The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee report this week on the impact salmon-farming has had on marine ecosystems found an industry for which “The status quo is not an option.”
“Scotland is at a critical point in considering how salmon farming develops in a sustainable way in relation to the environment,” the Committee, which recruited leading scientists, said.
“The Committee is supportive of aquaculture, but further development and expansion must be on the basis of a precautionary approach and must be based on resolving the environmental problems,” it said.
The planned expansion of the industry over the next 10 to 15 years will place “huge pressures on the environment”, members said in a joint statement.
“Industry growth targets of 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes by 2030 do not take into account the capacity of the environment to farm that quantity of salmon. If the current issues are not addressed, this expansion will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage to the environment.”
There were many specifics: from increasing salmon mortality to licenses issued despite glaring environmental concerns (like siting grow-outs meters from seal colonies or near wild-salmon migrations). Committee members who had gathered evidence were put off, the said, by the large numbers of fish slaughtered under the threat of disease.
“The Committee is concerned that the industry and regulators appear to be incapable of reducing the level of mortality. These levels would not be considered acceptable in other livestock sectors.”
The Report pointed the way to permitting procedures Parliament might now insist on — like punitive action for escapees, although this wasn’t explored.
Industry to pay
Fish-farm mortality was a regular theme in the 81-page Environmental Report, and government — if it abides by the recommendations — will want licenses based on Environmental Management Plans linked to a company’s record on dead fish, including their transport.
“There has been a lack of progress in tackling many of the key issues previously identified (in 2002) and unacceptable levels of mortality persist,” the report said, adding that it wanted caution to be ingrained in new licensing. For the research into what to be cautious about, the committee recommended industry pay.
In an unusual aside, the Committee recommended more research into “the full cost-benefit analysis” of recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS,
Meanwhile, it was agreed that the 2,500-t farm biomass limit recently abandoned not be reintroduced, as the science on effluent was weak but noteworthy. “The new depositional model has now resulted in a removal of that limit and the result has been more interest in much larger farms,” Committee members observed.