The Herald coverage of the SGA Fishing Group aquaculture response (you can read the full article using the link below)
The group made the case for better regulation of aquaculture in Scotland and penalties for fish farm escapes which threaten the genetic integrity of declining wild salmon populations. The group pointed to the findings of 2 Holyrood reviews which rejected the status quo and examples of regulatory measures in other countries such as Norway which lead to better outcomes for wild salmon.
The response led to headlines in titles such as The Herald https://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/19651814.fish-farmers-should-face-penalties-even-criminal-charges-mass-escapes/ and Oban Times https://www.obantimes.co.uk/2021/10/30/penalties-needed-for-fish-farm-escapes-ghillies-tell-holyrood-review/ amongst others.
You can read the response, in its entirety, below. If you are a ghillie in Scotland and want to increase the voice of the profession, you can join the SGA Fishing Group by contacting the SGA office on 01738 587 515 or mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The Group is looking to expand further and increase its sphere of influence at this critical time for salmon conservation and the health of our rivers.
The SGA has membership options for fishing ghillies from £40 per year, with many benefits included. You can discuss these with the staff or visit:
You can also join Online by visiting our Safeshop:
Please note that our comments in response to the review are limited to issues pertaining to farming of Salmon (Salmo salar) and the trout species (Salmo trutta and Oncorhynchus mykiss). This activity has the greatest relevance to our members and is the one where we feel we can most usefully contribute our knowledge and experience. Any reference in this response to ‘aquaculture’ should be interpreted solely as referring to the farming of S salar, S trutta and O mykiss unless otherwise explicitly stated. For clarity and as many of the issues are shared between the species we use the term wild salmonids when referring to wild populations of S salar and wild populations of the anadromous form of S trutta.
The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association Fishing Group (SGA Fishing Group)
The SGA Fishing Group is a standalone fishing arm of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association. It represents ghillies, boatmen, fishing guides, bailiffs and related river working professions.
Aquaculture in Scotland - on overview of the SGA Fishing Group position
As well as having intrinsic, cultural and historical value viable populations of wild salmonids are essential to our members’ livelihoods. However, the broader economic viability of Scotland’s remote rural communities is also a matter of concern to our members, many of whom live in remote rural Scotland. For these reasons the SGA Fishing Group wishes to see a regulatory framework developed for aquaculture in Scotland which allows the aquaculture industry to continue to support the remote rural economy while protecting the wider environment and particularly wild fish from harm. It is our view that the current regulatory framework fails to strike this balance appropriately and that this failure has been instrumental in allowing events to occur and conditions to be created which have had significant negative effects on wild fish and thereby on the livelihoods of our members.
It should be noted that wild Salmonind populations in Scotland have been in a sustained fall since the 1970s. The reasons for this are varied and complex and include increased predation, commercial exploitation and climate change. However there is now very broad agreement that salmon farming is also an important factor driving migratory salmonid declines.
The SGA Fishing Group would like to see significant changes to the current system of aquaculture in Scotland. We would like to see the closure of existing ‘problem’ sites, the relocation of fish farms away from the migratory routes of wild fish, the use of triploid fish in fish farms and a sanctions regime for escapes which acts as an effective deterrent. In the longer term we would like to see all salmon farming brought on land.
We understand that the aim of the Griggs’ review is to look at the structure of and processes for developing regulation of Aquaculture in Scotland rather than the content of those regulations per se. We would contend that it is a feature of effective regulation that interested parties are able to lobby for the changes they seek, the current system of regulation does not allow the SGA Fishing Group to lobby effectively for the changes above.
2 - Why the sector needs regulation in the first place;
There are multiple issues raised concerning the ethics and sustainability of aquaculture in Scotland, most of these are not relevant considerations for the SGA Fishing Group and we are neutral on the need for regulation on these matters. However, even if all of these other issues were absent, the serious problems arising from interactions between farmed fish and wild salmonids would justify a strong system of regulation.
We note that there are methods other than regulation by which the government can affect the behaviour of organisations, the forestry industry for instance is shaped by grant schemes as much as regulation and agriculture by a combination of subsidy and regulation. However, in our view, the absence of other effective levers combined with the severity of the issues affecting aquaculture necessitate the use of regulation.
