Fish farms
FISH FARMS: Government to 'streamline' planning procedures

INCREASING tension between Scottish wild salmon interests, and the Government and multi-million pound aquaculture industry, is becoming more apparent in the wake of last week’s Loch Lochy smolt escape.

The Government has since claimed that the salmon farming industry and wild fish interests are cooperating to take a “huge step  forward” in containment and make “significant progress”  in tackling disease and sea-lice.

The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB), guardian of wild fish interests in Scotland, whose chief executive, Andrew Wallace, last week called for major retailers like Tesco to act against ‘incompetent’ salmon producers responsible for accidental releases of farmed fish, takes a quite different view.

Asked this week by Between The Lines about the effectiveness of the Tripartite Working Group (TWG), set up 1999 to try to bring about better relations between the salmon farming industry on the one hand, and anglers, conservationists and wild fisheries interests on the other, a spokesman for the Scottish Government, which chairs the body, said yesterday:

“The Tripartite Working Group is just one element of the framework which governs wild and farmed fish interactions in Scotland.  A Fresh Start: The Renewed Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture, led to the establishment of six working groups in 2009, each tasked to develop the aquaculture sector in a specific area.

“Two of those groups should be of particular interest to the wild fisheries sector: the Containment Working Group, and the Healthier Fish Working Group. Wild fisheries interests are represented on both of these working groups, which are making strides forward in a spirit of cooperation.

“The Containment Working Group has agreed that a technical standard for Scottish fish farms should be developed over the course of the next year in order to minimise escapes of farmed salmon.  This will represent a huge step forward for the industry in Scotland and will bolster significantly the existing statutory requirements.

“The Healthier Fish Working Group is working on proposals to develop a stronger picture of sea-lice resistance to therapeutants across the country, and to ensure synchronous treatments and fallowing within appropriate scale management areas – which taken together will represent significant progress in efforts to tackle sea-lice and disease.”

The replies came as the Government announced new proposals to streamline and improve efficiency of the planning process for aquaculture developments in Scotland where the industry is worth £367 million and supports thousands of jobs.

“The Scottish Government wants to see Scotland’s aquaculture industry go from strength to strength, these changes will allow this to happen in a sustainable way,” said environment minister Roseanna Cunningham.

However, the response to the Government’s statement from the ASFB today was tight-lipped to say the least. It said it “takes a far less optimistic view of the TWG process and its ability to deliver any meaningful solutions to the continuing problems of and impact of both escapes and sea lice than that promoted by Scottish Government.”

The ASFB declined to expand on its comment but it was apparent from this week’s annual conference of the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) in Perth that the Association’s views are not likely to have left too many doubts in the minds of Government officials and politicians about the fears of wild salmon interest groups over the aquaculture industry’s plans for progressive expansion of 3.5% per year for the next five years.

And the “streamlining” of planning procedures to make that easier to happen.

Verbal skirmishing now looks set to escalate into serious close-quarter combat in private meetings over the ensuing weeks as the influential owners and custodians of Scotland’s prime salmon fisheries square up to the Government and multinational salmon farmers.