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Rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, pictured at last week's Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers' conference at the Corran Halls, was back in Oban yesterday to outline plans to identify Scotland's first Aquaculture Innovation Sites. Photo: Gareth Moore/FFE
Rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, pictured at last week's Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers' conference at the Corran Halls, was back in Oban yesterday to outline plans to identify Scotland's first Aquaculture Innovation Sites. Photo: Gareth Moore/FFE

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has outlined plans to begin work to identify Scotland’s first Aquaculture Innovation Sites.

The minister was speaking at the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (CoHI) in Oban.

Speaking before yesterday's meeting, Ewing said: “Fish and shellfish farming contributes some £620 million to the national economy every year. Atlantic salmon production accounts for 90 per cent of the economic impact, supporting over 10,000 jobs. Much of this concentrated in our rural and island economies and it is important that we support the sector to explore new approaches which will allow sustainable and productive growth. We are now commencing work towards identifying a range of aquaculture innovation sites around Scotland.

Appropriate locations

“Today I will be talking to relevant local authorities about our plans, asking for their input and that of the industry into identifying appropriate locations for these innovation sites.

“This will sit alongside with our ongoing commitment to invest in science, research and innovation to enhance the environmental sustainability credentials of the sector and protect Scotland’s fantastic natural resources and habitats.”

The development of innovation sites is one of six lead recommendations in the Aquaculture Growth to 2030 plan drawn up by the industry. Although it is not yet clear exactly what an aquaculture innovation site will involve, the plan recommends "the selective use of Innovation Site status for controlled trials and development of equipment, technologies or disease control measures and regulation".

The innovation sites plan is being progressed by a sub-group of aquaculture's Industry Leadership Group (ILG), which presented its initial proposals to Ewing at an ILG meeting in early October.

Sustainable growth

The CoHI seeks to strengthen alignment between the Scottish Government and member organisations in order to support sustainable economic growth. Members include local councils and health boards, the Crofters Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage, Skills Development Scotland, the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Forestry Commission.

The Convention seeks to enable the exchange of ideas on strategic issues affecting the people of the Highlands and Islands. Issues including digital connectivity, Brexit and the integration of health and social care were also on the agenda yesterday.