CONTEXT NOTE 1 - Sea Lice and Salmonids
Sea lice are naturally occurring ectoparasites of fish belonging to the Caligidae family of copepods, in the context of salmonids in Scotland the principal species is Lepeophtheirus salmonis. Salmonids are able to tolerate a limited number of these parasites, however at high densities they can stress or even kill fish due to skin and mucus damage which prevents proper osmoregulation. The very high densities of salmonids found in open cage fish farming can promote the growth of extremely high levels of sea lice. These can both impact the welfare of farmed fish and can infect wild fish, impacting their welfare or even as illustrated in case study one, killing them. Adult fish have a much higher tolerance for sea lice than younger fish and ‘smolt’ stage fish which are leaving freshwater and running to sea are particularly vulnerable to sea lice attacks. As illustrated in Scientific study 1 there is a strong correlation between proximity to open cage salmon farms and sea lice densities on wild salmonids. Disease pressures including sea lice have been identified as one of the ‘High level threats to salmon’ by the Scottish Government
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT REPORT 1
A Research and Evidence publication by the Scottish Government entitled ‘Impacts of lice from fish farms on wild Scottish sea trout and salmon: summary of science’ published in March 2021 concluded that “The body of scientific information indicates that there is a risk that sea lice from aquaculture facilities negatively affect populations of salmon and sea trout on the west coast of Scotland.”
CASE STUDY 1- Loch Roag and the Blackwater River September 2018
In September 2018 the activist and angler Corrin Smith filmed fish with extremely high levels of sea lice damage in cages operated by the Scottish Salmon Company in Loch Roag off the west coast of Lewis. A few days later anglers observed a large number of wild salmon with extremely high levels of lice damage in the sea pools of the Blackwater river which flows into Loch Roag. While we are not aware of any formal investigative conclusion linking these events, their proximity in space and time is strongly suggestive of a connection.
SCIENTIFIC STUDY 1
Relationship between sea lice levels on sea trout and fish farm activity in western Scotland, Middlemiss et al 2013
This study examined the relationship between aquaculture and sea lice numbers on wild Sea Trout (Salmo trutta) on the west coast of Scotland it found that “The proportion of sea trout with louse burdens above a critical level was positively related to the fork length of the sea trout and the mean weight of salmon on the nearest fish farm, and negatively related to the distance to that farm.” In summary, the closer a sea trout was to a salmon farm and the more fish in that farm the more likely that sea trout was to exceed the number of sea lice which it could support without significant negative impacts on its health.
While case study one was an exceptional event in terms of its severity and the relatively short time span over which it took place it is far from unique and there is clear and direct evidence of the links between both individual fish farms and individual salmonid population declines and more generally the development of fish farms and wild salmonid population declines.These links are supported by a wealth of scientific studies, while we have chosen to highlight scientific study one, multiple independent scientific studies confirm the temporal and spatial connections between critical sea lice infections of wild salmonids and fish farming. Even if there were not other concerns over fish farming this matter alone would warrant regulation.
CONTEXT NOTE 2
While there are significant morphological differences between farmed salmon and wild salmon they are the same species and are capable of producing fertile hybrid offspring. The process of genetic transfer from domesticated to wild populations is referred to as ‘introgression’. The individual salmon populations of various rivers have undergone millenia of selection in order to best fit their specific river and saltwater environments. Introgression is a widely reported and significant threat to the genetic integrity of wild fish populations and also features as one of the Scottish Government’s high level threats to Salmon
CASE STUDY 2
On the 20th of August 2020 during storm Ellen the moorings of a cage in the Mowi operated Carradale Fish farm in the Firth of Clyde failed. This resulted in the escape of 48,834 adult fish. Reports of escaped type fish caught by anglers were verified by Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS) and Marine Scotland (MS) using scale samples. The presence of escaped fish was established by this method in rivers extending from the River Ruell in the Cowal Peninsula to the North to the River Eden in Lancashire to the South and in areas as distant from the sea as the river Kelvin. It is worth noting that the mouths of the rivers Lune and Ruell are 195 miles apart and that an unconfirmed report was received from the river Naver - suggesting the possibility of a far wider spread of escaped fish.
SCIENTIFIC STUDY 2
Gene flow from domesticated escapes alters the life history of wild Atlantic salmon Bolstad et al 2017. This study examined the effect of introgression on wild salmon in Norwegian rivers. Summarising its findings the authors said it showed “widespread changes to life-history traits in wild animal populations following gene flow from selectively bred, domesticated conspecifics” adding that, “The continued high abundance of escaped, domesticated Atlantic salmon thus threatens wild Atlantic salmon populations by inducing genetic changes in fitness-related traits.”
