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Salmon farming ‘unsustainable without change’ claim MSPs

Members of Holyrood's ECCLR Committee say fish farming needs more regulation. Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
Members of Holyrood's ECCLR Committee say fish farming needs more regulation. Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee today warned that the planned expansion of salmon farming over the next 10-15 years will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage to the environment unless problems with the industry are addressed.

The warning came in an ECCLR Committee report on the environmental impacts of salmon farming.

The 68-page report is intended to help inform a wider inquiry into the current state of the industry, which is being carried out by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Plans to grow the industry to 300,000 - 400,000 tonnes are unsustainable and may, without changes in approach, cause “irrecoverable damage”.
  • The salmon farming industry raises the same environmental concerns as in 2002, but the scale and impact has expanded.
  • The ECCLR Committee is ‘deeply concerned’ that the growth of the sector is taking place without a full understanding of the environmental impacts.
  • The Committee is not convinced the sector is being regulated sufficiently and this requires urgent attention.
  • There are significant gaps in data, monitoring and research around the adverse risk the sector poses.

ECCLR Committee convener, Graeme Dey MSP, said: “The sector has ambitious expansion targets but the Committee is concerned as to how these can be achieved in an environmentally-sustainable way.

“The sector continues to grow and expand with little meaningful thought given to the impact this will have on the environment. In the Committee’s view, if the current environmental impact issues are not addressed, the expansion will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage.

“The Committee is supportive of aquaculture but expansion must be based on a precautionary approach and on resolving environmental problems. The status quo, in terms of approach and regulation, is not an option.

“In raising awareness of the serious environmental concerns, the Committee hopes to helpfully inform the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s upcoming wider scrutiny of the salmon industry in Scotland.”

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In a statement, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation said: “We note the Committee’s report into the impact of salmon farming. We welcome the Committee’s clear support for the aquaculture sector, of which salmon farming makes up 95%. We look forward to contributing to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s forthcoming Inquiry that will explore the industry’s potential and how to address challenges in more depth.

“Scottish salmon is known globally for its quality and locally for the important contribution it makes to Scotland’s economy. The industry has developed over the past 40 years to achieve its status as the UK’s top food export. This has been within a highly regulated production environment. The industry’s strong regulatory compliance was borne out by our regulators as part of their evidence to this Inquiry.

“We recognise that marine conditions are changing and bringing new challenges to fish health and environmental management that are different to those that faced the industry’s forerunners. The sector spends around £10 million per year in research and over £50m in new equipment and techniques to understand and manage health and environmental problems. However, we accept that progress must be better demonstrated and we are working with the support of the Scottish Government, SEPA and scientific bodies to make better headway.

“While the industry is ambitious to grow, we recognise that such growth must be sustainable for the long-term. Growth of farming systems must go hand in hand with environmental sustainability and the Scottish salmon farming industry remains committed to finding solutions to ensure that it continues to provide employment and economic success for rural Scotland.”


On Wednesday, the Rural Economy Committee will take evidence from Professor Paul Tett, Reader in Coastal Ecosystems, Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS); Professor James Bron, Professor in Aquaculture, and Professor Herve Migaud, Professor of Aquatic Breeding and Physiology, University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture; and Steve Westbrook, economist.

The ECCLR Committee will be represented by Donald Cameron, Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

The meeting will be held at 10.00 am in the Mary Fairfax Somerville Room (CR2) in the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood.