Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater at Bute House today. They are both expected to be made ministers in the new deal.
Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater at Bute House today. They are both expected to be made ministers in the new deal.

Anti-growth Greens seek ‘step change’ in marine policy

Scotland’s salmon farming sector has asked for further clarity about what the cooperation agreement struck today between the ruling SNP and the Scottish Green Party will mean for the industry.

Publisert

The long-awaited deal, which stops short of a formal coalition but brings the pro-independence Greens into government, has been anticipated with a degree of trepidation by salmon farmers.

While the governing SNP has backed growth in the sector, the Greens have been outspoken critics of aquaculture, with one MSP, Mark Ruskell, the party’s spokesperson on Climate, Energy, Environment, Food and Farming, previously describing salmon farming as a ‘toxic’ industry and actively campaigning against it.

The Greens’ election manifesto pledged to phase out open net pen salmon farming and block the expansion of the sector until environmental and animal welfare concerns are discussed.

SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott
SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott

Salmon farmers in June described as ‘catastrophic’ the potential impact on rural Scotland should the Greens enter into a more formal cooperation with the SNP at Holyrood.

While the new deal commits to Scotland having a ‘sustainable, diverse, competitive and economically viable aquaculture industry’, the wording of the document will likely concern producers, given the Greens’ stance on the sector.

Agenda for change

The industry is already working towards several of the issues mentioned in the draft Shared Policy Programme, including regulatory reform and strengthening controls on sea lice, and has an ‘exciting agenda for change’, said Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO).

On salmon farming in particular, the programme proposes to:

  • Reform the regulatory and planning framework, starting with an independent review to consider the effectiveness and efficiency of the current regime and make recommendations for further work by the end of 2021;
  • Develop a vision and strategy for sustainable aquaculture that places an enhanced emphasis on environmental protection and community benefits;
  • Begin an immediate programme of work to better protect wildlife and the environment, including response to the Salmon Interactions Working Group in September 2021, a consultation on a spatially adaptive sea lice risk assessment framework for fish farms by the end of the year, and strengthened controls on sea lice, wrasse and fish escapes in the course of 2021/22;
  • Explore how best to ensure that fish farming contributes more to support communities and recreational fisheries, to promote innovation and to support services such as fish health and welfare inspections and monitoring.

The document states: ‘The Scottish government and the Scottish Green Party believe that the marine environment should be clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, and managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people.

‘As part of this vision we are determined to make a step change in marine protection and to deliver on our shared commitment to achieve and maintain good environmental status for all of Scotland’s seas, offshore and inshore.’

Scott said: ‘Scotland’s salmon farming sector has always recognised the need for a good working relationship with SNP government ministers who, in turn, have acknowledged the important role we play not only in island and rural communities but right across Scotland.

Supportive

‘We hope the strong and supportive partnership we have with government will continue during this parliamentary session, whatever the makeup of the ministerial team.

‘It is essential that everyone in government understands our sector. That is why we now hope to begin constructive discussions with all Green MSPs, in the same way as we already work with MSPs from other parties.

‘There are parts of today's agreement on which we seek further information. But for aquaculture this can be a constructive starting point.’

Under the new deal, two Green MSPs - expected to be the co-leaders, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater - will be appointed ministers.

The deal – called the Bute House Agreement - outlines collaboration on the climate, economic recovery, child poverty, the natural environment, energy and the constitution, and includes a commitment to hold an independence referendum after the pandemic.

The move follows May’s election when the SNP fell one seat short of an overall parliamentary majority and decided to bring the Greens on board.

Exclusions

The two parties recognise areas where there has not been agreement, such as aviation, international relations, membership of Nato (in an independent Scotland), field sports and private schools, and these appear on a list of exclusions.

Also excluded are the economic principles related to concepts of sustainable growth and inclusive growth.

Asked about this last matter during the press conference to announce the deal, the Greens’ Lorna Slater said the party ‘doesn’t believe that growth is a sensible measure to use on a finite planet’.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘Our parties will of course retain our distinctive identities. This is not a coalition, we do not agree on everything … but we are coming out of our comfort zones to focus on what we agree on.’