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A Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture

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A Strategic Framework for Scottish Aquaculture

Part Two The context

Background

2.1 Commercial aquaculture began in Scotland in the 1970s, although research and small-scale fish and shellfish production had by then been under way for some years. Since the 1970s, the industry has developed into a major employer in rural Scotland, with just under 2,000 direct jobs and between 4,000 and 5,000 in the supporting sectors. Around 75% of these jobs are in the Highlands and Islands. The industry, which includes a significant, and growing, organic sector, generates annually more than 500m of turnover at "farm gate" and through secondary processing, and now accounts for around 50% by value of all Scottish food exports. Production in 2001 was some 139,000 tonnes of salmon, almost 5,500 tonnes of rainbow trout, and 3,000 tonnes of cultivated shellfish. Techniques to farm alternative species such as halibut and cod are now reaching commercial fruition and the industry is keen to diversify. While much of its production arises from activities in marine waters, the trout sector and early stages of salmon rearing rely on Scotland's high quality freshwater resources.

2.2 For some time, however, there has been increasing disquiet in some quarters about aspects of the finfish industry's operations. Environmental concern has focused on the impact on wild salmon and sea trout stocks, on the seabed below finfish farms and on the wider marine ecosystem. In 2001-02 the Transport and the Environment Committee of the Scottish Parliament conducted a rolling inquiry into aquaculture (4).

Policy developments and other initiatives

2.3 Recent initiatives involving the Scottish Executive and other key stakeholders have been designed to improve working relationships, regulation and industry practices.

2.4 The Executive-chaired Tripartite Working Group (TWG), whose membership is drawn from the Scottish Executive, the fish farming industry and wild fishery interests, seeks to ensure through Area Management Groups (AMGs) and Area Management Agreements (AMAs) the maintenance of healthy wild salmon and sea trout stocks alongside a sustainable aquaculture industry.

2.5 The Executive's 2001 review of aquaculture regulation was designed to produce a more streamlined and transparent regulatory process. Its key proposals, now being implemented, included enhancement of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency's (SEPA) statutory powers, streamlined application processes, measures to improve control of sea lice and further work to determine the carrying capacity of coastal waters.

2.6 The Aquaculture Health Joint Working Group (AHJWG) was created to improve the general health, welfare and management of farmed fish. The Code of Practice to Avoid and Minimise the Impact of ISA, introduced in August 2000 (5), informs development decisions by regulators and industry.

2.7 A Containment Code of Practice, aimed at reducing escapes of farmed fish, was introduced in November 2000 (6). In the Spring of 2002 notification of escapes and suspected escapes became mandatory.

2.8 The Aquaculture Forum, established by the Highlands and Islands Convention, informs the development of future planning arrangements, in particular at local authority level.

2.9 The Water Environment and Water Services Bill completed its passage through the Scottish Parliament early in 2003. In due course it will bring marine fish farms out to the three-mile limit within the scope of the Town and Country Planning legislation.

2.10 Meanwhile, revised Locational Guidelines for the Authorisation of Marine Fish Farms in Scottish Waters were published in January 2003 (7). These offer advice, consistent with a precautionary approach, to planning authorities on potential farm locations.

2.11 The Scottish Executive, other public sector bodies and the aquaculture industry are all committed to improving scientific understanding of the issues surrounding aquaculture. The Executive commissions a programme of research and development on animal health and the environmental impacts of aquaculture. Fisheries Research Services (FRS) are responsible for carrying out statutory fish and shellfish health inspections and disease control.

2.12 The Scottish Executive is working with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Welsh Assembly to produce a GB-wide strategy in the Summer of 2003 to promote the health and welfare of animals kept by man. Within this, Scottish-specific delivery arrangements will be developed and Scottish stakeholders fully involved. The strategy will support the commercial viability of the aquaculture sector and the health and welfare status of its stock.

2.13 Within the European Community, aquaculture, which is regarded as an increasingly important industry, is covered by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The UK is the largest aquaculture producer in the European Community, growing 30% by volume of the Community's total production, and the Scottish aquaculture industry represents 90% by value of all UK aquaculture. Under the current review of the CFP, the Commission proposes a strategy for aquaculture (8) designed to assure the availability of healthy products to the consumer, promote an environmentally sound industry and create employment in fishing-dependent areas. (See Appendix 7.)

