Aquaculture is a nationally important industry for Scotland, but particularly for our coastal and island communities, where it is often a mainstay of the local economy. Its output is estimated to have a farm gate value of about £350 million. Despite some annual fluctuations this is broadly in line with the value of catches from Scottish-based fishing vessels. The Scottish Government is committed to supporting sustainable economic growth in Scotland. Supporting aquaculture - production, processing and associated businesses - is a vital role for Marine Scotland, particularly during the economic downturn.
Scotland's coastal waters provide excellent conditions for further growth of finfish and shellfish farming. Some of this growth can come from existing authorised facilities which are not being used. Development must be sustainable - economically, socially, culturally and environmentally - minimising risks to biodiversity. The aquaculture industry must act as a good neighbour to those who share the aquatic environment.
Progress has been made. Reported fish farm escapes were significantly down last year on previous years, reflecting improved practice. Whilst welcomed, we are clear that improvement must continue - through the new inspection regime for containment and sea lice and the planned revision of the industry's Code of Good Practice. Control of sea lice continues to be a serious concern. The consultation indicated an urgent need for effective sea lice control measures to protect the health and welfare of both farmed and wild salmonids and is viewed as crucial for the long-term future of both sectors. Marine Scotland's ability to support the industry in this regard is hampered by the current lack of understanding of the nature and extent of the problem at the national level and we will set out a proposal to address this gap later this year.
Marine Scotland believes industry should operate to the highest standards in key areas. That means carefully-planned and properly-managed approaches to disease and parasite control, making use of synchronised production, fallowing and sea lice treatments that are coordinated at an appropriately sized area to ensure success.
This framework also sets out a more flexible approach for delivery through a smaller more focused Ministerial Group on Aquaculture, that will guide aquaculture policy and will be informed by a wider aquaculture stakeholders group. It gives us the platform we need to ensure a strong future for aquaculture in Scotland. The industry is here to stay and to grow, in balance with the environment.
ROSEANNA CUNNINGHAM MSP
Minister for Environment