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A Scottish salmon farm near Skye. The SNP is promising a streamlined permitting system for new farms, but it may come with a higher financial cost. Photo: SSPO.
A Scottish salmon farm near Skye. The SNP is promising a streamlined permitting system for new farms, but it may come with a higher financial cost. Photo: SSPO.

Scotland’s salmon farmers have welcomed a manifesto commitment by the Scottish National Party for a swifter and more streamlined regulatory system for fish farming.

The SNP will also explore a Norwegian-style auction system for new farm developments to make producers contribute “much more” to local communities if, as many polls predict, it is returned to power in next month’s Scottish Parliament election.

Currently, anyone wanting to establish a fish farm must apply to the local authority for planning permission, Marine Scotland for a marine licence, the Fish Health Inspectorate for fish licence and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) for an environmental licence. These four different regulatory bodies each act as a statutory consultee on the process handled by the others, leading to delays.

If re-elected, the SNP will look to establish a “single determining authority” modelled on the system in Norway.

‘Better regulation, not less’

In a press release, Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) said: “We have been clear: what we want to see is better regulation, not less regulation and this commitment in the SNP manifesto shows that the SNP wants to see this too.”

Scott said he hoped this would end delays and bureaucratic confusion which plagued the system in Scotland, without restricting official scrutiny or public consultation on fish farm applications.

The SNP manifesto also commits the party to explore the development of “closed containment fish production”.

Leading edge

Scott claimed Scotland’s salmon farmers had already made great strides in developing state-of-the-art closed containment systems for early-stage salmon development, although it is not clear if this is what ther SNP is referring to.

He said: “Our members have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in land-based closed containment systems to grow salmon to the stage when they can be put to sea. This (grow-out stage) is the most important phase of the salmon’s development, where most growth happens and Scottish salmon achieves its distinctive flavour.

“These developments will continue and our members will continue to invest in this technology so that our sector remains at the leading edge of aquaculture worldwide.”

The SNP manifesto, published today, pledges to explore
The SNP manifesto, published today, pledges to explore "a Norwegian-style auction system for new farm developments".

What the SNP manifesto says about fish farming

Fish farming is something that Scotland is well placed to do well in, but it must grow sustainably, in harmony with the marine environment that supports it.

We will reform and streamline regulatory processes so that development is more responsive, transparent and efficient.

At the heart of our new approach there will be a single determining authority for new farm consents modelled on the regulatory regime in Norway. This will bring greater clarity, transparency and speed to the process.

We will expect producers to contribute much more to the communities which support them so we will also explore how a Norwegian-style auction system for new farm developments might generate significant income to support inspection and welfare services, provide real community benefit on islands and in remote rural areas and support innovation and enterprise.

We will support innovation in aquaculture, for example, by exploring the development of closed containment fish production on land and explore the potential to produce more shellfish in warm-water, land-based farms to cut the amount of unsustainably produced fish and shellfish being imported into Scotland.