2.14 Individual agencies have developed policies and procedures to guide their respective regulatory and advisory duties. These include the development of policy on Natura 2000 sites, which require special assessment and protection to ensure that the integrity of their specified conservation interest is not compromised.

2.15 The management of aquaculture must take account of the EC Habitats and Birds Directives (9, 10), particularly the listing of wild salmon and of freshwater mussels (which rely on salmonids for the distribution of their larvae) as Species of Community Interest, and of particular marine habitats, under the Habitats Directive.

2.16 The UK is committed to a range of international agreements which guide management action. These include the OSPAR Convention (11), which seeks to prevent and eliminate pollution and to take measures necessary to protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities, to safeguard human health, conserve marine ecosystems and, when practicable, restore marine areas which have been adversely affected. They also include a number of commitments under the NASCO Convention (12) to minimise the impacts of salmon aquaculture on wild salmon stocks.

2.17 The Government published its first Marine Stewardship Report, Safeguarding Our Seas: A Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of our Marine Environment, in May 2002. This provides a vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. Its underlying principles will guide future decision-making in Scotland on activities impacting on the marine environment, including aquaculture. They are: sustainable development; integrated management; conservation of biological diversity; robust science; the precautionary principle; and stakeholder involvement. Delivery of the vision requires the adoption of an ecosystem approach to manage our use of natural resources sustainably and strategically and to maintain the health of ecosystems.

2.18 The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has developed a consenting approach under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, including the application of novel modelling techniques, to set limits on the discharge of wastes from finfish farms to natural waters, ensuring that safe environmental standards are not exceeded. This site-specific regulatory approach is the first of its kind among the fish farming nations and SEPA's procedures manual, available to the public, sets out clearly how it is applied. SEPA will review methods and standards as new information becomes available, ensuring its regulatory approach is underpinned by sound scientific principles.

2.19 SEPA is to launch a comprehensive online pollution inventory in 2005. Consultation on its format and scope started early in 2003.

2.20 In January 2001, the Scottish Executive published Smart, Successful Scotland (13). This outlines the Executive's enterprise strategy, underlining the role of the Enterprise Networks (Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise). It highlights priority areas in which Scotland must succeed if it is to achieve sustainable long-term economic growth, and groups them under the following strategic themes:

  • growing businesses: supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, assisting new companies to get started and existing companies to develop further;

  • global connections: encouraging Scottish companies to increase their involvement in global markets; and

  • skills and learning: ensuring business has access to the skills and expertise it needs to be competitive.

Smart, Successful Scotland is a comprehensive strategy, aimed at every region and every sector of the economy. Food production and advanced food processing are highly technical businesses and the production of cultivated fish products is exactly the type of high-tech industry that Smart, Successful Scotland seeks to promote. Highlands and Islands Enterprise's strategy: Smart, Successful Scotland, the Highlands & Islands Dimension (www.hie.co.uk) combines the three strategic themes of Smart, Successful Scotland with a Strengthening Communities theme, recognising the integrated nature of economic and social development in a rural environment, and particularly in more remote and fragile areas.

National Healthy Eating Campaign: Healthy Living

2.21 At the beginning of 2003, the Executive launched a major healthy eating campaign (the first part of its Healthy Living campaign) to increase consumer demand for healthier foods such as fish products by inspiring the nation to respond to a call to action. Targeted at a primary audience of Scottish adults to age 75 across the social spectrum, the campaign delivers important, basic, healthy eating messages, while directing people to a new telephone adviceline and website where they can get practical advice and information. The food industry, including aquaculture, is positioning itself to promote and respond to increased consumer demand for healthier eating options.

The issues

2.22 In the preparation of this document the issues confronting aquaculture which the Working Group addressed were considered under the same broad heads as the guiding principles in Part One. The inter-relationships between the industry and other stakeholders were carefully considered. On the one hand, the industry has an over-riding need to develop and grow in order to meet market expectations. It also needs to remain competitive and attract sufficient investment to deliver the long-term commitment to quality, best practice and the demonstrable level of sustainability discussed within this Strategic Framework document. On the other hand, the environment and the interests of other stakeholders must be respected and the principles of risk management must therefore be diligently applied. We concluded that some locations within Scotland's aquatic environment will justify particular precaution, although in other areas there is no major threat from the existence, or the controlled development, of aquaculture. Industry development in areas deemed sensitive should be carefully controlled until a scientific assessment has confirmed whether or not further activity can be sustained. In either situation, we agreed that industry expansion should be permitted only where the quality of operating practices can be guaranteed.

