Call for Scottish Government to balance concerns of wild fish industry with its unequivocal support for fish farming

In the Stage 3 debate in the Scottish Parliament on the government’s Aquaculture & Fisheries Bill, Jamie McGrigor, Highlands & Islands MSP and the Scottish Conservatives’ Environment Spokesman, urged Scottish Government Ministers to take into account and address the concerns of Scotland’s wild fish sector – at the same time as as it seeks to support the expansion of the country’s fish farming industry.

A key point of the MSP’s speech in the debate was this: ‘People I have spoken to in the aquaculture industry were not alarmed by the request to be more transparent in terms of sea lice data, so why is the Scottish Government blocking it?’

If this is correct, the question as put requires to be answered – but it may reflect a more open attitude at individual fish farms than in the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, which has been shown on several occasions to mislead on the data.

In the Holyrood debate on Wednesday 15th May, Jamie McGrigor said:

‘There is widespread recognition of the economic importance of both aquaculture and wild fisheries to Scotland’s economy and this is especially so in my region of the Highlands & Islands where employment from both sectors is of great importance in often fragile and remote island and rural areas.

‘This employment often helps to underpin local communities. Farmed Scottish salmon has the much-coveted label rouge which shows its excellence, while at the same time Scotland is a world famous location for wild fishing.

‘As part of my European Committee’s inquiry into the China Plan I recently visited the Marine Harvest processing factory at Fort William, a significant employer in Lochaber.

‘I had not visited a salmon processing factory for several years and the improvement in the quality of the fish over that time was plain to see. All Marine Harvest’s fish are processed in one processing factory. They are picked up, taken to Heathrow and flown out, which means that they can be in China in a very short time. The potential for growth in the Chinese market is significant.

‘The labelling on the boxes gives total traceability. You can not only see what cage on which site the fish came from but tell which individual had packed that box of fish.

‘A big theme of the Stage 1 debate and the Rural Affairs Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill and its report, has been the need for the two sectors to work together more constructively. This was an opportunity to improve working methods and relations between the two sectors.

‘People I have spoken to in the aquaculture industry were not alarmed by the request to be more transparent in terms of sea lice data, so why is the Scottish Government blocking it

‘It is a disappointing attitude which has left the wild fish industry disappointed with some elements of the Bill when it need not have done so. Indeed the Salmon & Trout Association is calling it a missed opportunity to protect and conserve Scotland’s wild fish heritage.

‘All of us recognise that we want and need to achieve a sustainable co-existence between the wild fishery and fish-farming industries and this is what I have argued for in all my time in this Parliament. And we know that this can best be achieved when both sectors trust each other.

‘It remains to be seen whether this Bill will help towards that aim but Ministers need to continue to strive to address the concerns of wild fishery interests, particularly in the west and north west where genuine concerns do exist about the decline in wild fish numbers and the reasons behind that decline. The Scottish Conservatives will continue to speak up about these issues whilst also supporting the sustainable growth of our aquaculture producers.’

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