SALMON farming injected more than £500 million into the Scottish economy in 2008 with over £84 million worth of capital investment during the last three years, according to an aquaculture industry research report published today.

The study, which aims to underline the value of the salmon farming industry to rural economies, comes amid growing animosity between fish farmers and the wild salmon lobby over claims that wild strains of fish are being put at risk by the location of sea cages near in or near recognised salmon lochs and estuaries.

Wild fish interests say accidental escapes from sea cages and the incidence of sea lice infestation among farm colonies, pose serious threats to the numbers of migrating salmon and sea trout.

Scott Landsburgh, ceo SSPO
Scott Landsburgh, SSPO

The research study was based on a confidential survey of 13 fish farming companies this autumn and according to Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), it shows a 55% increase in direct value to local communities from salmon farming during the last four years.

He said: “The sector is enjoying an upward trend and confidence is high.” Scotland continues to be the EU’s largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon generating more than 144,000 tonnes last year. The report shows SSPO members employed 1813 staff directly, up by 14.85% on the previous year.

Nearly 90% were full-time posts, but 12% were held by non-UK citizens. Almost half were located in Highland Region and Argyll and Bute.

More than three-quarters of the companies surveyed said they planned to increase staff during the next five years in line with increased business expansion.

Dr Lesley Sawers, SCDI
Dr Lesley Sawers, SCDI

Writing in the report, Dr Lesley Sawyers, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry said: “The salmon sector will be vital to economic resilience in remote areas. Four-fifth of companies plan to increase staff over the next five years. Growth in gross pay of over 50% in the last four years underlines its potential to stimulate demand through local economies.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has been accused of “bullying indignation” in its response to the Isle of Man decision to ban large dredging vessels from its inshore waters. COAST, the Arran-based marine conservation group in its latest newsletter, says:

“To attack another jurisdiction’s enviably forward-thinking conservation measure is both tragic and a public relations disaster. The scallop war indicates the Isle of Man is 20 years ahead in the sustainable management of its marine resource. And meanwhile, the reputation of Scottish political and industry representatives took an inter-agency, indeed international, nose-dive that will take a great deal of work to restore. Clyde scallop management is about damage limitation in more ways than one.

“Both our immediate and European neighbours are often told how the Scottish fishing fleet leads the way in conservation measures, but the knee-jerk attack on the Isle of Man puts this in context. It exposes a status quo where little has changed since the days of SEERAD, as sustainability measures are still ignored in favour of the short-term extraction of a resource.”