As with case study one and scientific study one, case study two and scientific study two are selected examples from many more cases. The issue of genetic introgression arising from escapes is viewed as the single most important threat to Norwegian salmon and it has a significant negative effect on the fitness of Scottish salmon. As with sea lice, even if the salmon production industry had no other problems associated with it, genetic introgression alone would justify regulation of this industry. We would also point out that the problem of introgression can easily be resolved by the use of triploid fish in fish farms.
Without underestimating the severity of the other issues associated with aquaculture in Scotland there are two principle grounds which the SGA Fishing Group regard as meriting regulation of the sector.
We note that in its good practice guidance; ‘Principles of effective regulation’ the National Audit Office identifies the scale of regulatory models shown below as figure one
We have considered where on this scale the regulation of aquaculture should be placed and would argue strongly that ‘Command and Control’ regulation backed with suitable penalties is appropriate - this would require legislation.
We believe that the problems associated with aquaculture in Scotland are so severe that it is necessary for the Scottish Parliament to consider creating not just regulatory penalties but also criminal offences. Had an offence existed of ‘deliberately or recklessly allowing the escape of farmed fish in a manner which causes harm to wild fish’ or of ‘deliberately or recklessly causing harm to wild fish as a result of an aquaculture operation’ not only would the operators of the farms described in case studies one and two have had a powerful disincentive to allowing those situations to develop but they would subsequently have been rigorously investigated. Nothing above should be taken as an indication that we believe the actions of the companies above were deliberate or reckless, we are merely saying that the existence of an offence would have acted both as a disincentive to allowing those situations to arise and would have facilitated investigation.
Regardless of the need to create offences we believe that an approach to regulation based on legislation would be desirable. The harms arising from aquaculture are very serious and merit proper consideration. The current system of regulation has developed piecemeal and in a manner which is not responsive to overarching Scottish government policy objectives, public opinion or the needs of groups such as our members. The process of framing, introducing, interrogating and adopting legislation would provide an opportunity for all appropriate parties to have an input and for the issues concerning aquaculture to be understood and debated more widely.
We note that a recent Canadian Government review described the Scottish system of regulation as “Slow and cumbersome” and it is our broad view that the system of aquaculture regulation in Scotland is fundamentally unfit for purpose due to a combination of issues including, but not limited to.
The examples below are indicative and are not intended as a comprehensive list of the failures of aquaculture regulation in Scotland.
REGULATORY FAILURE EXAMPLE 1
The Allocation of Powers to bodies which lack the competence and resources to operate those powers - Planning authorities and environmental management plans
Under the current consenting regime for fish farms in Scotland planning authorities have an important role in that a fish farm will require planning consent (along with other consents) for its construction. Planning authorities in common with all other public bodies are required under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004) (the 2004 act) to protect biodiversity. Given the well known threat to wild salmonids from fish farms planning authorities have sought to discharge their responsibilities under the 2004 act by including Environmental management plans as a planning condition. These plans are intended to limit the damage arising from sea lice and to put in place systems to ensure lice numbers do not become unsustainable. However planning authorities themselves concede that these are a poor tool for controlling sea lice and protecting wild salmonids. Argyll and Bute council said in its written response to the REC committee “Given those sea lice are an environment wide issue presenting cumulative impact considerations, their consequences are not best addressed by individual planning applications, which present themselves on an ad hoc basis. The issue of sea lice requires an area wide water body response which cannot be delivered by EMP’s associated with individual applications”. In the same response Argyll and Bute council accepted that it did not have the competence or resources to enforce these plans, “It is fair to say that in terms of technical knowledge and scientific expertise neither officers, nor councillors are best placed to address wild fish issues. This brings into question, in the original division of regulatory responsibilities, whether wild fish interactions ought to have been a material planning consideration, or whether they would have been better served by regulators with access to the necessary expertise and the opportunity to monitor production activities on site.”
REGULATORY FAILURE EXAMPLE 2
Failure to consistently apply the precautionary principle
The precautionary principle is stated in a variety of ways by different authors, however among the most widely cited is the formulation that “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.” However it is stated the precautionary principle is widely viewed as a vital element of environmental regulation. Despite this it is absent from at least one key element of the aquaculture consenting process, the Environmental management plans mentioned above. The following text taken from an EMP is illustrative “shall identify and deploy outcome-focussed farm management measures designed to remedy impacts on wild salmonid populations caused by farming activity, if evidenced through the Wild Fisheries Sea Lice Monitoring Strategy in the previous Production Cycle.” This relies on the prior detection of impacts before action is taken and as such it is a direct inversion of the precautionary principle. It is also absurd, as it assumes that in the highly complex and dynamic marine environment the situation which arose in previous years is an effective guide to the situation which will arise in that year or in future years.
