Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has approved the funding package and will run the programme in conjunction with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).
The 30-month pilot is expected to attract a similar level of funding from the private sector. It is targeted at helping small to medium enterprises (SMEs) achieve greater commercialisation of new innovative products and services, which will have a positive and sustainable economic and social impact.
Projects supported will have clear commercial outcomes. Together they are expected to boost industry turnover in the region by around £8 million and create up to 50 jobs, including many in fragile areas.
Aquaculture is a priority sector for HIE and of growing importance to Scotland’s economy. It is estimated to contribute as much as £1.8 billion turnover a year to the Scottish economy and support around 8,000 jobs. The Aquaculture Growth Strategy 2030, ‘A Strategic Plan for Farming Scotland’s Seas’, states the industry has potential for this to increase to £3.6 billion and 18,000 jobs by 2030.
In the Highlands and Islands the sector is deemed crucial to rural economies.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Scotland’s aquaculture industry is a real pillar of our rural economy, particularly for the Highlands and Islands, and this government is committed to working with partners across the sector to support continued sustainable growth.
“Maximising the opportunities that innovation can bring will be central in delivering the industry’s vision for the future of aquaculture. That is why it’s pleasing to see this collaborative programme come to fruition, which will provide a boost for the sector and support job creation.”
Heather Jones, SAIC chief executive, said: “Through our extensive engagement with companies large and small across the supply chain, it became clear that SMEs in the HIE region would benefit from, and openly welcome, support to innovate and grow. To see those early discussions result in this new pilot scheme is a truly landmark moment and shows just how much can be achieved when different players unite over a shared goal.”
Charlotte Wright, HIE’s interim chief executive, said: “We anticipate significant investment in the years ahead from aquaculture firms operating in the region. It is important that we use public sector funding to support innovation in a way that benefits the whole sector, including firms in the supply chain. In turn this will support the sector's growth as well as strengthen resilience of rural communities, particularly those in some of our most remote and fragile areas.”