Aquaculture Innovation Sites
THE landscape of Scotland’s aquaculture industry could start to look very different rom as early as next year under a new system to establish innovation sites. A key recommendation in the ision 2030 report, published a year ago by the industry, Aquaculture Innovation Sites will promote growth by con erring special status on both new and existing locations that meet specific criteria.
ision 2030 recommended that innovation sites would be or controlled trials and development o equipment, technologies or disease control measures and regulation , and the Aquaculture Industry Leadership roup (AIL ), set up to implement the vision, has now taken that idea orward.
A sub-group o the AIL , led by the Sco sh Aquaculture Innovation Centre and involving all Scotland s finfish producers, as well as representatives rom academia and the supply chain, has dra ed proposals that it will bring to a meeting with Marine Scotland on ovember 13.
The plan has already been discussed with Rural Economy Minister Fergus Ewing at the last meeting o the AIL in ctober and he is said to be driving the initiative.
I approved, Aquaculture Innovation Sites will see changes in licensing arrangements to acilitate green development licences, new high energy and exposed sites, higher biomass sites, and a more innovative regulatory ramework.
Although the AIL looked at orway s development licences during its discussions, this is going to be very much a Sco sh system , said Stewart raham, who is co-chair (along with Jim allagher o Sco sh Sea Farms) o the AIL .
We expect there might be a class o innovation site which is large and new, but we d also expect that small sites could be innovation sites, and also that we might have existing sites moving into innovation site status.
We ve had two initial industry meetings to start to ormulate the ideas as to what an innovation site might consist o . It might be trialling new equipment, or it might have a partnership with academia, or be trialling new medicines, biological innovation, or regulatory trialling.
For sites to quali y or innovation status, several criteria have been identified, including environmental per ormance, economic and community benefit, technical innovation, regulatory innovation, and support or supply chains.
The AIL has proposed that there should be a simple application process to set up the sites, along with local community engagement.
It s moving really quickly and the minister has been very supportive o this particular recommendation and suggested that this must happen in a matter o weeks and months not months and years.
We may well see a defined scheme or the innovation sites in 1 next year. That s potentially doable.
Those industry participants who have been present at the two innovation meetings have reached a consensus and when the urther meeting is held we expect to go in with a clear view rom the whole industry.
The ctober meeting o the AIL saw progress on several other ronts, said raham, who is also managing director o ael Force roup.
Among these is the recommendation to spell out clearly and consistently the social and economic benefits o any development in a planning application.
Some operators already do this quite well and some don t do it at all, said raham, adding that a template is being prepared by Imani, the first dra o which should be completed by the end o the year.
We have to put huge and great amounts o effort into doing EIAs (environmental impact assessments) and things have gravitated almost wholly to the environmental aspect o sustainability.
However, what we haven t spelt out very clearly in planning applications is what the social and economic benefit o a particular development is which, by statute, the planning o cials are obliged to consider.
This recommendation gives a mechanism and a template to give that balanced view that hasn t consistently been there to date something he said all the producers could then use in their planning applications.
n the wider issue o speeding up the planning process, raham said there had been work going on or years to develop a consenting review.
There have been eight quick wins identified within that and quick is very much in inverted commas here We ve delivered five out o the eight and Marine Scotland is now reporting at each AIL meeting on the progress on that.
I believe we can expect in the very near uture that all o the quick wins will be delivered.
The longer term goal o creating a completely new planning regime will take more time.
We have fitted planning or aquaculture developments into terrestrial planning rameworks and it has led to a system which is very clunky, said raham.
That s a big piece o work and will need a lot o care ul consideration rom the industry. I guess to some extent we have become used to the devil we know rather than taking a leap o aith into some-
thing completely new. But there is clearly a case to consider whether we should have a single planning process which is very different to the terrestrial process some sort o marine licensing arrangement. There are pros and cons and we ve not really got into that yet.
He said he understood the rustrations expressed recently by Craig Anderson, managing director o the Sco sh Salmon Company, over the current regulatory apparatus.
We can make progress at the Industry Leadership roup but that doesn t necessarily change behaviour on the ground, rom o cials and regulators.
o matter what we say in terms o policy change you always have local democracy with local authorities and i you re not able to sway local members on any particular issue then that s just the way it is.
Any application must engage with local members and ensure they re as on side as they can be. Craig is right to be rustrated because we have senior people, the heads o Sepa, ministerial heads, we ve got ision 2030, all o this, and it is simply rustrating that we don t see employees on the ground changing behaviour.
I you ve got a clear policy and a clear steer rom the senior team and rom government then, eventually, i behaviours on the ground don t change, people need to change.
Changing mindsets, raham acknowledges, is outside the AIL s control but while there wasn t a recommendation in ision 2030 relating to image and presentation, this is something the industry has decided to address with some urgency.
Bad press continues to plague the salmon sector, despite its contribution to the Sco sh economy and its role in bringing employment to rural areas.
I m hugely rustrated, and I know the Cabinet Secretary is too, that we appear in many ways to have been si ng back and being reactionary and taking things on the chin when we have a wonder ul positive story to tell and we don t tell it. It isn t a recommendation but I think it s absolutely critical to do something.
To launch a long term, positive promotional campaign, raham will sit down with the Sco sh Salmon Producers rganisation to agree exactly what that message is that we want to put across, and how we und it .
He admitted it had taken quite some considerable time to get to a place where the whole producer industry and producer organisation reached a consensus on this, but now there s a recognised need across the producers that we must tell the positive story that we have to tell .
To help promote the industry, the AIL is se ng up a communications group, which will disseminate in ormation more widely. It will publish minutes rom AIL meetings on a new website, due to be up and running early in the ew Year, and this will also chart the progress being made on each o the ision 2030 recommendations.
We don t have a per ect way o communicating with our stakeholders and recognise that something needs to be done there, said raham.
Also ticked off the list o ision 2030 recommendations is digital connectivity we ve just about got a commitment that we ll have high speed broadband in place on every location, albeit by 2021 , said raham.
And transport improvements are underway too, with the industry s in rastructure constraints being ed into the next strategic review o transport in Scotland.
He pointed out that there are no ull-time staff on the AIL and no budget. The group includes public sector organisations and all the key private sector producers, as well as Fergus Ewing, who raham said is a tremendous asset to Sco sh aquaculture s ambitions .
We ve been delighted by the work rate and the huge support rom the minister and it would be an absolute blow or our growth plans and that o the rural economy were he not in this position.
The ision 2030 report articulated the industry s intention to double aquaculture s value rom 1.8 billion to 3.6 billion, with finfish production growing to 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes by 2030 and mussel output to 21,000 tonnes. The number o jobs across the sector could increase to 18,000 i the ambition is realised.
The next ull meeting o the AIL will be in Inverness on December 8.
The minister suggested that this must happen in a matter o weeks and months not months and years”
Above: Stewart raham Opposite page: Aquaculture Innovation Sites may soon get approval in Scotland