The newly appointed chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation has issued a rallying call to academics, the government and the aquaculture industry to join forces and improve Scotland’s fish farms.
Julie Hesketh-Laird told The Times that the industry was listening to criticism over the environmental impact of fish farms – but needed a unified front to combat challenges.
“We won’t solve all of the problems we have and the challenges that face us on our own. We need help and support from governments and the academic community, and we will work in partnership with those who are well placed to support the sector,” she said.
“The debate is very polarised and I would like it not to be,” she added.
Salmon farming is one of Scotland’s economic success stories. It is the biggest food export, estimated at £766M (farmgate value), and supports around 8000 jobs.
But it has faced continuing problems and mounting criticism over parasitic sea lice which is jumping species onto wild salmon.
Last March, Holyrood’s parliament’s Environmental Committee report into the environmental impact of salmon farming concluded that there has been little progress in tackling environmental problems since 2002.
Furthermore, it said the industry – which is planning a huge expansion over the next decade – must identify and explore opportunities that safeguard the environment amid rapid development.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation insists it is committed to long-term sustainability.
Hesketh-Laird said salmon farming was a vital part of the economy, both in terms of the opportunities it provided in remote areas of Scotland and the value of exports.
She said: “The industry is listening and it is learning quickly about how it can get on top of the issues it is facing, and it is facing them head-on. We’re investing hugely in research into fish health science to ensure it fully understands the challenges it has and solves them.”
“We are a new industry — on the whole change is difficult for people to get on board with, but I find when I go out to farming communities, the support on the ground for a new farm going into a coastal location is enormous. The further away from our salmon farms you get, the understanding will drop away and it is the role of the industry to explain the benefits of salmon farming — the skills, the jobs, the opportunities and the revenue.”
She said the industry had invested £50m in new innovations and around £10m per year was being spent on research, adding: “This is an industry understanding the issues that consumers and environmentalists see as important and it wants to work in partnership with them.”