Publication - FOI/EIR release

Marine Scotland approach to publicly reporting veterinary images of farm-raised salmon: EIR release

Published: 8 Sep 2020

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004

Published:
8 Sep 2020
Marine Scotland approach to publicly reporting veterinary images of farm-raised salmon: EIR release
FOI reference: FOI/202000051814
Date received: 24 Jun 2020
Date responded: 14 Aug 2020
Information requested

Marine Scotland is a directorate of the Scottish Government. Accordingly, Marine Scotland requires to comply with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (The 2002 Act) and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs). It is my understanding that Marine Scotland has received requests made under The 2002 Act and/or the EIRs specific to organisations involved in Scotland’s aquaculture industry (Requests). In particular, Marine Scotland has received Requests seeking information relating to finfish farming (Finfish Farming Requests) and, among the Finfish Farming Requests, requests seeking information relating to finfish farming fish health programmes (Finfish Farming Fish Health Programme Requests). The volume of these requests has led Marine Scotland to make available to the public, on a quarterly basis, selected information obtained in the course of visits to finfish farms by Fish Health Inspectors (veterinary photos, for example).

I am requesting the following information under the FOI and/or the EIRs, to better assess the interest of the public which has guided your approach to publicly reporting veterinary images of farm-raised salmon. The questions relate to the period beginning on 01 January 2017 and ending on the date of this request (the Period).

1. During the Period,
(a) how many Requests have been received?
(b) how many Finfish Farming Requests have been received?
(c) how many Finfish Farming Fish Health Programme Requests have been received and dates of each request?

2. During the Period,
(a) how many separate makers of Requests have there been?
(d) how many Requests has each maker made?
(c) how many separate makers of Finfish Farming Requests have there been?
(d) how many Finfish Farming Requests has each maker made?
(e) how many separate makers of Finfish Farming Fish Health Programme Requests have there been?
(f) how many Finfish Farming Fish Health Programme Requests has each maker made?

3. What was the decision making process which led to Marine Scotland deciding that a sufficient number of Requests, seeking information in relation to finfish farming fish health programmes, had been received such that it should widen its scope of active publication of salmon taken during visits to finfish farms by Fish Health Inspectors?

4. Which individuals, committee or group within Marine Scotland took this decision?

5. When was this decision made?

6. What is the decision making process applied to the selection for publication of information, on a quarterly basis, in relation to finfish farming fish health programmes?

7. Which individuals, committee of group within Marine Scotland takes this decision?

8. What public interest/website traffic statistics does Marine Scotland record specific to the fish health images it publishes quarterly?

9. If any, please provide these statistics.

10. In relation to other aquaculture industry and other Food Sectors in Scotland,
(a) what is the Scottish Government’s approach to publicly reporting on other terrestrial and aquatic farming sectors?
(b) does the Scottish Government provide similar business-sensitive publications on a quarterly basis (veterinary photos, for example) as it does the salmon aquaculture sector?
(c) For those other aquaculture industry and other Food Sectors in Scotland where it does not, what is the justification for the different approach to public reporting between other aquaculture industry and Food sectors?

 

Response

As the information you have requested is 'environmental information' for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.

I enclose a copy of the information you have requested along with answers to your specific queries as
follows.
Answers to the following questions were requested to ‘better assess the interest of the public which has guided your [Marine Scotland’s] approach to publicly reporting veterinary images of farm-raised salmon’. The period of the request relates to the beginning on 01 January 2017 up to the date of this request (24 June 2020).
1. During the Period,
(a) how many Requests have been received?
(b) how many Finfish Farming Requests have been received?
(c) how many Finfish Farming Fish Health Programme Requests have been received and dates of each request?

2. During the Period,
(a) how many separate makers of Requests have there been?
(d) how many Requests has each maker made?
(c) how many separate makers of Finfish Farming Requests have there been?
(d) how many Finfish Farming Requests has each maker made?
(e) how many separate makers of Finfish Farming Fish Health Programme Requests have there been?
(f) how many Finfish Farming Fish Health Programme Requests has each maker made?

The attached spreadsheet, Number of Marine Scotland FOISA and EIRs requests by subject and applicant, provides the answers to questions 1 and 2 above. The spreadsheet has two tabs, Requests by applicant and topic, and Requests by subject and date. The applicants’ names are not provided but each applicant has been given a unique number in order that you can see how many requests individual applicants have made.
Please note that the internal system used to record details on FOISA and EIR requests changed on 1 February 2020 so requests made from that date on topics other than fin fish farming or fish health have not been listed by date. Requests relating to fin fish farming and fish health have been listed by date received. 

The names of the applicants are personal data and as such have been withheld under Regulation 11(2) of the EIRs.

Regulation 11(2) (personal data) applies to this information because it is personal data of a third party and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This exception is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. 

3. What was the decision making process which led to Marine Scotland deciding that a sufficient number of Requests, seeking information in relation to finfish farming fish health programmes, had been received such that it should widen its scope of active publication of salmon taken during visits to finfish farms by Fish Health Inspectors?
Marine Scotland, in common with all divisions in the Scottish Government, has a duty to actively disseminate environmental information (set out at Regulation 4 of the EIRs). This duty drives decision making, sometimes in conjunction with information being frequently requested through FOISA or the EIRs.

Active publication of information relating to the Scottish Government’s aquatic animal health surveillance programme dates back to 2013. Prior to this date, this information was only released in response to specific FoI requests. The regularity of requests for this information led us to consider our duty to actively disseminate this information as well as providing it in response to requests. A decision was taken to publish case sheets relating to our aquatic animal health programme, at a level of detail and specificity that would also satisfy those who had requested the information under freedom of information legislation. This ensured a uniform and consistent approach to the information being released, and was applied to inspections and investigations associated with activities undertaken by our Fish Health Inspectorate – FHI cases. Information is published regularly, in an orderly manner and is available to everyone online at the same time.

Photographs taken during FHI visits were not routinely published with case information until recently.
Following several requests seeking photographs and images associated with FHI cases, it was concluded that such information was required to be released under the freedom of information legislation. This was given careful consideration at the time in accordance with the legislation, stakeholder views and opinions, along with the public interest regarding release / none release. The conclusion was that this information must be released. As regular requests for this type of information were received it seemed a sensible and pragmatic approach to actively publish photographs alongside the FHI case information which provides an element of context to those images being released. This approach again meets our duty to actively disseminate environmental information and reflects Scottish Government policy which has evolved in recent years to embrace greater openness and transparency in terms of the decisions made and the business we undertake on behalf of Scotland and its people. These factors also played a part in the decision making process.

4. Which individuals, committee or group within Marine Scotland took this decision?
These decisions were taken by Scottish Government officials at appropriate levels of seniority. We do not hold records relating to this, therefore we are applying regulation 10(4)(a) (information not held) to this part of your request.

5. When was this decision made?
Active publication of photographs within FHI cases began to be made in 2019.

6. What is the decision making process applied to the selection for publication of information, on a quarterly basis, in relation to finfish farming fish health programmes?
The programme of publication changed from quarterly to monthly (one month in arrears) in 2019. This was undertaken to allow Scottish Government to release information as soon as possible as part of a pro-active publication scheme. All FHI cases are subject to publication but this only occurs once the case has been completed, reported on and closed.

7. Which individuals, committee of group within Marine Scotland takes this decision?
These decisions were taken by Scottish Government officials at appropriate levels of seniority. We do not hold records relating to this, therefore we are applying regulation 10(4)(a) (information not held) to this part of your request.

8. What public interest/website traffic statistics does Marine Scotland record specific to the fish health images it publishes quarterly?
The Scottish Government does not record or monitor this type of information. Our duty to actively disseminate environmental information applies.

9. If any, please provide these statistics.
Since we do not record or monitor this type of information this question is not applicable.
With respect to questions 8 and 9 the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) (information not held) applies to these parts of your request.

