Scottish Ministers’ lamentable failure to regulate salmon farming

Scottish Ministers’ lamentable failure to regulate salmon farming to protect wild fish continues, while industry’s relentless expansion gathers pace

 Almost two years after first Parliamentary report said  “the status quo is not an option”, S&TCS, other NGOs and Scottish community groups warn that their next step is to call and campaign for a boycott of Scottish farmed salmon

ISSUED: 20 Feb 2020

As the comprehensive Scottish Parliamentary inquiry reports on salmon farming from 2018 continue to languish on the shelves without Scottish Ministers taking any meaningful action on the reports’ recommendations, Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS), other NGOs and Scottish community groups are saying “enough is enough” and issuing an ultimatum.

Almost two years after the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee issued its report in March 2018 and 15 months after the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee reported in November 2018, that the “status quo” in terms of the regulation of the salmon farming industry was not an option, the old regulatory system remains in place  and is still failing wild salmon and sea trout.



Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, said:

“In January 2019 Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing committed to making ‘tangible early progress’ on the findings of the inquiry. He has not honoured that commitment. He set up two working groups to address the impacts of salmon farming on wild fish. Over a year later, these groups are way behind schedule, are still deliberating and there is no timeline for them to reach any conclusions.

“We no longer have any confidence that introducing effective regulation of salmon farming is a Scottish Government priority. We have been as patient and as trusting of Scottish Government as we can be, but the time for prevarication and procrastination is over and we are now left with no option but to issue a simple ultimatum.

“Unless Scottish Ministers have confirmed by Easter that they are putting in place appropriate statutory and/or regulatory measures to protect wild salmon and sea trout and that these measures will be in place and in force by the end of 2020, then S&TCS, together with many other organisations supporting this statement, will call and campaign for a full and complete boycott of all Scottish farmed salmon products.

If we have to go ahead with this, it will be the fault of Scottish Government.”

Relentless growth of the industry has continued

Despite the REC Committee being “of the view that urgent and meaningful action needs to be taken to address regulatory deficiencies as well as fish health and environmental issues before the industry can expand” (Recommendation 2), between March 2018 (when the ECCLR Committee’s Report was published) and December 2019, salmon farm planning permissions for an additional 76,000 tonnes of biomass have either been granted or are in the planning process; this breaks down into 28,754 tonnes planning permission granted, 14,370 tonnes planning permission applied for or pending and 33,105 tonnes screening and scoping applied for. 76,000 tonnes equate to almost 50% of the actual tonnage of farmed fish harvested in 2018.

Guy Linley-Adams, solicitor to S&TCS, said: 

“Scottish Ministers need to call a halt to any more expansion of the industry until appropriate regulatory measures are in place to protect the environment and nature. The REC Committee called for a moratorium in all but name, but there were some silly games in the use of that word. 

“Most importantly, rather than simply waiting and hoping for the fish farming industry to agree to controls, when that industry clearly feels any regulation is contrary to its commercial ambitions and priorities, the Scottish Government must do what it was elected to do - it must actually govern - in this case to protect Scottish wildlife.

“If Scottish Ministers fail to deliver the required protections, at very best, they will be guilty of presiding over the managed decline of wild salmon and sea trout in the west Highlands and Islands”. 

For the avoidance of doubt, vital statutory or regulatory measures must now include:

  • The clear identification of a Scottish public authority with the statutory function of protecting wild fish from the negative interactions of salmon farming
  • The introduction of an effective and robust regulatory system for all salmon farms, including much stricter limits on-farm sea lice numbers, to curtail the damage being caused to wild salmon and sea trout by open cage salmon farming
  • A genuinely precautionary approach to the licensing and permitting of any new salmon farms or expansion of existing farms
  • A review of the permitted biomass and location of all existing salmon farms as against their environmental impact, with a mechanism to compel reductions in biomass and relocation where appropriate
  • Full transparency on the environmental impact of fish farming, including the ‘real time’ publication of on- farm sea-lice, escapes of farmed fish use of all treatment chemicals (whether on-farm or in well boats), farmed fish mortalities and disease information; and
  • A requirement that no salmon farming development be permitted without the prior completion of a rigorous independent cost benefit analysis of the potential impact on coastal communities including the impact on existing local businesses.

A 4 page brief explaining in detail the context and background to the decision to issue an ultimatum can be found: HERE

The ultimatum and potential boycott are endorsed and supported by the following organisations so far:

Angling Trust

Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST)

Craignish Restoration of Marine & Coastal Habitat (CROMACH)

Fairlie Coastal Trust

Friends of Loch Etive

Friends of the Sound of Jura

Loch Visions

North and West District Salmon Fishery Board

Open Seas

Orkney Trout Fishing Association

Save Seil Sound

Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF)

Scottish Salmon Think-Tank

Sea Change Wester Ross

Sealife Adventures

Skye Communities for Natural Heritage

South Skye Seas Initiative

Tay Ghillies Association

Added since news release:

Coastal Communities Network Aquaculture Sub-Group

Eigg Environmental Action Group

Friends of Loch Creran

Salmon Aquaculture Reform Network Scotland (SARNS)

The Meikleour Arms

Tay Salmon Fisheries

North Atlantic Salmon Fund US (NASF US)

North Atlantic Salmon Fund Iceland (NASF Iceland)

Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF)

Ulster Angling Federation

Salmon Watch Ireland (SWIRL)

If your organisation wishes to join the coalition calling for regulation please contact