Min­is­ter fights for farm­ers

Fish Farmer - - News -

SCOTLAND’S ru­ral af­fairs min­is­ter, Fer­gus Ewing, re­peated his de­ter­mi­na­tion to see the coun­try’s salmon farm­ing in­dus­try meet its growth tar­gets, as he an­swered ques­tions from MSPs in the fi­nal ses­sion of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sec­tor. Ewing said I’m a very strong and public ad­vo­cate for the sec­tor in Scotland,’ ac­knowl­edg­ing that it had come a long way and was not stand­ing still, as sug­gested by an ear­lier par­lia­men­tary in­quiry.

The Ru­ral Econ­omy and Con­nec­tiv­ity (REC) com­mit­tee was tak­ing ev­i­dence, in its sixth and fi­nal hear­ing, from Ewing, the Cabi­net Sec­re­tary for the Ru­ral Econ­omy and Con­nec­tiv­ity. Join­ing him were Mike Palmer, deputy di­rec­tor, Aqua­cul­ture, Crown Es­tate, Recre­ational Fish­eries, EMFF and Europe Di­vi­sion, Marine Scotland Alastair Mitchell, head of Aqua­cul­ture and Recre­ational Fish­eries, Marine Scotland and Charles Al­lan, head of Fish Health In­spec­torate, Marine Scotland, Sco sh Gov­ern­ment.

Ewing said sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments were un­der­way in the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing look­ing at the cur­rent con­sent­ing regime, and how the dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tory bod­ies mesh with each other agree­ing to sus­tain­ably man­age the cap­ture of wild wrasse and ad­dress­ing health is­sues through the Strate­gic Frame­work for Farmed Fish Health.

The lat­ter, he said, would pub­lish a doc­u­ment rel­a­tively soon but he would not be drawn on an ex­act date, although the com­mit­tee con­venor, Ed­ward Moun­tain (High­lands and Is­lands, Con­ser­va­tive), said it would be use­ful to have this when the REC drew up its own re­port.

The health frame­work would in­clude com­mit­ments to pub­lish an­nual mor­tal­ity rates by cause, and work­ing groups would be set up to tackle spe­cific ar­eas.

The min­is­ter was taken to task again by Moun­tain over com­ments he made about dou­bling growth dur­ing a speech at the Brus­sels seafood expo re­cently.

Ewing re­as­sured the MSPs that he didn’t ac­cept growth at any cost and that is must be sus­tain­able growth. That re­al­ity is not lost on the sec­tor, he added, which has a vested in­ter­est in the en­vi­ron­ment.

But he stressed the im­por­tance of salmon farm­ing to the Sco sh econ­omy and said he hoped that, de­spite some un-ev­i­denced’ crit­i­cism dur­ing the course of the in­quiry, con­cerns could be ad­dressed with­out con ict’.

Staying on the sub­ject of growth, Peter Chap­man (North East Scotland, Con) asked if the gov­ern­ment had adopted in­dus­try tar­gets with­out as­sess­ing their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

Marine Scotland’s Alastair Mitchell said every new farm and every ex­pan­sion plan un­der­goes a ma­jor as­sess­ment, while Mike Palmer said the reg­u­la­tory agen­cies are con­stantly look­ing to re­view as­sess­ments they make, to en­sure there is su cient en­vi­ron­men­tal protection to sup­port growth.

But this did not re­as­sure John Fin­nie, the Green MSP for the High­lands and Is­lands. He sug­gested that the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple’ should be ap­plied, with an im­me­di­ate mora­to­rium on ex­pan­sion, based on the in­dus­try’s chal­lenges.

This was re­jected by the Cabi­net Sec­re­tary, who said gov­ern­ment was al­ready do­ing what Fin­nie asked it to do.

Since this gov­ern­ment came to power we have tight­ened up the reg­u­la­tory frame­work. A mora­to­rium is not jus­ti­fied, we al­ready ap­ply the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple.’

Mike Palmer agreed, say­ing the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple is alive and kick­ing and some­thing we very much cher­ish.’

Re­fer­ring to the re­cent de­ci­sion by the in­dus­try to pub­lish farm by farm sea lice data on the SSPO (Sco sh Salmon Pro­duc­ers Or­gan­i­sa­tion) web­site, Ste­wart Steven­son asked why it was nec­es­sary to only give data three months in ar­rears when Nor­way pub­lished such in­for­ma­tion in real time.

