SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott: "Professor Griggs is still taking evidence and has not even published his first report." Photo: SSPO.

Why now? Scottish salmon industry questions SEPA’s extra powers

Fish farmers have questioned a Scottish Government decision to give the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) a key role in monitoring the potential effects of salmon farms on wild salmon stocks when a wide-ranging regulatory review is still under way.

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SEPA’s enhanced involvement is outlined in the Scottish Government’s response to last year’s report by the Salmon Interactions Working Group (SIWG), which included more than 40 recommendations on measures to address the interactions between farmed and wild fish sectors.

Puzzled by decision

Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), which represents all of the nation’s salmon farmers, said: “We are puzzled by this decision. The Scottish Government appointed Professor Russel Griggs to undertake a thorough review of fish-farm regulation. Professor Griggs is still taking evidence and has not even published his first report.

“Yet, despite this, ministers have decided to give SEPA a key new regulatory role.

“We will continue to have a dialogue with ministers on this and other aspects of the report while remaining committed to working with conservation bodies to find out what is really happening to Scotland’s wild salmon stocks.”

Lead body for lice

In its response to the SIWG report, the Scottish Government stated that based on available international and domestic scientific evidence, there is a risk that sea lice from fish farm facilities negatively affect some populations of salmon and sea trout in areas of Scotland.

It said that SEPA will become the lead body responsible for managing the risk to wild salmonids from sea lice emitted from fish farms.

The agency will take forward an adaptive, spatially based risk assessment framework to facilitate the management of sea lice interactions between wild and farmed fish, applied through the CAR licences - Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 - that every fish farm must have before it is allowed to operate.

The agency will take forward a public consultation exercise on these proposals by the end of the year and, following consultation analysis, it is intended that an inclusive implementation group would be formed to help plan and advise on the introduction of the new framework.

The extra responsibility given to SEPA will mean the fish farmers will no longer have to submit an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to a local authority as part of a planning application for a new site.

“It is our intention that local authorities would no longer be advised to include EMPs as a planning condition and instead, SEPA will become responsible for regulating these environmental interactions,” wrote the Government.

“The transition will be managed by the implementation group. This change, in addition to the earlier transfer of responsibility of wellboat discharges from Marine Scotland to SEPA, will ensure efficiency and provide clarity within the regulatory framework with regards to the management of these environmental impacts.”

Penalties for fish escapes

Among other things, the Government also proposes:

  • Local interaction mechanisms between finfish farmers and wild fishery managers
  • “Proportionate penalties” for fish farm escapes with the ultimate aim of ring-fencing or redistributing this money to support wild salmonid conservation and research
  • Consideration of how fish farming can contribute more to support communities, recreational fisheries, promote innovation and support services such as inspections and monitoring, including for the purposes of improving the scientific evidence base.

The Government has acknowledged Griggs’ ongoing regulatory review in its response to the SIWG.

“The remit of the independent regulatory review of the processes involved in fish farming asks that efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the current regulatory framework is considered, and that it is done so in line with our ambitions on local governance and a vibrant, inclusive democracy,” stated the response.

“We stand ready to consider any recommendations made by Professor Russel Griggs at the end of the year.”

The SIWG recommendations and Government response can be read in full here