A poll published this week, commissioned by ISSF and conducted by Survation, shows clear support from the Scottish public for protecting wild Atlantic salmon and the environment from the damage caused by open cage salmon farming.
83% of those expressing an opinion agreed wild salmon should be protected even if it meant possible job losses for the industry (notes 01). The same poll showed equally strong support for the proposal that salmon farms should not be permitted to dump their waste at sea. 79% of those expressing an opinion backed that position, just 8% disagreed (notes 02).
The Scottish Government have endorsed a 2016 plan by the fish-farming industry to double open cage salmon farming in Scottish waters, with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy viewing the growth of salmon farming as “a key driver of the confidence that is necessary to ensure that when we have that next independence referendum, that we will succeed in that referendum”.
The polling results suggest this expansion would not be popular with the Scottish public.
Other major salmon farming nations are moving away from open cage aquaculture towards less polluting alternatives, citing the need to avoid obsolescence, protect the environment and ensure a long-term future for their industry.
Norway's Fisheries Minister (Norway has the largest open cage salmon farming industry in the world) has made it clear that he wishes to see much more salmon farming carried out in closed containment to protect the environment.
Meanwhile the Canadian government is closing open cage salmon farms and the Danish Environment Minister announced legislation last October which brings “an end to the expansion of marine production”, noting that the "aquatic environment is in crisis" and that "the sea should not be a dustbin".
It is estimated that over two million tonnes of salmon could be produced in land-based facilities around the world in the next decade, but that none of this is expected to come from Scotland.
Corin Smith, founder of ISSF, said:
“The Scottish Government’s policy of expanding open cage salmon farming appears to be completely out of touch, out of date and out of support in Scotland. The public rejects the reality of Scotland's seas continuing to be used as a sewer for salmon feedlots. Other nations are already benefiting from billions being invested in the huge opportunities associated with land-based alternatives, meanwhile the Scottish Government's exclusive backing of archaic open cage salmon farms looks like the equivalent of investing in diesel car production when the rest of the world is going electric.”
“To protect and promote our country's natural assets, as well as securing a long-term future for those employed in salmon farming, the Scottish Government needs to join Norway and others in a rapid transition into clean, green, modern alternatives. Until then we must see an end to the indiscriminate pollution of our seas and urgent robust protection for habitats where salmon feedlots are located.”
Wide ranging and long-standing concerns about the damaging environmental impacts of open cage salmon farming were crystallised in two Holyrood Committee Inquiries in 2018. Both the Rural Economy and Environment committees delivered extensive reports highlighting a range of concerns and regulatory gaps the industry and Scottish Ministers needed to urgently address.
Campaigners have since accused the Scottish Government of being too close to the open cage salmon farming industry, not considering alternatives and moving deliberately slowly on regulation.
Research by Salmon & Trout Conservation showed that since publication of the committee reports in 2018 there has been a rush to expand the industry. Finding that despite both committees being of the view that urgent action needed to be taken before the industry could expand, between March 2018 and December 2019, salmon farm planning permissions for an additional 76,000 tonnes of biomass were either granted or in the planning process, which equates to almost half of all the farmed fish harvested in 2018.
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, said:
"It is clear from this polling that the Scottish Government has no public mandate to expand open cage salmon farming in Scotland".
Numerous local community groups have also raised concerns that their views are not being properly considered and that the negative impacts of open cage salmon farming are being ignored.
The poll also asked whether local communities should have the final say on whether fish farms are approved. 56% of those expressing a view agreed, and just 21% disagreed (notes 03).
John Aitchison spokesperson for the Coastal Communities Network said:
"This survey confirms that Scots want coastal communities to have more say in whether these industrial farms are foisted on them by a flawed planning process with the full weight of the Scottish Government behind it.
They understand that if Scotland’s future is as an independent nation it will need its seas to be healthy. The salmon farming industry must now choose between being good neighbours or bad. It must prove that it does no harm before looking to expand.
These results show there is little public support for fish farms being run as they are. It is cheaper to use open nets to dispose of their waste for free but doing this is harming wild fish and affecting other users of the sea. Many of these companies are large multinationals which can afford to farm fish differently. If they did so there could be just as many jobs on their farms."
Full results of the survey can be viewed here.
01: Which of the following statements is closest to your view?
The Scottish Government should protect wild Atlantic salmon from any harm even if it means job losses: 63% (83% excluding don't knows)
The Scottish Government should protect jobs in salmon farming even if it causes harm to wild Atlantic salmon: 13% (17% excluding don't knows)
Don't know: 24%
02: The question asked was as follows:
Which of the following statements is closest to your view?
Salmon farms should be allowed to dump all their waste at sea:
Disagree: 73% (79% excluding don't knows)
Agree: 7% (8% excluding don't knows)
Neither agree nor disagree: 12%
Don't know: 8%
03: The question asked was as follows:
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
Local communities that live next to salmon farms should have the final say on whether salmon farms are permitted.
Agree: 50% (56% excluding don't knows)
Neither agree nor disagree: 22%
Disagree: 19% (21% excluding don't knows)
Don't know: 10%