Salmon farming expansion plans could cause “irrecoverable” environmental damage

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By Milthon Lujan

By: Clare Fischer
A damning report from the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee has concluded that expansion of salmon farming may cause ‘irrecoverable’environmental damage.

The cross-party Committee said it is “deeply concerned” about potential harm to local ecosystems by the salmon farming industry , which is part of the £1.8 billion-a-year aquaculture industry.

MCS Aquaculture Programme Manager, Dawn Purchase, who provided written evidence to the ECCLR Committee and contributed to the preparation of oral evidence given by Scottish Environment LINK, says what is most alarming about the report is that it found the same set of concerns that were identified at the last review in 2002, yet now at a larger scale due to expansion: “This is very worrying, particularly as the industry plans to expand further to 300,000 – 400,000 tonnes by 2030. Current production is around 170,000 tonnes.”

The report found that mortalities in the industry are still unacceptably high; environmental capacity to support salmon farming is unknown; precautionary principle not applied; environmental impacts not fully understood and knowledge and data gaps persist. In conclusion the Committee said that to expand the industry given these findings will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage to the environment.

“MCS wholeheartedly agrees with the committee’s conclusion that further expansion must be on an environmental sustainable basis and ‘the status quo is not an option,’” says Dawn Purchase.

“MCS wholeheartedly agrees with the committee’s conclusion that further expansion must be on an environmental sustainable basis and ‘the status quo is not an option,’” says Dawn Purchase.

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A total of 12 conclusions were included in the committee’s report, which is being passed to the parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee. Among them it recommends the industry should fund independent research, and that any expansion is based on resolving environmental problems.

The committee was also not convinced that seals near fish farms are being shot only as a last resort. This has lead to concerns that exports may fall foul of the US marine mammal protection act, which prohibits the intentional killing or serious injury of marine mammals in all fisheries.

Committee convenor Graeme Dey said there are concerns over how the industry’s “ambitious expansion targets” to double production over the next 10-15 years can be achieved in an environmentally sustainable way.

“The sector continues to grow and expand with little meaningful thought given to the impact this will have on the environment,” he said.

“In the committee’s view, if the current environmental impact issues are not addressed, the expansion will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage.

Plans unveiled by a working group including trade leaders aim to produce 350,000 tonnes of salmon for consumption by 2030, helping to push the value of fin and shellfish production to £3.6bn.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said it is “determined to address any challenges to the sector” and said the industry continues to invest heavily in innovation and research.

Dawn Purchase says she’s eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee enquiry which will be informed by this initial report: “MCS will once again be providing evidence to highlight the environmental concerns we have with Scottish salmon farming. We believe that all expansion plans should be halted until these critical environmental issues can be fully understood and resolved.”

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Source: Marine Conservation Society (MCS) 

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