REGULATORY FAILURE EXAMPLE 3
Failure to develop a proper system of penalties
As outlined above in case studies one and two, failures by salmon farms can have severe environmental consequences. However in neither of these cases was any penalty applied to the farm operators. It is an extraordinary state of affairs that the operations of fish farms can lead to shocking losses of wild fish and to potentially irreversible genetic pollution and no penalty is available to disincentive repetition. We note that this fact was highlighted in the report of the salmon interactions working group which recommended that
“2.7 Appropriate fines, proportionate to the incident and scale of the escape, should apply to escapes of fish;
2.8 Where direct costs or nuisance resulting from an escape of farmed fish can be demonstrated there should be a legal requirement on the farm operator to fully compensate those costs;
2.9 Enforcement sanctions relating to sea lice and escapes, including the use of fixed and variable monetary penalties, should have a mechanism to allow monies to be invested into wild salmonid conservation work.”
REGULATORY FAILURE EXAMPLE 4
Failure to address gaps in regulation
There is a significant gap in the regulation of aquaculture in Scotland around the effects of sea lice originating from aquaculture establishments on wild salmonids. This matter, despite being one of the most significant effects of aquaculture on wild salmonids is not effectively regulated. Regulation of this matter is not owned by SEPA who regard sea lice, even at elevated levels, as not falling under their responsibility to control pollution, nor is it owned by Marine Scotland whose responsibility extends only to the farmed fish. In theory this is covered by the EMPs, however as outlined above there are serious problems with this approach which make it largely ineffective. Even if EMPs could be made effective, which we do not believe, they still provide no control over farms which were developed before that system was introduced.
REGULATORY FAILURE EXAMPLE 5
Failure to coordinate diverse regulatory inputs
The recent review of aquaculture consenting documented the various regulatory inputs at the consenting phase of an aquaculture development. The parties with inputs include; planning authorities, SEPA, Marine Scotland and Marine Scotland Science. Due to its control over seabed leases the Crown estate also has a ‘psuedo-regulatory’ function in as much as it is able to prevent farm developments by refusing leases. Each of these regulators have a range of statutory and non-statutory consultees, including at times the other regulators. Some of the consulted bodies, particularly members of the public, community councils and district salmon fisheries boards are consulted far more often than is reasonable as many of these individuals and bodies do not have the capacity to make multiple responses to consultations.
Multiple regulatory inputs is a common situation in even the best regulated industries. As figure two shows the Gambling industry is an example of an industry which has multiple regulators.
However, unlike aquaculture, gambling has an overall industry regulator; the gambling commission. Describing its mission the commission says that “We regulate most types of gambling in Great Britain, including The National Lottery in the UK. We also license the individuals and businesses that offer gambling and provide them with advice and guidance.” The existence of a coordinating regulator with strategic overview of the industry has allowed the commission to develop various initiatives to protect consumers and reduce the harms form gambling It is notable that there is no body which can say “we regulate aquaculture in Scotland”.
The SGA Fishing Group would reiterate at this point that it wishes to see a continuation of the valuable contribution of Aquaculture to the economy of remote rural Scotland. A poorly structured regulatory system is not just ineffective at protecting wild salmonids, it is also a brake on the flourishing of a sustainable version of this industry.
The crucial failing of aquaculture regulation in Scotland is the absence of a regulator able to coordinate the regulatory inputs, streamline the process and take a strategic approach to aquaculture regulation. This regulatory function could be assigned to an existing agency which was equipped, by legislation, with necessary powers or to a newly created regulator.
We note that the report of the Salmon interactions working group recommended that, “A single lead body (with appropriate competence and capacity) should be assigned responsibility for regulating wild and farmed fish interactions and given appropriate powers for monitoring and enforcement” and that furthermore the aquaculture consenting review recommends consideration of a ‘one stop shop’ for aquaculture consenting. If these are added simply as additional regulatory inputs they are likely to further confuse the picture and to make the strategic overview of regulation more difficult. Instead we believe they should become part of the activities of an ‘aquaculture regulator’.
If the idea of developing a single overarching regulator is not taken forward the current regulatory gaps noted above should be closed as a matter of urgency. It is simply unacceptable that wild salmonid interactions are not currently properly regulated by a competent body. This body should be given all necessary powers and should be able to levy fines and other penalties where escapes occur or where disease from farmed fish affects wild fish.
The precautionary principle must be embedded at all levels of regulation of aquaculture in Scotland. Approaches which use ‘what happened last year’ to make changes for this year are outdated and unacceptable.
