Report fails to advocate the simple regulatory system urgently required to protect wild fish including adherence to the precautionary principle
Initial response to the Salmon Interactions Working Group (SIWG) Report
Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland 5 May 2020
On May 1st, the Scottish Government released the “Report of the Salmon Interactions Working Group”. The Group’s terms of reference relate specifically and only to the interactions between farmed salmon and farmed trout and wild salmon and sea trout.
The Report contains 42 recommendations. It concludes that there should be a single body responsible for operating a regulatory system to protect wild salmonids from the effects of fish farms, and it concludes that the regulatory system should be robust, transparent, enforceable and enforced. Unfortunately, the regulatory system outlined by the Report would not achieve that aim.
Burden of proof reversed:
In particular the regulatory system proposed by SIWG lacks any adherence to a precautionary approach to wild salmon and sea trout protection, i.e. that the absence of absolute scientific evidence should not stand in the way of effective management or regulation when damage to wild fish is suspected.
The report recommends that those seeking to protect wild salmon and sea trout will have to prove damage is being caused before any action is taken to regulate poor performance at fish farms. This is quite contrary to the precautionary approach. It is completely at odds with the Scottish Government’s existing and long-term commitment to the precautionary principle and its legal duty to further nature conservation (including both wild salmon and sea trout). It also fails to follow the recommendations of both Parliamentary Committees who reported in 2018 that the precautionary approach should be adopted.
A robust and strict precautionary approach is vital to underpin an effective regulatory system. The SIWG envisages the burden of proof being reversed, so that establishing proof that there is damage being caused to wild fish, particularly by sea lice, is to be a pre-requisite to any action being taken by the salmon farm(s). The object should be to act promptly to prevent damage. Monitoring of wild fish in the marine environment is far from an exact science. Reversing the burden of proof will inevitably lead to delay, disputes and legal challenges by salmon farmers determined to maintain or increase production.
Financial support no substitute:
We are concerned that The SIWG report does not just deal with the interactions between farms and wild salmonids. Financial support for research and other conservation work is urgently required but it cannot be considered a substitute for an effective system of regulation.
There are a number of serious omissions from the recommendations, for example:
- There are no robust maximum on-farm sea lice levels proposed or even envisaged by SIWG that would apply to all farms as a ceiling above which sea lice levels on-farm must not be allowed to rise. This omission is completely at odd with international norms.
- There is no requirement for the publication in near real time of individual farm sea lice data.
- There is no requirement for independent monitoring.
- There are no proposals for effective public scrutiny and monitoring of farm management.
SIWG REPORT: https://bit.ly/SIWG_report
We will soon be publishing a detailed response to the SIWG Report.
 The environmental principles by which the Scottish Government must abide are enshrined in Article 191(2) of Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union FEU, originally the Treaty of Rome. The principles include the precautionary principle, which states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
 Section 1, Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004