The number of Atlantic salmon returning to Scottish rivers has been in decline since at least the 1970's. Best estimates, based on international advice, show that there continues to be a downward trend across the North Atlantic region. Actions taken to address the climate change emergency and the wider biodiversity crisis will be highly relevant to Atlantic salmon conservation.
It is recognised that a range of hazards have contributed to the decline of wild Atlantic salmon and the Scottish Government has identified 12 high level pressure groups that require further investigation. In recognition of the decline the Scottish Government announced in its 2019/20 Programme for Government a commitment to publish a national wild Atlantic salmon strategy.
In 2018, the Scottish Parliament's Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLR) and Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committees held two inquiries into Scotland's salmon farming industry. The focus of the first ECCLR inquiry was to investigate the environmental impact of the salmon farming industry, whereas the second REC inquiry focused on identifying opportunities for the future development of the industry and explore the fish health and environmental issues identified in the ECCLR inquiry.
The findings from both inquiries highlighted concerns over the environmental impacts of the industry, particularly with regard to the potential hazard to wild salmonids. Recommendations from the inquiries indicated that the status quo was not an option and that changes to the regulation of the industry were required.
Concurrent with the Parliamentary Inquiries, the Cabinet Secretaries for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, and Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, established a workstream to examine the 12 high level pressure groups and address the decline in wild Atlantic salmon. The first stage in this process was the establishment of the Salmon Interactions Working Group. The SIWG was tasked with the following:
- Consider the evidence coming from the ECCLR and REC Committee inquiries (including the literature review undertaken by Scottish Association of Marine Science), and any other work, concerning the environmental impacts of salmon and trout farms on wild salmonids;
- Review current Scottish Government policy and advice governing wild/farmed salmon interactions including, but not limited to, sea lice, pathogens and escapes;
- Review the actions required to monitor and mitigate the impact of farmed salmon and trout on wild salmonids (including through Environmental Management Plans, or other future regulatory mechanisms) so that any impact is reduced in accordance with our international and domestic obligations;
- Make recommendations, including a delivery plan of agreed actions and timescales, for a future interactions approach, including the need for any further research, changes to the regulatory regime, including planning advice and environmental monitoring; and the potential use of 'adaptive management' techniques, including the management of risk.
The SIWG has considered the conclusions from the Parliamentary Inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland, evaluated current Scottish Government policy and has reviewed existing and planned projects around interactions. At an early meeting the SIWG acknowledged the potential hazard that farmed salmonid aquaculture presents to wild salmonids (Atlantic salmon and sea trout) and agreed to examine measures to minimise the potential risk.
The SIWG met between October 2018 and March 2020. The set of recommendations provided within this report were unanimously agreed upon by all members of the group and presented to Scottish Ministers. All members of the SIWG agree that actions taken forward from these recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible and encourage Ministers to act in a swift manner to provide clarity and direction for regulators, the aquaculture sector and all interested stakeholders.