The UK has a number of effective overarching regulators, these include the gambling commission mentioned above, the food standards agency and the health and safety executive all have clear and well defined regulating roles.
We note that in Norway aquaculture is legislatively regulated by the The Aquaculture Act (2005) and is the responsibility of The Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs (the Ministry). The regional office of the Directorate of Fisheries (an executive agency of the The Ministry) acts as the coordinating regulator for aquaculture regulations. After receiving an application the Regional office seeks inputs from the Food Safety Authority, the County Governor, the National Coastal Administration and the Water Resources and Energy Directorate. Based on requirements set out in legislation and the permissions from consultees the directorate can then issue licences or decline them. This is an admirably clear licence application system and one which contrasts markedly with the Scottish system. On an ongoing basis the directorate and the Norwegian food safety authority have a responsibility for ensuring standards are maintained in aquaculture establishments.
Of particular interest to the SGA Fishing Group is the traffic light system for sea lice densities. The system was described by Oluasson 2018, “the idea is that the key to growth is the sea lice pressure. This means that the sea lice effect on wild salmon mortality will be the indicator with respect to production growth. In areas where sea lice cause wild salmon smolt mortality less than 10%, a green light for increasing production by 6% will be given. A yellow light will be given in the case where sea lice induced mortality is between 10 and 30%. A yellow light means that the growth is on hold, i.e., constant production. If an area gets a red light, the sea lice induced mortality is higher than 30%, and production should be reduced.”
While Norway has a clearer and better structured regulatory system for aquaculture than Scotland it should be noted that significant harms to wild fish continue to arise from aquaculture in Norway. It is the view of the SGA Fishing Group that while better regulation may be able to reduce such harms only the use of land based, closed containment systems can eradicate them and bring about a truly sustainable model of aquaculture in Scotland.
Escape events from Scottish Salmon/trout farms 01/01/16 - 01/01/21 where number of Atlantic Salmon escaped >0
|Escape ID||Escape start date||Species||Number of fish escaped||Site id||Site Name||Operator|
|2000519||20/08/2020||Atlantic Salmon||48834||FS1176||Eilean Grianain||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000507||17/01/2020||Atlantic Salmon||73,684||FS1296||Colonsay||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000505||14/01/2020||Atlantic Salmon||13,952||FS0839||Geasgill||The Scottish Salmon Company|
|2000498||10/10/2019||Atlantic Salmon||23970||FS1261||Hellisay||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000491||22/05/2019||Atlantic Salmon||500||FS0881||Uig||Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd|
|2000489||25/04/2019||Atlantic Salmon||4465||FS0737||Loch Huamavat||The Scottish Salmon Company|
|2000485||09/01/2019||Atlantic Salmon||Est - 4000||FS1287||Corlarach||Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd|
|2000481||12/11/2018||Atlantic Salmon||24,752||FS1261||Hellisay||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000472||03/05/2018||Atlantic Salmon||200||FS0800||Leinish||Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd|
|2000469||11/02/2018||Atlantic Salmon||21,712||FS1309||Loch Snizort East||Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd|
|2000468||04/02/2018||Atlantic Salmon||12||FS0502||Scotasay||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000467||01/02/2018||Rainbow Trout||5400||FS0260||Braevallich Farm||Dawnfresh Farming Ltd|
|2000466||17/01/2018||Atlantic Salmon||>500 <1050||FS0948||Score Holms||Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd|
|2000463||23/11/2017||Atlantic Salmon||1558||FS0016||Loch Alsh (Sron)||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000462||01/11/2017||Atlantic Salmon||6||FS0212||Invasion Bay||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000457||29/08/2017||Atlantic Salmon||163||FS0146||Kinlochmoidart Hatchery||The Scottish Salmon Company|
|2000456||15/08/2017||Atlantic Salmon||11040||FS0839||Geasgill||The Scottish Salmon Company|
|2000455||01/07/2017||Atlantic Salmon||4||FS0605||Creag an T'Sagairt (Loch Hourn)||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000452||25/03/2017||Atlantic Salmon||17398||FS0964||Bloody Bay||Scottish Sea Farms Ltd|
|2000449||15/12/2016||Atlantic Salmon||617||FS1027||Linga (Setterness)||Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd|
|2000450||12/11/2016||Atlantic Salmon||50||FS1122||Grey Horse Channel||Mowi Scotland Ltd|
|2000440||18/05/2016||Atlantic Salmon||829||FS1076||Setterness North (Bomlo)||Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd|