Scottish salmon farming under review

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 6 February 2018

The biggest review of the environmental impacts of the Scottish salmon industry for over fifteen years is underway.

Salmon Lice
© Watershed Watch

With the industry’s ambitious growth plans from around 170,000 tonnes to 300,000 tonnes by 2030, ensuring the environmental impacts are both known and controlled has to be the starting point before such expansion can even be considered.

Dawn Purchase,
MCS Aquaculture Programme Manager

Scotland’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee ais holding an inquiry into the Environmental Impacts of Scottish Aquaculture today.

The committee will hear evidence from Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, Scottish Environment Link (of which MCS is a part), Friends of the Sound of Jura, Loch Duart, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Scottish Government and the Highland Council.

The inquiry into the environmental impact of salmon farming follows a report that highlighted the potential for lice from farmed salmon to damage wild populations of fish. The report, by SAMS Research Services, said there were gaps in the data and called for farm lice statistics to be put in the public domain.

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic animals and plants in fresh, brackish or marine water environments. With an increasing world population there is likely to be a growing demand for farmed fish given the environmental pressures on wild stocks.

In Scotland, finfish (as opposed to shellfish) aquaculture dominates. Atlantic salmon is the most commonly produced fish. Scotland is the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the EU and one of the top three producers globally, producing 162,817 tonnes (£765m by value) in 2016. The industry has developed in west coast sea lochs and inshore waters since the late 1970s

David Sandison, general manager of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), told the inquiry that salmon farms are to publish data on sea lice and fish mortality amid growing concerns about the environmental impact of the industry

MCS Aquaculture Programme Manager, Dawn Purchase, has submitted written evidence outlining our key concerns for the Scottish salmon farming industry going forward.

“This is the biggest review to have taken place for 16 years,” says Dawn. “With the industry’s ambitious growth plans from around 170,000 tonnes to 300,000 tonnes by 2030, ensuring the environmental impacts are both known and controlled has to be the starting point before such expansion can even be considered.”

This review will cover a wide range of aquaculture activities that impact the environment including: sea lice impacts, chemical usage and cleaner fish; chemical and organic pollution; escapes; impacts on wild salmonids and feed use and sustainability.

“Our written evidence highlights some of our most critical concerns,” says Dawn. “These include the wide knowledge gaps in understanding impacts; feed sustainability; lack of comprehensive consideration of Priority Marine Features and Marine Protected Areas and the exploitation of wild wrasse to clean sea lice from salmon.”

Mr Sandison from SSPO told MSPs: “We understand and acknowledge that there are gaps in data and we could definitely enhance that further. “I can confirm that from hereon forthwith we will be publishing all data associated with sea lice counts on farms on a farm-by-farm basis in Scotland.

Sam Collin, convener of the Scottish Environment LINK aquaculture subgroup welcomed the announcement but called for historical data to also be published. He said: “It takes time to collect data, it takes time to monitor, and that will delay any action and any conclusive results. With the historical data, we can begin with a wealth of data and start making changes now.”

Actions you can take

  1. Browse Scotland's Marine Atlas
  2. Find out more about Scottish Wildlife
  3. View the IFFO 'Value Chain Animation' video

Did you know?…

In the UK we eat 486,000 tonnes of seafood a year, which is 8.2kg per person

MCS established its Scotland office and programme in 2000 in Edinburgh

21.7 million tonnes of wild caught fish are not for people to eat; almost 75% of this is to feed farmed fish