10. In relation to other aquaculture industry and other Food Sectors in Scotland,
(a) what is the Scottish Government’s approach to publicly reporting on other terrestrial and aquatic farming sectors?
(b) does the Scottish Government provide similar business-sensitive publications on a quarterly basis (veterinary photos, for example) as it does the salmon aquaculture sector?
With respect to questions 10(a) and 10(b), as detailed above, all aspects of aquaculture within Scotland, with respect to the FHI case information, are subject to the same process of proactive publication.
Other areas within Scottish Government, associated with terrestrial farming, proactively publish information, for example:

  • Scottish Government’s Veterinary Services programme delivered by SRUC produces reports on the current health and disease status of farmed livestock. This ensures that new and emerging problems are detected and changes in the occurrence of animal disease are identified. These are voluntary submissions and are anonymised.

https://www.sruc.ac.uk/info/120415/scottish_government_veterinary_services_programme

  • Sheep scab statistics are anonymised at county level.

https://www.gov.scot/publications/sheep-scab-notifications/

  • Bovine Viral Diarrhoea Eradication Programme: the status of an animal or holding can be looked up, using the individual eartag or holding number. Holdings which have retained a persistently infected animal for more than 40 days have the holding number published. Names and addresses are not disclosed.

https://www.scoteid.com/lookup

  • SGRPID Welfare Cross Compliance breach data: A proportion of basic payment scheme claimants are inspected each year, the results are published to farm level , anonymised with a unique reference number. See tabs for SMR 11, 12, 13

https://www.ruralpayments.org/publicsite/futures/topics/inspections/all-inspections/crosscompliance/inspection-outcomes/cross-compliance-inspection-statistics/

Veterinary photographs are not released in association with the above, and from the descriptions detailed, much of the information provided through Scottish Government, in relation to the terrestrial sectors is anonymised.
It is also important to note that other regulatory bodies undertake significant roles with respect to terrestrial farming sectors, for example the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS). In this regard, you may find it useful to contact those organisations for further information on specific approaches that they take. Further details of these organisations can be found online:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/animal-and-plant-health-agency

https://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/

(c) For those other aquaculture industry and other Food Sectors in Scotland where it does not, what is the justification for the different approach to public reporting between other aquaculture industry and Food sectors?
Much of the publication of information relating to aquaculture and fish health has been driven by this government’s commitment to transparent government as well as our statutory duty under the freedom of information legislation. As explained above, request numbers and complexity have played a part in the decision to publish detailed and site specific information, as has the duty of Scottish public authorities to actively disseminate environmental information, along with a wider review of our approach to disseminate information generally across SG.

In every FOI and EIR request received, the Scottish Government reviews whether statutory exemptions can be applied in each individual case. We also consider what we can generally pro-actively publish and disseminate as part of our commitment to transparent and open government. Where exemptions are justified, they are applied. On occasion, as a result of internal review or because the Scottish Information Commissioner has made decisions, this has resulted in the release of such information. 

Given that this information is regularly requested and that no exceptions to disclosing that information exist in the legislation, it benefits both requesters and the Scottish Government to actively publish the information. Responses to individual requests are routinely published on the Scottish Government website, so it is worth noting that in the absence of pro-active publication, the information would be published anyway, but in a less organised and coherent way.

Other public authorities involved in the regulation of aquaculture in Scotland, such as SEPA, also publish detailed and site specific information.
Other food and farming sectors are different to aquaculture and the interaction between requests being made and the duty to actively disseminate environmental information has not evolved in the same way that it has for aquaculture.

Regulation 10(4)(a) (information not held)
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested. Therefore we are refusing parts 4, 7, 8 and 9 of your request under the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs which covers information not held. The Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested because, in relation to parts 4 and 7 we do not hold records in relation to this area and with respect to parts 8 and 9 we do not hold a record of public interest / website traffic statistics specific to the fish health images being published.

This exception is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. While we recognise that there may be some public interest in information about this matter, clearly we cannot provide information which we do not hold. 

About FOI

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Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
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