Mairi Gougeon at Seafood Expo Global yesterday.

Scotland still on course for streamlined aquaculture rules, says minister


The Scottish Government has not lost sight of its goal to streamline aquaculture, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon says.

Speaking during a visit to the Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona yesterday, the minister said it was incredible to see the number of Scottish businesses at the trade show and hear about huge demand for their products.

Asked if she saw any obstacles to that demand being fulfilled because of issues such as Brexit, but also the ability to produce more volume in Scotland, Gougeon said she had been speaking to seafood and aquaculture businesses to hear what some of those barriers are, “and ultimately how we can help them to try to mitigate some of those”.

Two years ago, the minister welcomed recommendations to streamline regulation that were contained in a Scottish Government-commissioned report by regulatory expert Professor Russel Griggs. But salmon industry executives feel progress in implementing changes has been slow.

Keen to see progress

“I understand that we said that we’d agreed to all those recommendations and we’re really keen to see progress in relation to that as well, that’s why we established the Scottish Aquaculture Council,” Gougeon told Fish Farming Expert.

“Some of those recommendations would take more time to implement than others, but I am glad that there has been progress in some of that work. One key strand of that has been the consenting pilots (for simpler fish farm consents) that we’re taking forward because we know that can be more streamlined and effective.

“I’m really keen to see the results of that pilot that is already under way and I think it’s really important that we undertake that work to see what lessons we can learn from it and if it can be more widely applied.

“We have also done a piece of work on the science around that, and we’ve had some recommendations in that regard that we will be following up on, too. So, it is important to recognise that there has been some progress in relation to that. It may not move as fast as people might like but I do think we’re taking steps in the right direction.”

Lice framework

Gougeon also sought to reassure the salmon sector about the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) sea lice framework designed to protect migrating wild smolts from lice that modelling indicates might originate in salmon pens. The framework, currently being applied only to new sites, will apply stricter lice limits for fish farms which may lead to more lice treatments.

“I’m aware that there have been concerns expressed by industry in that regard, but I do think that what’s important about this model is that it will of course adapt over time,” said the minister.

“We do want to make sure that we are using the best available science and evidence, so it will continue to update as we go through the development of that. As far as I am aware it’s been operating well in its initial stages but of course we will be continuing to engage with industry as we go.”

Constant innovation

Gougeon praised the investment and efforts made by the Scottish salmon sector to mitigate biological problems that occurred in 2022 and 2023 as a result of warming sea temperatures.

“One of the things that’s really positive about the industry is that it’s constantly creating, adapting, and changing, and trying to work on some of these challenges that they face,” said the minister. “That constant innovation and adaptation is one of the key components of the sector, particularly in Scotland.”

She added: “There are challenges when it comes to some of the mortality figures that we’ve seen in Scotland but the industry is taking action to address those challenges where they exist and we’re very keen to work with them to try an ensure that we are adapting to these.

“Scottish salmon is the UK’s biggest food export, it’s a really important industry for us, it’s important for supporting the economy in some of the most rural parts of Scotland, and our island communities as well. It does put so much money into innovation and trying to address its challenges and that’s something that should be recognised.”