photo: SSC.
Heavy events athletes and landowner Joanna Macpherson of Attadale Estate at last year's Lochcarron Highland Games, sponsored by the Scottish Salmon Company. Aquaculture is helping maintain the viability of remote communities, a report says. Photo: SSC.

The aquaculture industry contributes to the long-term viability of many communities, according to a newly released report commissioned by Marine Scotland.

The report by economic and social research group ekosgen found the sector provides year-round, well-paid jobs and supports economic growth in rural, coastal and island areas.

It says UK aquaculture – most of which is in Scotland - also supports a wider and more geographically dispersed supply chain including processing, distribution, feed supply and export.

Skills shortage

The report, Supporting the Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability of the UK’s Marine Sectors, also highlights key challenges including employers recruiting and retaining the skills they need in areas such as engineering, science, fish husbandry, fish health, feeding and biology.

Furthermore, the growth of the industry has not been enough to keep the UK’s global market share.

“For example, the rate of production growth for salmon in Scotland has been lower than competitor countries, and has resulted in a reduction in global market share from 10% in 2005 to between 7% and 8% in 2017,” states the report.

According to the report's authors, available data shows that there has been reasonably strong growth across some aspects of the aquaculture sector, certainly with regard to turnover and gross value added. However, there has been a decrease in employment at the UK level, and weak growth in the business base – though this is in part due to consolidation in the sector. As aquaculture is relatively confined to rural and remote coastal areas, the distribution of impacts is relatively narrow. The green blocks show its impact on Scotland. Graphic taken from report.
According to the report's authors, available data shows that there has been reasonably strong growth across some aspects of the aquaculture sector, certainly with regard to turnover and gross value added. However, there has been a decrease in employment at the UK level, and weak growth in the business base – though this is in part due to consolidation in the sector. As aquaculture is relatively confined to rural and remote coastal areas, the distribution of impacts is relatively narrow. The green blocks show its impact on Scotland. Graphic taken from report.

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “This report highlights once again just how significant aquaculture is to Scotland’s rural economy and the viability of our island and coastal communities.

“The level of annual earnings for employees in these remote and island locations is significant and often not readily available from other jobs in these locations.

Key points

  • The ekosgen report was completed in January 2020, but publication was delayed because of Covid-19.
  • Up-to-date statistics on the size of Scotland’s aquaculture sector are due in October, but Scotland currently accounts for around two thirds of total aquaculture employment in the UK.
  • There were 2,240 people directly employed by the aquaculture sector in Scotland in 2017 according to the publication Marine Economic Statistics.
  • Sector figures show the average salary in salmon farming is in the region of £34,000 per annum.
  • A further research report on the wider economic impact of aquaculture in Scotland is due to be published this month.
  • The ekosgen report found part of the challenge in attracting employees was linked to limited infrastructure and lack of access to local services and amenities. Employers in Ullapool and on the Isle of Rum have tackled this by developing their own housing in partnership with local communities.

“Having a skilled and flexible workforce will be a key factor in the future success of Scottish aquaculture. That’s why we continue to work with our partners to promote skills development and to encourage new entrants to consider this crucial sector as a viable career path.

“Given the significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic the Scottish Government will continue to work to preserve the future of Scotland’s aquaculture sector and the social fabric of our remote and rural communities.”

Regulatory regime

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, said: “Salmon farming is crucial to the viability of some of our most remote communities as this report makes clear.

“If we want these communities to continue to thrive then we need to ensure conditions are as favourable as possible which means having the right skills, infrastructure and regulatory regime.”

The report also looks at commercial capture fishing (including sea fisheries and key inland fisheries), seafood processing, commercial seaweed harvesting and growing, marine renewable energy, oil and gas decommissioning and marine tourism.