1. Wild/farmed salmonid interactions
In recognition of the potential hazard that farmed salmonid aquaculture presents to wild salmonids, the SIWG acknowledges that the outcome should be balanced and proportional improvements to fisheries conservation alongside the sustainable development of the salmon and trout aquaculture sector. The SIWG believes that a key component of achieving the recommendations set out below is developing a professional and collaborative working relationship within the shared spaces where wild and farmed fish are present.
1.1 Scotland's finfish aquaculture regulatory regime should be reformed to ensure that it is fit for purpose, comparable with the highest international and domestic regulatory standards and in line with the Scottish Regulators Strategic Code of Practice;
1.2 The reformed regulatory system should protect wild migratory salmonids, proactively seek to understand and address any negative impacts detected through monitoring of wild salmonids, be fully resourced and meet the tests of being robust, transparent, enforceable and enforced;
1.3 The Scottish Government should holistically assess and review the approach to sea lice treatment, including access to medicines and the use of controls in their use, to deliver an evidence-based approach to sea lice control, whilst ensuring the protection of the wider environment and wild and farmed fish health and welfare;
1.4 District Salmon Fishery Boards (DSFBs) should continue to be statutory consultees in the future regulatory regime. Where no DSFB is established a suitable alternative should be designated by Scottish Ministers where appropriate for the purpose of protecting wild salmonids;
1.5 In advance of the delivery of a reformed finfish aquaculture regulatory system, Marine Scotland should take an overarching role to ensure consistency with respect to managing interactions at the local level through the use of agreed standards for current, interim delivery of Environmental Management Plans;
1.6 A single lead body (with appropriate competence and capacity) should be assigned responsibility for regulating wild and farmed fish interactions and given appropriate powers for monitoring and enforcement;
1.7 The single lead body identified above, should be required to coordinate its activities with all regulatory bodies with responsibility for the range of pressures that wild salmonids face;
1.8 In managing the impact of aquaculture activities on the environment greater priority should be given to the protection of wild migratory salmonids balanced with more efficient protection of seabed and water quality in line with the Scottish Regulators Strategic Code of Practice;
1.9 The existing legislative framework is used, wherever possible to deliver the required changes relating to wild-farmed interactions. Any changes to primary or secondary legislation necessary to support these changes should be made at the earliest possible opportunity;
1.10 The appropriate scale for monitoring of impacts on wild fish is the farm management area or adjacent farm management areas in which sea lice connectivity modelling suggests that interactions with an existing area are likely. The farm management area is also the appropriate scale for local engagement and sharing of information;
1.11 The review of farm management areas being undertaken through Farmed Fish Health Framework is welcomed but should be informed by the recommendations of the SIWG;
1.12 For the purposes of wild-farmed interactions the farm management agreement / statement should be a mechanism for the collation and coordination of adaptive actions to address adverse impacts on wild salmonids identified in the farm management area, in collaboration with
wild fisheries managers;
1.13 Local engagement mechanisms between finfish farmers and wild fishery managers should be established as a minimum, to engage in pre-application consultation, agree joint local management priorities and projects, act as a forum for information and data exchange, identify research priorities and request management action as appropriate;
1.14 For sites where best scientific evidence indicates that an existing site presents an adverse impact on wild salmonids:
- In the first instance, tighter regulatory standards should apply (see section 2 below);
- The consenting regime should be amended to enable efficient relocation of existing biomass to a suitable alternative location, within a spatial planning and area management framework.
2. Licensing and enforcement
The SIWG is of the view that a properly designed, reformed regulatory regime will deliver many of the recommendations that Parliament has sought. The characteristics of such a system, which must apply to all farms, encompasses strengthened licence conditions and associated enforcement measures to deliver the essential regulatory protection that wild salmonids require.
The SIWG recognises the vital importance of ensuring that a wide range of strategies for sea lice control (including medicinal and non-medicinal treatment) are available to the finfish farming industry, in order to ensure wild and farmed fish welfare and sea lice control, whilst ensuring protection of the wider environment.
2.1 Robust conditions, based on an adaptive management approach, to safeguard wild salmonids should be contained within a license rather than through planning consent;
2.2 The licence should contain conditions relating to:
- Requirement for undertaking, recording and reporting of a weekly sea louse count;
- Trigger levels for sea lice intervention action specific to the farm management area (to be reviewed subject to adaptive management);
- Requirement to monitor lice levels in the environment and assess impacts on wild salmonids;
- Requirement to report on the results of such monitoring;
- Requirement to contribute to research to understand the migratory distributions of wild salmonids within the West Coast and Northern Isles context;
- The actions that are required to be taken where monitoring demonstrates adverse impacts on wild salmonids and the timeframe in which demonstrable actions should be successfully delivered;
- Requirement for the farm to be party to a farm management agreement for the farm management area;
- Monitoring for the presence of escaped farmed fish from freshwater open pen farms;
- Requirement for 100% of farmed fish to be retained in all production facilities;
- Minimum technical standards for prevention of escapes of farmed fish;
- Requirement for an Escape Mitigation plan to be in place prior to stocking;
- Notification to all relevant authorities, including to the local DSFB, of escapes or suspected escapes to be made within 24 hours of knowledge of the incident;
- Requirement for recording and reporting of escapes of farmed fish; and,
- Requirement to undertake an end of farm cycle review which informs the next production cycle process.
2.3 Scottish Ministers should direct all relevant statutory bodies to discharge their duties such that they fully take into account the health and welfare of wild salmonids and of farmed fish.
2.4 As a priority, the consenting of new developments should be managed within an adaptive spatial planning model which is risk based, of suitable resolution, underpinned by best available scientific evidence, and takes into account the cumulative effect of management practices of existing developments and impacts on wild salmonid fish;
2.5 The SIWG recommends that the Technical Working Group should ensure that these principles are embedded in the spatial planning framework for sea lice which is due for public consultation;
2.6 An enforcement policy should be published, informed by existing controls, to include specific penalties and sanctions for breaching conditions but incorporating some flexibility to respond to specific local conditions;
2.7 Appropriate fines, proportionate to the incident and scale of the escape, should apply to escapes of fish;
2.8 Where direct costs or nuisance resulting from an escape of farmed fish can be demonstrated there should be a legal requirement on the farm operator to fully compensate those costs;
2.9 Enforcement sanctions relating to sea lice and escapes, including the use of fixed and variable monetary penalties, should have a mechanism to allow monies to be invested into wild salmonid conservation work. Alternatively, this could be informed by the approach taken in Norway through OURO;
3. Farmed and wild salmonid data
The SIWG recognises the substantial amount of data relating to finfish aquaculture which is now publicly available, and the continuing progress made by the sector in increasing transparency. This will be further enhanced when the Scottish Government bring forward new sea lice reporting regulations. The forthcoming wild salmon strategy presents an opportunity to put in place the infrastructure to support wild fisheries managers in improving access to a higher resolution of wild fish data which will support a greater understanding of interactions.
3.1 The SIWG recommends that the system for collection and reporting of catch data should be reviewed;
3.2 The SIWG recommends that Scottish Ministers invest in the appropriate infrastructure to collect and report catch and associated data, which maintains, as far as possible, the continuity of data since 1952, whilst allowing catch data to be reported in as close to real time as possible;
3.3 The wild and farmed sectors should publish the following historical data:
- Results of wild fish monitoring including lice count data or observations on lice burden;
- Number of farmed fish per farm;
- Number of lice per farmed fish;
- Counts from fish counters, relevant electrofishing data and any other relevant catch assessment data operating on local rivers; and,
- Wild salmon and sea trout catch statistics and catch effort data.
3.4 The wild and farmed sectors, working collectively will provide a comprehensive package of data which should be placed on a mandatory footing and should include all data currently available on Scotland's Aquaculture website in addition to -
- Results of wild fish monitoring including lice count data or observations on lice burden;
- Farm management area sea lice load;
- Number of farmed fish per farm;
- Number of adult female lice and gravid female lice per farmed fish;
- Medicinal and physical treatments undertaken;
- Water temperature and salinity;
- Counts from fish counters, electrofishing data and any other catch assessment data operating on local rivers;
- Scottish Government assessments of wild fish conservation status (adult and juvenile fish); and,
- Official wild salmon and sea trout catch statistics and catch effort data.
4. Farmed and wild salmonid research
The SIWG recognises that there are a number of gaps in our understanding relating to wild-farmed interactions. However, the SIWG is firmly of the view that filling these knowledge gaps is not a pre-requisite for taking forward regulatory reform. Indeed, the recommendations set out above include monitoring requirements which will be complementary to the strategic priorities set out below.
