Salmon Interactions Working Group Report: Scottish Government Response

Our response to the recommendations in the Salmon Interactions Working Group report [May 2020]

1. Wild/farmed Salmonid Interactions Recommendations

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

Scottish Government Response to Section 1; Wild/farmed Salmonid Interactions Recommendations

The Scottish Government is committed to the protection of wild salmonids and tackling the biodiversity crisis. Based on the international and domestic scientific evidence base available, there is a risk that sea lice from fish farm facilities negatively affect some populations of salmon and sea trout in areas of Scotland. The published science is summarised here by Marine Scotland. The Scottish Government welcomes the fact that the SIWG recognised the potential hazard that farmed salmonid aquaculture presents to wild salmonids.

We welcome these jointly agreed recommendations which ask for a step change in how the risk of sea lice transfer from farmed to wild fish is managed. We agree that the regulatory regime for the protection of wild salmonids should be robust, transparent, enforceable and enforced.

In 2019, as an interim measure, we delivered change at a local level by advising that Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) should be standard for any new consents for marine aquaculture where there is potential for sea lice interaction with wild fish.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has the powers to control any activity which directly or indirectly is likely to have a significant impact on the water environment. The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 ("CAR") established controls over specified activities liable to cause significant adverse impacts on the water environment out to a distance of 3 nautical miles, with the aim of protecting and improving Scotland's water environment to a classification of good ecological status. Good ecological status of rivers and lochs is dependent on the condition of wild salmon populations in those water bodies and protection of the water environment must take account of the composition, abundance and age structure of freshwater fish fauna.

SEPA will become the lead body responsible for managing the risk to wild salmonids from sea lice emitted from fish farms in Scotland.

A Regulators Technical Working Group has been developing an adaptive spatially-based risk assessment framework to facilitate the management of sea lice interactions between wild and farmed fish. SEPA will take forward the further development of this framework, which will be applied through the CAR licencing regime. SEPA will take forward a public consultation exercise on these proposals by the end of the year and, following consultation analysis, it is intended that an inclusive implementation group would be formed to help plan and advise on the introduction of the new framework.

In line with our commitment to streamline the regulatory framework, it is our intention that local authorities would no longer be advised to include Environment Monitoring Plans as a planning condition and instead, SEPA will become responsible for regulating these environmental interactions. The transition will be managed by the implementation group. This change, in addition to the earlier transfer of responsibility of wellboat discharges from Marine Scotland to SEPA, will ensure efficiency and provide clarity within the regulatory framework with regards to the management of these environmental impacts.

It is intended that development proposals involving increases in the numbers of fish farmed, including applications for new farms or expansion of existing farms, will be assessed using the new spatially-based risk assessment framework as part of the CAR licence determination process and, where there is the potential for interaction, subject to conditions appropriately limiting their contribution to lice loads in coastal waters. Reporting requirements to inform assessments of cumulative risk from proposed and existing developments will apply to existing fish farms through their CAR licence. Further development of the framework, consultation and the framework's final application (including the applicable CAR conditions) will be a regulatory matter for SEPA.

It is important to highlight the adaptive nature of the framework which will be responsive to action by finfish producers, including mitigation built into development proposals; action to reduce lice numbers at existing farms and investing in detailed locally calibrated lice dispersion models. The framework will also respond to the growing evidence base, for example where tracking studies provide local insights on differences in the timing and duration of the smolt migration through identified bottlenecks.

We agree that local engagement mechanisms between finfish farmers and wild fishery managers should be established as a minimum, to facilitate pre-application consultation, agree joint local management priorities and projects, act as a forum for information and data exchange, and identify research priorities and request management action as appropriate.

Crown Estate Scotland is currently reviewing its aquaculture leasing arrangements. Part of this review is the consideration of best practice relating to farm management area agreement participation, a process which is being informed by SIWG recommendations. We expect Crown Estate Scotland to produce a set of recommendations by the end of the year.

Local decision making and debate is a Scottish Government priority. The contribution and local knowledge District Salmon Fishery Boards provide as a statutory consultee in planning determinations is valued. Effective governance and constructive debate is essential within the consenting framework, including through the established CAR consultation and assessment procedure.

The SIWG recommends that 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. SEPA's approach to pre-application is increasingly providing spatial planning advice to operators. By regulating all emissions (including sea lice) to coastal waters from farms, SEPA will be able to provide operators wishing to re-locate with comprehensive upfront advice on whether potential new locations are likely to have sufficient environmental capacity to sustainably accommodate the type of development being sought. This will include consideration of priority marine features using the mapping information already available. The remit of the independent regulatory review of the processes involved in fish farming asks that efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the current regulatory framework is considered, and that it is done so in line with our ambitions on local governance and a vibrant, inclusive democracy. We stand ready to consider any recommendations made by Professor Russel Griggs at the end of the year.

The Farmed Fish Health Framework is currently considering access to, and control of, treatments and medicines including those used in the control of sea lice and will consider this in the context of a holistic approach to sea lice control.



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