Economic issues

2.23 Our aspiration is to see Scottish aquaculture positioned nationally and internationally as a commercially competitive core industry, delivering products reputed for their quality and sustainability. The European Commission has set development targets for aquaculture in the EU, and we believe the Scottish industry can sustainably deliver its proper share of these targets, particularly in:

  • increasing employment, especially permanent and skilled employment in rural areas and remote communities;

  • increasing the value of sales throughout the supply chain;

  • increasing the volume and value of exports;

  • the encouragement of start-up companies;

  • the regular development of new primary and added-value products to meet consumer needs;

  • species diversification to provide a basket of high quality Scottish seafood products;

  • the encouragement of technology transfer; and

  • the attraction of essential inward investment.

These aspirations, which must be achieved within the parameters of this Strategic Framework document, will enable Scotland to optimise the benefits of a successful aquaculture industry.

2.24 Apart from the environmental constraints, the growth envisaged will be contingent on the industry's continuing to be responsive to the market, to retailer requirements on quality assurance and to consumer demand for healthy products which are safety-assured and which offer good value for money. Both finfish and shellfish farming (both molluscan and crustacean) will wish to continue to develop and expand their product ranges to meet the many different market opportunities and consumer needs. The whole industry will need to be able to do this competitively in a fast-moving global market which is heavily influenced by low-cost commodity producers. Additional costs imposed uniquely on Scottish producers should be avoided wherever possible. To develop further, aquaculture will need suitable additional capacity, but this will be subject to carrying capacity limits still to be determined, or management and technological advances to reduce environmental impact.

2.25 Aquaculture will need to be well-resourced. To be successful, the industry will require:

  • competitive access to adequate commercial investment;

  • a licensing regime which fosters sustainable, long-term investment;

  • government support for export promotion;

  • government readiness to intervene on matters relating to trade procedures and market stability;

  • a fish health regime which safeguards the needs of both farmed and wild fish resources;

  • a sound research and development base, to provide both long-term R&D and closer-to-market technical innovation;

  • well-qualified staff with opportunities for continuous skill development;

  • an appropriate allocation of FIFG (Financial Instrument Fisheries Guidance) or other structural funds;

  • commercially affordable insurance or alternative contingency arrangements capable of underpinning investor confidence in the context of the Government's management of fish health measures;

  • an efficient infrastructure, which is sensitive to the industry's own requirements and to the environment; and

  • a well-financed and stable processing sector.

Environmental issues

2.26 Scotland's coastal environment and waters are of exceptional quality. Scottish landscapes and wildlife are internationally renowned. They are important not only for their own sake, but also because they underpin a certain quality of life and because they are the foundation of the Scottish tourism industry. They need to be understood as a source of multiple benefits, providing livelihoods from different sources (including from aquaculture, which relies on good water to protect fish health and the reputation of its products) as well as space for wildlife and opportunities for recreation and enjoyment.

2.27 Like many other industries, aquaculture creates an environmental footprint. However, as regards impacts from organic wastes, the area of seabed affected by aquaculture is insignificant in terms of the total coastal resource (as the Review and Synthesis of the Environmental Impacts of Aquaculture (14) confirms). Finfish cage-rearing techniques in particular rely on natural processes to disperse and break down waste emissions. If appropriately managed, some impacts, such as the deposition of biodegradable organic solids on the sea bed below and close to fish cages, are usually localised and transient. But fish farms may also cause wider-scale effects: for example, from nutrient emissions (particularly in poorly flushed waters) and the risk posed by residues of medicines and other chemicals should safe limits be exceeded or unauthorised compounds used. It is therefore important to identify and protect the sensitive or critical processes and interactions between different groups of aquatic flora and fauna, setting appropriate environmental standards to guide the regulatory process. This ecosystem approach must be further developed if informed, site-specific decisions are to be taken on further expansion without exceeding the environment's capacity to assimilate wastes.

2.28 High standards of water quality are protected by European Directives such as 79/923 (15). The industry must work within the carrying capacity of the environment, defined in terms of its impact on water quality, on the fauna and flora of the water column and seabed, and on the landscape, scenery and cultural heritage, taking fully into account the cumulative impact of multiple aquaculture developments.

