2.1. Background to the consultation
2.1.1. Roles and responsibilities
Section 7 of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007 ("2007 Act") empowers the Scottish Ministers to approve a code of practice, in whole or in part, in order to give practical guidance to fish farmers, promoting desirable practices with respect to the containment of fish on fish farms and the prevention of escapes by farmed fish. Once approved, such a code of practice is subject to the monitoring and enforcement powers as provided in the 2007 Act. This consultation fulfilled the consultation requirement within section 7(4) of the 2007 Act.
Marine Scotland is a directorate of the Scottish Government, and it provides support on the development of specific measures in relation to marine matters, such as the development of the proposed Code and related discussions with stakeholders. Marine Scotland is responsible for making recommendations to Scottish Ministers on these measures.
Final decisions on the introduction of a code of practice rest with the Scottish Ministers.
The aquaculture sector is an essential component of the Scottish economy, contributing to sustainable economic growth in rural and coastal communities. In 2018, Scottish aquaculture and its wider supply chain contributed £880 million GVA to the Scottish economy and supported over 11,700 jobs (Scottish Government, 220).
In addition, the seas around Scotland are internationally important as a source of marine biodiversity, supporting a wealth of wildlife including twenty-two species of marine mammals, comprising cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and two species of pinnipeds (grey seals and harbour seals).
Due to the occurrence of marine mammals within Scottish waters, a certain degree of interaction between marine mammals and aquaculture equipment is inevitable. Both grey seals and harbour seals are widely found in Scottish waters. Seals may be attracted to fish farms, especially in circumstances where they learn to associate the farmed fish as a potential source of food. This can result in damage to nets and other aquaculture equipment which can in turn jeopardise the containment of farmed fish and risk their escape. Seals may also cause direct mortality as well as stress and welfare issues to farmed fish.
2.1.3. The proposal
The aim of the proposed Code is to address the impact of marine mammal interactions upon containment and escape of fish at fish farms. The practical measures identified within this Code are focussed upon addressing the risks concerning containment and escape of farmed fish arising from marine mammal interactions, particularly those involving seals. The potential impact of marine mammals upon fish farms should be mitigated through the adoption of appropriate containment measures, while ensuring that these measures are not harmful to marine mammals (i.e., appropriate non-lethal measures).
Marine mammals in Scotland's waters are provided with protection through measures specific to the species, together with site-based measures and wider seas measures under a series of regulatory and legislative provisions including the Habitats Regulations and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. In addition, the Code will enable continued trade and access to international markets. For example, following the Code will help ensure Scotland's standards are comparable with the US's rules for foreign exports in the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972).
2.2. Format of the consultation
2.2.1. Consultation questions
The Scottish Government held a consultation from 22 June 2021 to 3 August 2021. Views were invited on four questions in relation to the Code. These questions were as follows:
1. Do you support the introduction of the Code?
2. Do you have any comments on the content of the Code including the enforceable measures?
3. Do you have any comments on the associated forms for reporting mitigation measures, including acoustic deterrent devices, and reporting of any incidental bycatch of marine mammals?
4. Do you have any information in relation to the questions contained in the partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) on the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts that may be incurred from implementing the Code?
The following supporting documents were available alongside the consultation paper:
- Draft Aquaculture Code of Practice: Containment of and Prevention of Escape of Fish on Fish Farms in relation to Marine Mammal Interactions
- The Fish Farming Businesses (Code of Practice) Partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA)
- Reporting Form (02 v1): Reporting of incidental bycatch at Finfish Farms
- Reporting Form (MMR 01 v1): Use of Non-lethal Marine Mammal Containment Measures including Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) at Finfish Farms
- The Aquaculture (Fish Farming) Code of Practice (Scotland) Draft Order 2021
2.3. Respondents to the consultation
In total, 39 official consultation responses were received, either through email or through the Citizen Space consultation portal. No responses were received after the consultation closed on 3 August 2021.
2.4. Format of this consultation report
This consultation report comprises two parts: a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the consultation responses (section 3), and a discussion of the main themes contained within responses including the Scottish Government response (section 4).
The discussion section (section 4) provides helpful background and additional information on points requiring clarity, explains changes made on the basis of responses, and explains areas which are outwith the scope of this consultation. The discussion section does not include consideration of every individual comment made, rather the most relevant themes mentioned by multiple responses are included.
2.4.1. Ensuring data protection compliance
To provide a comprehensive picture of the consultation undertaken, some quotations have been provided from responses received.
To ensure compliance with data protection requirements, respondents were asked by the Scottish Government if their responses could be published online. The appropriate data redaction has been implemented dependent upon the respondents' answers to this question.
Where respondents have given permission to "publish response only (without name)", quotations have been provided with the appropriate identifying data redacted. To provide context to the response, we have provided the details of the general category to which the respondent has been identified as belonging.
No quotations have been provided from respondents who provided an answer "do not publish response". However, these responses formed part of our internal analysis and contributed towards the overall consultation analysis, as represented within this report.