SSPO

Julie Hes­keth-Laird

Fish Farmer - - Contents -

THE Sco sh salmon farm­ing in­dus­try has an ex­cep­tional story to tell of health ad­vance­ment, eco­nomic growth, job cre­ation, re­pop­u­la­tion and na­tional pride. Farm­ers have been farm­ing fish for a few decades now, suc­cess­fully and with the sup­port of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

But as Scot­land’s ru­ral af­fairs com­mit­tee fi­nalises its re­port on salmon farm­ing, the sec­tor’s crit­ics have been vo­cal, di­rect­ing me­dia re­ports about farm raised salmon in an at­tempt to per­suade pub­lic per­cep­tion.

The tone has been harsh. We should ex­pect the in­quiry out­come to make di cult read­ing for the men and women who work hard to make this in­dus­try a suc­cess. The in­dus­try is at a cross­roads, with choices to make on its fu­ture di­rec­tion.

It will feel as if it is do­ing the right things. Farm­ers are work­ing hard to in­crease sur­vival rates, and lice lev­els are the low­est for five years, thanks to the con­tin­u­ous quest for im­prove­ment. The in­dus­try has in­vested enor­mously in in­no­va­tive tech­niques, from ad­vances in ne ng and au­to­mated clean­ing, to in-pen cam­eras.

The ba­sics of fish hus­bandry en­dure - look a er your fish, keep them healthy and safe, and you’ll have a great prod­uct that con­sumers pri e. And that prin­ci­ple guides all the farms I have vis­ited since I joined the sec­tor six months or so ago.

So what has changed to have led to the cur­rent in­dict­ments from the grow­ing cho­rus of crit­ics The salmon farm­ing in­dus­try’s so­cial li­cence is un­der se­ri­ous ques­tion. It is no longer enough for farm­ers to ful­fil the re­quire­ments of their op­er­a­tional li­cences to grow fish and ex­pect to gain pub­lic ac­cep­tance for their prac­tices, no mat­ter how com­pli­ant they may be with reg­u­la­tion or cus­tomer spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

It is no longer enough to do the work, make in­vest­ments, adopt the best science and pos­sess the ev­i­dence that in­dus­try prac­tice is sus­tain­able.

Suc­cess­ful mod­ern com­pa­nies have to work harder than ever to en­sure that not only do they main­tain their li­cence to op­er­ate, they also se­cure their so­cial li­cence the in­for­mal and unwritten per­mis­sion’ that so­ci­ety gives com­pa­nies or or­gan­i­sa­tions to op­er­ate.

So­cial li­cence can­not be self-awarded it must be earned and main­tained. And the con­se­quences of breach­ing or los­ing so­cial li­cence can be far harsher than breach­ing plan­ning ap­proval or en­vi­ron­men­tal li­cences.

Build­ing trust takes time. It can’t be found or con­tracted in. It must be earned. What­ever the out­come of the Sco sh par­lia­ment in­quiry, the in­dus­try must take the path of build­ing trust among im­por­tant stake­holder groups.

The out­come of the in­quiry has been years in the mak­ing and we can­not ex­pect to change hearts and minds overnight.

This is not to ad­vo­cate di­rectly tak­ing on those whose minds are made up. We can’t con­trol what the ac­tivists do or say, though there is a lot in our con­trol that we can man­age in­dus­try trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity, clar­ity about the ben­e­fits of the whole sec­tor in Scot­land and across the UK, and clar­ity about the ben­e­fits of eat­ing healthy salmon.

Im­por­tantly, too, com­pa­nies must be pre­pared to speak hon­estly, openly and promptly when things do go wrong and be clear what is be­ing done to rem­edy is­sues and put in place fur­ther due dili­gence. The Sco sh salmon farm­ing in­dus­try must get bet­ter at this or ex­pect more back­lash.

When I joined the SSPO in the spring, I talked to this maga ine about the hid­den gem’ of a sec­tor I had joined. Tucked away in re­mote parts of Scot­land is an ab­so­lute beauty of an in­dus­try that re­ally pow­ers lots of coastal com­mu­ni­ties.

Peo­ple have no idea it’s so im­por­tant and that the vast ma­jor­ity of farms run with­out is­sues. We can­not, though, ex­pect peo­ple to fully un­der­stand and con­nect with our in­dus­try if they can­not imag­ine, or have seen for them­selves, a fish farm or its op­er­a­tions.

It is so im­por­tant that peo­ple un­der­stand where their food is grown and we must be more

and more open to mak­ing our farm sites and other in­dus­try fa­cil­i­ties ac­ces­si­ble, so they can see the fan­tas­tic in­dus­try that I see and make their own minds up. Oth­er­wise, the nar­ra­tive of the un­bal­anced ac­tivist re­port­ing fills the knowl­edge void.

There is good progress be­ing made, with vis­its to farms be­com­ing more com­mon. And the planned vis­i­tors’ cen­tre on Skye will shine a light on how sus­tain­able salmon is farmed.

School vis­its to hatch­eries, fresh­wa­ter sites and pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties will all help a gen­er­a­tion grow up with an un­der­stand­ing of what it takes to farm our food lo­cally.

And, of course, ever more sto­ries and im­ages on­line of the over­whelm­ingly com­pli­ant in­dus­try will help paint a truer and more bal­anced pic­ture.

The in­dus­try must pay closer at­ten­tion and lis­ten to evolv­ing so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions of it. It must be open to trans­par­ent re­port­ing of prac­tices to show the world lead­ing stan­dards the ma­jor­ity of farms achieve. And open to quickly hold­ing its hands up when things go wrong, and demon­strate the reme­dies be­ing de­ployed.

The in­dus­try is ab­so­lutely clear that any fu­ture growth must be steady and sus­tain­able. Along­side the cur­rent, com­plex con­sent­ing regime for Sco sh aqua­cul­ture, the in­dus­try’s abil­ity to se­cure its so­cial li­cence will be the over-rid­ing fac­tor that de­ter­mines sus­tain­able growth into the fu­ture.

The ex­pected re­port from the par­lia­men­tary in­quiry of­fers a great op­por­tu­nity to re-en­gage with com­mu­ni­ties, en­gage with new au­di­ences and demon­strate the real story be­hind Sco sh salmon.

SSPO.

“Com­pa­nies must be pre­pared to speak hon­estly, wrong” openly and promptly when things do go

Above: SSPO boss Julie Hes­keth-Laird wants farms to be­come more ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic

BY JULIE HES­KETH-LAIRD

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