In the SNP's (Scottish National Party) pre-election manifesto were a number of undertakings relating to the aquaculture industry in Scotland, namely:
- We will reform and streamline regulatory processes so that development is more responsive, transparent and efficient;
- At the heart of our new approach will be a new, single determining authority for farm consents, modelled on the regulatory regime in Norway;
- We will expect producers to contribute much more to the communities and local economies which support them so we will also explore how a Norwegian-style auction system for new farm developments might generate significant income to support inspection and welfare services, provide real community benefit on islands and in remote rural areas and support innovation and enterprise;
- We will support innovation in aquaculture, for example by exploring the development of closed containment fish production on land and explore the potential to produce more shellfish in warm water, land based farms to cut the amount of unsustainably produced fish and shellfish being imported to Scotland.
Subsequent to that in the Scottish Government's Program for Government it's stated:
- We will deliver a Scottish Government led Vision for sustainable aquaculture which places an enhanced emphasis on environmental protection and community benefits – and explore how producers can contribute more to support inspection services, reduce their environmental impact, provide real community benefit, and support innovation;
- We will take forward an immediate programme of work to better protect wildlife and the environment, responding to the Salmon Interactions Working Group, consult on a spatially adaptive sea lice risk assessment framework for fish farms by the end of the year, and strengthen controls on sea lice, wrasse and fish escapes in the course of 2021‑22,
and within the subsequent Next Steps paper one of the 100 day pledges were to:
- Appoint an external reviewer of the current regulatory processes involved in fish farming, to identify how best to reform and streamline the system and establish a new single determining authority.
As a result of the latter, Mairi Gougeon MSP Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands asked me as Chair of the Regulatory Review Group (RRG) (the Scottish Government's independent advisors on better regulation) to initiate a review of the current regulatory framework for Scottish aquaculture. Details of the review can be found on the Aquaculture Review website.
The remit of the review is to:
- review the existing evidence base and engage with key stakeholders in order to identify the issues impacting on the efficient and effective operation of the regulatory framework for aquaculture from the perspective of industry, users of the shared marine environment (tourism, wild fisheries), communities and regulators; and
- make recommendations for further work in relation to improved efficiency and more fundamental institutional reform.
I have carried out this review totally independently as Chair of the Regulatory Review Group, which for many years has been the Scottish Government's independent advisors on business regulation.
The evidence that I have received is a combination of written submissions from many as well as meetings, most of which were conducted virtually. I also visited:
- one new hatchery and fish farm;
- one organic fish farm, which just had their application turned down;
- one seaweed farm, and
- one shellfish farm.
I have learned much about the aquaculture industry in Scotland, its opportunities, and challenges and also where it could go in the future. The visits helped contextualise many of the conversations I had with others and in reading the many submissions that were sent to me.
In carrying out my review I asked the following questions:
- Why does the sector needs regulation in the first place?
- Why has that regulation to be in the form of legislation rather than self regulation by the industry?
- What are the issues with the current regulatory framework?
- What could be done to improve the current framework and importantly the process?
- Are there any examples that might provide useful insight on how this is done elsewhere?
A full list of the stakeholders who contributed is set out in Annexe A. The contributions show the diverse interest that the aquaculture industry generates across many parts of the wider community and society in Scotland. What is perhaps the most interesting and a common view from all, in varying ways, is that the regulatory system and process that manages this industry is not as good as it could and should be and all stakeholders advocated for change.
There was criticism about the number of reviews that had looked at aquaculture in recent years. The stakeholders were keen to see change at pace and not another report to sit on a shelf. It's for this reason the recommendations I have made are, I hope, precise and substantive.
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