Salmon interactions group
THE new farmed and wild salmon interactions group set up by the Sco sh government comes as the industry approaches a crossroads. It will meet for the first time in September, just as Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity committee is due to deliver the findings of its inquiry into the sector, and there will be much focus on how the two sides respond.
The interactions group has been driven by the two ministers responsible for the industry, Fergus Ewing and Roseanna Cunningham, and they will be hoping to see a common approach between aquaculture leaders and the wild fish sector, particularly in relation to sea lice.
The man appointed to chair this potentially fractious body, John Goodlad, said he is looking forward to it.
Anybody who reads the press, whether it’s the fish farming press or the general press, will be very much aware it’s a live subject, there’s a huge amount of controversy, a lot of heat generated, perhaps not so much light, and con icting claims from both sides.
So the purpose of the group is to get the different stakeholders together and see what common ground there is, with regard to the current policy on sea lice in aquaculture and wild fisheries, and review existing projects and plan future projects, and then, crucially, a er several meetings, try to draw things together and make some recommendations.’
If anyone can find common cause between these two factions it is Goodlad, who has being working behind the scenes for the past year and a half in an attempt to resolve their differences.
Under the radar’ talks, prompted by Prince Charles’ visit to a Marine Harvest salmon farm in the autumn of 2016, have been conducted in London and at Dumfries House in Scotland to address specifically the adoption of the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) standard in Scotland.
As part of Charles’ International Sustainability Unit (ISU), of which Goodlad was the fisheries advisor, these meetings have included Marine Harvest executives, members of the Sco sh Salmon Producers’ Organisation, the Atlantic Salmon Trust (whose patron is Charles), Fisheries Management Scotland, leading retailers and government o cials.
Goodlad said he would like to think these discussions- described by several participants as cordial and constructive- will have provided the groundwork from which the new body can proceed.
Although the ISU has been wound up, as Charles’s royal duties increase, its work will continue as long as it needs to’, through the Fishmongers Company in London, said Goodlad.
It will be effectively the same group, I’ll
continue to chair it, and it will be the same salmon working group but run by Fishmongers Company rather than the ISU.’
While related to the new interactions workstream, the goal of these London talks, as with the ISU, is to encourage more farms in Scotland to embrace the ASC , which imposes very ambitious sea lice targets, and do more with cleaner fish and non-chemical treatments of sea lice. And its work will come to a natural end once the ASC is updated, Goodlad believes.
The uptake of the standard in Scotland has been lower than elsewhere because of the practice here of rearing young salmon in freshwater lochs, precluded from ASC criteria, and this has become part of an ongoing dialogue between the industry and the ASC.
‘So ASC have taken on board that there are certain things they need to do to make the ASC standard more applicable to Scotland and that’s being looked at at the moment,’ said Goodlad. The outcome will be known some time later this summer, maybe August.’
That would be a good place for the new interactions group to begin its work, which will be ‘connected’ and ‘complementary’ to the ISU discussions. However, this group will be very open and transparent and people will be watching it very closely’, said Goodlad.
He was keen to keep the group small, with about eight or nine members, whose final composition will be announced shortly.
I think the group will be representative of the aquaculture industry, of the wild fish sector, and then the various regulatory bodies that are involved, such as Sepa and SNH Scottish Natural Heritage .’
There are concerns that while organisations such as the Atlantic Salmon Trust and Fisheries Management Scotland are prepared to talk to the salmon farmers, and have been doing so through the ISU, the more vocal anti-salmon farming lobby will never cooperate.
Goodlad said the group will be a coalition of the willing It would be completely na ve to expect that this group could get everybody around the table. There are people who don’t believe there can be any meeting in the middle, that’s probably in both sectors.
Let’s try and get the people on both sides who are prepared to sit down and have a rational discussion on the issues, and look at the science that’s been done and look at the science that might need to be done in the future, and make some very clear recommendations to government.
I think that can be done. I’m very determined that that is our vision and I believe that is perfectly possible.’
He said it wouldn’t be particularly productive, anyway, to get everyone with a view on the subject in the same room.
In any situation where you have two very fundamentally different points of view, you can only make progress by ge ng together the people who represent these two different sectors, but who are prepared to sit down and discuss rationally, look at science and listen.’
He is confident of ge ng that cooperative group of people and, with a little bit of goodwill from all sides’, expects to make some headway.
They will meet on as many occasions and for as long as they believe it is necessary, to get as far as it’s possible to get to.
‘I would hope we would be able to show some progress by early 2019. That’s just a chairman’s rather na ve ambition.’
The ministers won’t sit in on every meeting but they will both be taking a very close interest in the group, he said.
One of the first things the interactions group do will be to have a look at the findings of the REC committee, and the earlier ECCLR (Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform committee, and see what they say in relation to current government policy.
Our objective is not just to look at it but to come up with some clear recommendations that have the weight of everybody in the group, all sectors.’
Goodlad dismisses suggestions from critics that this is a PR exercise and insists that progress can be made when people talk to each other.
He chaired the Sco sh pelagic sustainability group, which brought together all the pelagic catchers and processors in Scotland in the a ermath of the black fish scandal, to try and restore that industry’s reputation.
They agreed to try and achieve exacting MSC certification for herring and mackerel fisheries, which people said was an impossible dream. But they succeeded, pu ng North Sea herring through in 2008 and then western mackerel, west of Scotland herring and blue whiting.
We achieved something of really fundamental and lasting importance for the Sco sh industry that was the industry that delivered that. It shows what can be done when you have people around the table who are determined to move things forward.
You have to have a high set of ambitions. So let’s see how we get on.’
I would hope we would be able to show some progress by 2019” early
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Left: Marine Harvest’s Ronnie Hawkins explains the cleaner fish operation to Prince Charles during his visit to Loch Leven in 2016. Above: John Goodlad.