4.1 Scottish Government should commit resources to review the research priorities identified in the Aquaculture Science and Research Strategy under the Ministerial Group for Sustainable Aquaculture and thereafter set out and commit to deliver a research strategy for wild salmonid research;
4.2 Following an independent peer review, the work undertaken by Marine Scotland Science in 2018 to determine the baseline for current levels of genetic introgression should be expedited for publication;
4.3 Efforts should be made to refine or develop genetic analysis tools to allow recent introgression arising from farmed fish escapes to be distinguished from any introgression arising from historic stocking activities;
4.4 A mechanism should be developed to secure access to biological information from past (if possible), current and future farmed strains, in a secure and safe manner to safeguard commercial and competitive interests, whilst delivering essential support to collaborative genetic monitoring and evaluation work;
4.5 The reforms to the regulatory system should encompass provisions to secure investment into addressing strategic research and innovation questions relating to farmed/ wild salmonid interactions;
4.6 The SIWG acknowledges the importance of sea trout and recommends that further research is undertaken to understand sea and brown trout biology, the factors that influence anadromy in a population and the pressures affecting sea trout populations across Scotland including understanding the impact of sea lice and investigating whether any sea lice burdens are influenced by proximity to established farmed finfish sites.
5. Wild salmonids
The SIWG considers that additional resources are required to support management of salmonids, particularly in west coast rivers and welcomes the commitment to produce a wild salmon strategy for Scotland. Large-scale pressures, such as climate change, require international cooperation to address and are therefore beyond the control of fisheries managers. The focus of fisheries management in Scotland is therefore to improve freshwater habitat and address issues that we can control, with a view to ensuring the maximum number of healthy, wild smolts leave our rivers.
The SIWG acknowledges that resources to undertake this work are severely limited and declining. Therefore, the SIWG calls jointly for practical measures to ensure that potential hazards from salmonid aquaculture are maintained at the lowest possible levels and greater investment in conservation and restoration programmes that will demonstrably improve the wellbeing of indigenous populations of wild salmon and sea trout.
5.1 Scottish Ministers should make salmonid conservation a national priority;
5.2 The wild salmon strategy announced in the Programme for Government should explicitly identify and address the range of hazards which wild salmonids (salmon and sea trout) face, and which can be managed. The strategy should direct efforts to move beyond the status quo across the range of hazards which wild salmon face. It should clearly define the role of public bodies and future licensing and regulatory decisions should be made in accordance with the strategy;
5.3 Scottish Ministers should champion the delivery of the wild salmon strategy and ensure that sufficient resources are available to ensure that the range of hazards which wild salmonids face are effectively addressed.
5.4 The SIWG recommends that the wild salmon strategy should urgently consider and recommend the introduction of mechanisms to ensure that riverine and riparian habitat improvements are built into changes to the rural payments system;
5.5 Scottish Ministers should review the potential to further protect salmon within the context of the salmon conservation regulatory framework, particularly in relation to handling fish during catch and release;
5.6 The SIWG recommend that the data available for conservation assessments is improved through investment in a strategic network of fish counters, improved information on fecundity and sex ratios, and the integration of juvenile data from the National Electrofishing Programme for Scotland into the conservation assessment process;
5.7 Scottish Ministers should establish a working group, as part of the process of delivering the national salmon strategy to:
- Oversee the delivery of SIWG recommendations and coordinate with working groups established or to be established to oversee interactions with other sectors that may impact upon wild salmonids.
- Assess and review the performance of the reformed regulatory structure;
- Support local engagement structures and consider the results of local wild fish monitoring.
5.8 Scottish Ministers should, in recognition of the lack of resources for salmonid management and conservation in Scottish waters, urgently explore new means to improve investment in Scotland's rivers. Experience from other countries should be used to inform a reformed funding mechanism for fisheries management in Scotland, to deliver restoration and conservation programmes to support natural populations of wild salmon and sea trout;
5.9 Scottish Ministers should, in recognition of the significant resource required to manage wild-farmed interactions appropriately through joint working at a local level, urgently identify means to increase capacity within Fisheries Boards and Trusts in the aquaculture zone and in particular establish an appropriate mechanism for undertaking this function in Orkney and Shetland.
The recommendations set out above complement each other and should be considered as a package of measures. Taken together, it is the view of the SIWG that they will improve the regulation of wild-farmed interactions, improve the relationship between the farmed and wild salmonid sectors and support conservation of wild salmonids. Scottish Ministers are encouraged to move swiftly to implement and support the delivery of these recommendations.