2.29 It must also continue to develop efficient and cost-effective ways of reducing polluting emissions per unit of production. This may involve investment in new technology such as systems to improve feed conversion and reduce wastage, and careful management of sea bed sediments to prevent unacceptable impacts. Such impacts may also be reduced through careful siting, design and husbandry. Development of polyculture techniques to intercept and recycle nutrients arising from finfish farming should be trialled to identify appropriate options for Scotland's inshore waters. Environmentally sensitive aquaculture, particularly shellfish farming, should be encouraged.

2.30 Developments of a certain type or scale may be less appropriate in areas which are valued for their wildlife or scenery, or their cultural heritage value, especially when their cumulative impact is taken into account. A small number of areas should be kept free of aquaculture, particularly those which are valued for their so-called wild land quality, both to preserve this quality and so that they may be available to act as scientific controls to assess the impact of development elsewhere.

2.31 Through appropriate planning, regulation, guidance, and the adoption of best practice and of the precautionary principle, aquaculture should be encouraged to develop in ways which can be accommodated within the overall capacity of the environment. Further expansion beyond this point cannot rely on the direct discharge of wastes and will require development of appropriate waste management methods.

2.32 The industry should utilise fish feeds which can be sourced sustainably, including from wild fisheries deemed sustainable by national or international regulatory authorities. It will also consider using unavoidable fish industry discards and waste from fish processing (while safeguarding against intra-species recycling of discards and waste to avoid the potential risks of disease spread) and new non-marine feed sources as alternative feed stocks. An assessment of feed sources should include a multinational analysis of all the above options.

Social issues

2.33 The aquaculture industry is of vital importance to many rural and remote communities where it makes a significant contribution to promoting rural employment diversity. In some communities, where there may otherwise be few job opportunities, perhaps 30% or more of the workforce will be dependent on its operation. In these areas its activities will also provide a foundation for the necessary infrastructure of community life, such as the local hall, shop, petrol station or primary school, as well as the development of new housing, all of which will serve to keep these and other services in the community. The employment opportunities it generates are often complementary to the needs of crofters and others. Smart, Successful Scotland: the Highlands & Islands Dimension recognises the inter-relationship of economic and social development in a rural environment and the importance of considering any sector, particularly in more remote areas, in the context of its impact on the wider local community and economy.

2.34 If it is to be generally acceptable in these rural and remote locations, however, the industry must enlist community support for its activities. This may involve commitment to change, to address issues where there is concern. Building better community relations means engaging in partnership initiatives and genuine consultation, with full stakeholder participation. The industry will take measures to develop understanding of its aims and will encourage scrutiny of its actions: for example, through the provision of local visitor centres, open days and other appropriate measures.

Stewardship issues

2.35 The industry relies on a healthy, unpolluted environment to optimise production and the quality and reputation of its products. As well as meeting standards set to protect the environment, it must acknowledge its responsibility for meeting appropriate standards of welfare and disease control. If they are to enjoy public confidence, these standards and the measures taken to meet them should be developed and implemented transparently, with full stakeholder participation. Transparency and demonstrable adherence to environmental standards will be further enhanced in due course by Strategic Environmental Assessments of those of the commitments encompassed by this Strategic Framework which constitute plans and programmes in terms of the SEA Directive, and a review of the standard of EIAs for individual aquaculture projects.

2.36 Marine aquaculture's operations need also to be considered in the context of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM), which will provide a framework for co-ordinated management of the coast, its environment and its use by the businesses which rely on it. A coastal strategy for Scotland is being developed within the Scottish Coastal Forum. It aims to meet the standards of the ICZM recommendation 2000/413/EC (16) and will inform and guide all who have a role in managing the coastal zone.

2.37 Integrated working on the ecological status of our coastal waters will be further assisted by the production of River Basin Management Plans and sub-Basin plans, which will extend to three nautical miles offshore, under the Water Environment and Water Services Act. SEPA and the other competent authorities must seek to operate better co-ordinated and integrated planning and regulatory systems, and to ensure the involvement of all stakeholders in local river basin advisory groups, which may have aquaculture subgroups.

2.38 The industry must develop and implement systems for encouraging best practice and continuous improvement, which should in turn be encouraged by appropriate public incentives to reward progress. Demonstrating progress will be crucial in proving that the Scottish aquaculture industry is meeting the commitments within this Strategic Framework document.