Scots debate, “Are salmon farms for locals to decide”

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The Scottish Parliament’s rural economy committee appears opposed to a bill being read today that would give local communities — a contested term — power to issue (or deny) marine license, saying it’s already covered by planning and need not be a “development activity”, another contested term.

While, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency SEPA and Marine Scotland regulate most activities affecting coastal water quality and pollution, fish-farm licensing must clear a number of other hurdles, including at the Township level. Some want insurmountable hurdles and local, final say.

The Islands Bill being read today, however, has languished for a year as it seeks to provide regulation-making power for Scottish Ministers to establish a marine licensing scheme for the Islands areas’ waterways, where aquaculture takes place.

Local inhabitants surveyed by the committee want, at least, more power to put in place their own infrastructure where needed. They also want a national plan to promote the area.

Some also want the ability to issue (or deny) marine licenses, so that not all marine licenses lead to the local use by “corporate interests” in locations locals themselves find attractive.

However, “development activity” — the main focus of the Bill — is another hot potato, one that neither the government nor the Committee appear keen to make a catch word for aquaculture. The Committee has supported wharfs, peers and the sinking of piles as “development activity”.

“The Committee notes that local authorities support the principle of increased powers for marine licensing that the Bill offers. It looks forward to scrutinising the detail of the marine licensing regulations when they are laid before the Parliament (on Wednesday),” a statement from the committee said.

“The intended aim of this (bill) is to provide island local authorities with the opportunity to have more control in the development of the seas around their island communities,” the committee said, although they don’t mean aquaculture.

Activist group, COAST, argued in its written submission that fish farming should be included in the definition of development activity, and that decisions (or denials) on such licences should include community councils.

“(COAST’s letter) stated that fish farm companies have continued to be awarded local authority and SEPA licenses to expand existing open-pen farms and create new farms despite local community council opposition,” the parliamentarians noted.

They also noted that the Scottish Government has already addressed fish-farms and that to include fish farming in the Bill could lead to duplication.