Ewing said the in­dus­try wanted to be as trans­par­ent as pos­si­ble but was not quite as up to date as Nor­way. The in­for­ma­tion would be pub­lished for every farm on a monthly ba­sis.

But Steven­son wanted to know what the gov­ern­ment was do­ing to help the in­dus­try raise its game, while Jamie Greene (West Scotland, Con) said he found the lan­guage used quite trou­bling’.

Why is the in­dus­try be­ing al­lowed to mark its own home­work Why is gov­ern­ment not tak­ing lead­er­ship in reg­u­lat­ing this im­por­tant data ’ he asked.

Ewing said the gov­ern­ment have been lead­ing and will con­tinue to lead’ and had made it clear to the in­dus­try that we re­quire trans­parency’. He said he hoped the REC com­mit­tee would recog­nise the progress that is be­ing made.

It’s heart­en­ing to hear the in­dus­try is lis­ten­ing and act­ing and im­prov­ing the level of data, but we’re on a jour­ney and that jour­ney hasn’t ended yet.’

John Ma­son (Glas­gow Shet­tle­ston, SNP) said he had found his re­cent visit to Lochaber with other com­mit­tee mem­bers very help­ful and no­ticed the healthy’ re­la­tion­ship between farm­ers and wild fish­eries in­ter­ests there. But the same could not be said of other re­gions. The com­mit­tee had been ge ng very op­po­site views’ from the two sec­tors.

Fer­gus said he was about to set up a new in­ter­ac­tions’ group of ex­perts, in­clud­ing from the angling lobby. They will be tasked with look­ing at all the ev­i­dence of salmon farm­ing’s im­pact on wild salmon and their work will be com­pleted as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Bade­noch, SNP) asked about how closed con­tain­ment sys­tems could mit­i­gate en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and what sup­port the gov­ern­ment could of­fer to the in­dus­try in terms of in­no­va­tion.

Mike Palmer de­scribed the tech­nol­ogy re­quired as cu ng edge and said de­vel­op­ment in this area was still quite spec­u­la­tive’. There was also a con­sen­sus that en­ergy use is high. Fur­ther work was needed and while the sec­tor was very in­ter­ested, this couldn’t be rolled out on an in­dus­trial scale yet.

Gail Ross (Caith­ness and Sutherland, SNP) asked about Sepa’s re­cent de­ci­sion to al­low farms greater biomass if they were in more off­shore lo­ca­tions. Mitchell said the move was hap­pen­ing now in an in­cre­men­tal way’, with farms on the small isles and parts of Orkney that wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble 10 years ago. Nor­way had de­vel­oped off­shore con­cepts faster by spend­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds’ and Scotland couldn’t sup­port that level of in­vest­ment.

Lib Dem MSP Mike Rum­bles (North East Scotland) asked about cre­at­ing a sin­gle reg­u­la­tory au­thor­ity but Ewing said although he was keen to see what emerges from this in­quiry’ re­gard­ing any fu­ture ap­proach to plan­ning, this was not his pri­or­ity.

Re­turn­ing to Nor­way, Jamie Green won­dered if that na­tion’s top-down ap­proach would be a model for Scotland to adopt. Ewing, per­haps tir­ing of hear­ing about Nor­we­gian prow­ess, said if the com­mit­tee could iden­tify ex­am­ples of where Scotland could learn more from Nor­way he would hap­pily fol­low them up, and might even be able to jus­tify a ministeria­l trip to the coun­try.

Con­venor Moun­tain brought the ses­sion, and the REC’s ev­i­dence gath­er­ing, to a close by quot­ing Ben Had­field, the Marine Har­vest Scotland boss, who had said the week be­fore that farm­ers had a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity’ to get it right. As a com­mit­tee the REC now also had a moral obli­ga­tion to con­sider all the ex­cel­lent’ ev­i­dence pro­vided, in writ­ten sub­mis­sions as well as ver­bally.

We’re on a jour­ney and that jour­ney yet” hasn’t ended

Above: Fer­gus Ewing giv­ing ev­i­dence to the REC in­quiry on May 9

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