Salmon Farming: New study shows economic costs never assessed by government

An independent economic report [1], commissioned by two leading Scottish charities [2], has revealed that the Scottish Government has failed to assess the costs the salmon farming industry causes to other economic sectors and has only considered those benefits the industry brings.

As a result, the report proposes the Scottish Government’s policy of supporting the substantial expansion of the salmon farming industry should be put on hold until further economic evidence has been obtained including a comprehensive Cost Benefit Analysis.

Report co-author Dr Geoffrey Riddington noted that

"The Scottish Government’s support for salmon farming industry expansion relies exclusively on estimates about income and employment creation. The reality is that the industry’s damage to Scotland’s inshore waters must result in many other stakeholder groups being worse off. At no time has the Scottish Government even identified these stakeholder groups, let alone calculated the extent of their costs."

The report estimates that the salmon farming industry’s "Gross Value Added", which has been extensively quoted and relied on by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Marine Scotland, is possibly exaggerated by 124%, whilst employment could be overestimated by a massive 251%’ and that, given an "evidence base that is partial, incomplete, unreliable and even irrelevant, it is difficult to understand how the Scottish Government can sensibly address the question of whether further damage to Scotland’s marine environment is a price worth paying."

The report also questions the way the salmon farming industry’s economic contribution is reported, noting how a widely reported £2bn turnover figure for aquaculture companies and their trading partners has been conflated with overall economic impact. [3, 4] The report notes that such turnover figures "do not relate to any coherent economic performance indicator and should not influence public policy."

Andrew Graham-Stewart of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, which co-commissioned the report, said

"This study lays bare the basic deficiencies in the evidence which underpins Scottish Ministers’ unstinting support for the salmon farming industry. It is fundamentally flawed for official policy to ignore the considerable damage inflicted on the coastal environment and the consequential losses which other interests suffer due to the presence of salmon farms. Given the value of our marine environment to the public and local communities, policy should be based upon Cost Benefit Analysis, not upon Benefit Analysis. Only assessing half the impacts of an activity is not good enough."

Charles Millar of Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust, co-commissioner of the report, said

"By considering only the benefits and ignoring the costs, Ministers are skewing the debate about how Scotland’s inshore waters should be managed. If Scotland is to look after the long-term prospects of our marine dependent communities, it's time to take proper account of the economic activity lost as a consequence of aquaculture, whether that's inshore fishing, recreational sea angling or tourism. It is vital that the Scottish Government commissions an independent assessment of the economic contribution of salmon aquaculture that considers the industry in the round."

The report has been subjected to an independent peer review [5].


Further information available from Charles Millar of SIFT (07775 914996) and Andrew Graham-Stewart of S&TCS (07812 981531).



1. The Economic Contribution of Open Cage Salmon Aquaculture to Scotland: A Review of the Available Economic Evidence by Geoff Riddington, Alan Radford and Hervey Gibson, January 2020.

Full Report:

Executive Summary:

2. Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland ( and Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust (

3. ‘An overall economic impact of more than £2bn represents a major benefit to the Scottish economy’ - SSPO, quoted in Salmon Business Website, accessed 15/09/2019.

4. ‘Aquaculture is one of our real economic success stories of recent years, with the industry on track to grow to a value of well over £2bn annually to the Scottish economy by 2020’ – Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy (

5. The commissioning charities also commissioned an independent peer review of the report. Peer Review of the Economic Contribution of Salmon Aquaculture to Scotland by Bridge Economics, April 2020.

Full report:

Executive Summary:

The peer review concludes that the evidence on which Scottish Government relies for expanding salmon farming is "partial, incomplete and inappropriate for use in assisting public sector decision making’ and that ‘if the Scottish Government does propose to support expansion of the Scottish aquaculture sector then a proper assessment needs to be made."