It is hard not to consider that the political agenda in the drive to create an apparently sustainable economic future for an independent Scotland is moving beyond the danger point of damaging the territory itself.
The political agenda is the driver of a largely unthought push for short term headlines in development of wind energy without the research base to support its ongoing widescale implementation.
It seems too as if inward investment at all costs is to be seized upon without question as convenient proof that we can go it alone.
The Scottish Government has just issued the following statement, with the First Minister welcoming in extravagant terms Marine Harvest’s coming investment in major developments in its Scottish farmed salmon business.
The statement says:
‘FM welcomes company’s plans for capital investment of £80m up to 2016
‘First Minister Alex Salmond today welcomed Marine Harvest’s plan to invest around £80 million to grow its business and support jobs in rural communities, as he met the chair of the Norwegian-based company in Oslo to discuss its new ‘five-year’ plan for Scotland.
‘Marine Harvest, which operates 38 fish farms in Scotland supporting around 460 jobs, is the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon, operating in 22 countries. Its Scottish business unit was highlighted as the company’s best-performing in 2011, with high production, good price achievement and good operational performance.
‘Scotland is currently the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the European Union and third largest globally, accounting for more than one-third, by value, of Scotland’s food exports.
‘Ole-Eirik Leroy, Chairman of the Marine Harvest Board, today revealed that the company has plans for an £80 million capital investment in Scotland between 2012 to 2016.
‘Following the meeting, the First Minister said: “The Scottish Government is determined to support a vibrant, sustainable salmon farming industry, which already employs more than 2,100 people in Scotland directly, with many more indirect jobs supported, particularly in rural communities in the West Highlands, Western and Northern Isles.
‘ “Scottish salmon now accounts for more than a third of the value of our national food exports – reflecting the premium that discerning consumers place on Scottish salmon, including in expanding markets such as China, where we were able to secure agreement with the Government in Beijing to enable direct exports to the country last year.
‘ “Fresh farmed salmon sales in the Far East soared nearly 900 per cent last year to a record 6,779 tonnes – demonstrating the growing demand for Scottish seafood from new marketplaces.
‘ “I was pleased to hear first hand about Marine Harvest’s plans for their operations in Scotland and delighted by their latest investment commitment that will benefit local communities. Clearly they are set to play a key role in our ambitions for growth in the industry, including our aim of increasing production by 50 per cent on 2009 levels to 210,000 tonnes by 2020.”
‘ Mr Leroy added: “We are committed to farming in Scotland, where the results show that top quality salmon is in demand increasingly around the world. With people eating more salmon and the need to sustainably increase our production, we believe that further investment in Scotland is good for our business and the Scottish economy, the communities where we operate and our consumers. Because of this we are looking at investment plans for Scotland in the region of £80 million between 2012 and 2016 that could create around 100 jobs.
‘ “By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet and that farming the sea is the best way to provide additional protein. Scotland is uniquely well placed to be the salmon farming leader in the EU as its salmon farming industry is truly world class.”
‘ Anne MacColl, chief executive, Scottish Development International, said: “The decision by Marine Harvest to commit to a five-year investment plan in Scottish rural communities is testament to the international reputation Scotland currently has in the sustainable salmon farming industry. We look forward to continuing to work with the company both in Scotland and in Norway in the future, helping to increase our overall production of salmon and in doing so, drive growth back into the Scottish economy.”
What is of serious concern is that such development is going ahead when many, if not the majority of salmon farms in Scotland have been shown largely to fail to observe regulatory requirements surrounding their operations and that SEPA does not trouble to monitor and intervene as it should in this pattern of behaviour.
In a recent article we published on the damaging prevalence of sea lice in farmed salmon and the environmental damage of the chemical dousing used to try to control it, the Salmon and Trout Association had shown – in a report fed by documents obtained under Freedom of Information, that:
- ‘Fish farming companies regularly fail to report to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), as they are obliged to do under the Controlled Activities Regulations, the data resulting from required self-monitoring of the volumes of sea-lice prevention chemical residues in the sea beds of Scottish sea lochs.
- ‘These residues of sea lice prevention chemicals exceed Environmental Quality Standards (EQS).
- ‘SEPA, charged with responsibilities for regulating the environmental, has reduced its auditing of sea bed residues of these chemicals.’
Today’s announcement is accompanied by no information on increased funding for the monitoring agency, SEPA or of any improvement in the rigour with which it observes its environmental protection responsibilities in its inspection and monitoring regimes.
This is unintelligent and irresponsible government at the very least. It is so to a degree that leaves the Scottish Government open to the suspicion that it is engineering the context in which the Independence Referendum will take place, regardless of the consequences that will have to be paid for either by that independent Scotland or by the UK.
We have all seen the consequences in the economic and financial environments of ‘regulation with a light touch’ – and from the look of what is happening to the euro, those consequences are far from finished with us.
Regulating impacts on the natural environment with this same ‘light touch’ – as we are manifestly doing – may bring even longer lasting consequences.
The Salmon and Trout Association press release
The Salmon and Trout Association have been quick to respond to the government announcement on the Marine Harvest plans – which do not seem to be predicated on any uncertainty as to their approval by planning authorities.
It should be noted that the Salmon and Trout Association’s stance is notably level headed. It is not against salmon farms but calls for due observance of the governing environmental regulations by salmon farmers and government agencies alike.
It also calls for the use of the most environmentally protective methods of farming – such as the closed containment systems it refers to below and which were described in our earlier article linked above.
The association’s statement says:
‘Hugh Campbell Adamson, chairman of Salmon and Trout Association Scotland, commented: “Whilst any investment in Scotland should be welcomed, it should not come at a heavy environmental cost.
‘One has to ask just why Marine Harvest’s Scottish operations are the company’s most profitable. Surely it is because of the lack of effective environmental regulation here which has severe implications for the marine environment and stocks of wild salmon and sea trout in the west Highlands and Islands.
‘Part of Marine Harvest’s investment should be in closed containment salmon farming systems, which place an impermeable barrier between farmed fish and the wider natural environment. Other countries are already investing in closed containment. It is high time that Scotland followed suit as this is the only solution to making the industry sustainable.’