Scotland's National Marine Plan

This Plan covers the management of both Scottish inshore waters (out to 12 nautical miles) and offshore

waters (12 to 200 nautical miles). It also applies to the exercise of both reserved and

devolved functions.

7. Aquaculture

Objectives and policies for this sector should be read subject to those set out in Chapters 3 and 4 of this Plan. It is recognised that not all of the objectives can necessarily be achieved directly through the marine planning system, but they are considered important context for planning and decision making.



Economic Social Marine Ecosystem

An aquaculture industry that is sustainable, diverse, competitive and economically viable whilst minimising environmental impact.


Economic Social

With due regard to the marine environment and carrying capacity, support for the industry's target to grow marine finfish (including farmed Atlantic salmon) production sustainably to 210,000 tonnes; and shellfish, particularly mussels, to 13,000 tonnes sustainably by 2020.



A proportionate and transparent regulatory framework within which the industry can achieve these targets.


Economic Social

Quality employment and sustainable economic activity in remote and rural areas, as well as more widely in Scotland.


Economic Climate Change

Improve business confidence and industry investment and reduce environmental impact by identifying areas where sustainable aquaculture growth is optimal, taking account of key resource and constraints considerations.


Economic Social

Maximise benefits to Scotland and to local communities from the Scottish aquaculture value chain.


Economic Marine Ecosystem

Support research and development, including trials and technical innovation, to improve knowledge and understanding of the requirements for sustainability of the industry, with a particular focus on the issues of sea lice, containment and interactions with other activities.

Key references

Ministerial Group on Sustainable Aquaculture

An Assessment of the Benefits to Scotland of Aquaculture

Code of Good Practice for Finfish Aquaculture

A Fresh Start: The renewed strategic framework for Scottish Aquaculture

Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan. Chapter 5: Productive / Aquaculture. Pages 144-145

National Marine Plan interactive ( NMPi). Productive/ Aquaculture section.

Part 1: Background and context

7.1 Aquaculture in Scotland is an increasingly important industry and is recognised in the Government's Economic Strategy as a sector where growth can occur. The Scottish Government also supports industry plans to grow the aquaculture sector sustainably. Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan provides detailed information on production values and employment.

7.2 Whilst the industry in Scotland is dominated by the farming of Atlantic salmon, there is also significant rainbow trout and mussel production. Brown trout, sea trout, halibut, Arctic char, oysters and scallops, as well as small-scale seaweed sites, are also farmed.

7.3 At present, each new aquaculture site is dealt with on its merits by Local Authorities through the terrestrial planning process [69] , with advice from statutory consultees and any representations from other interested parties such as wild fish interests and the general public. Decisions will also now have to give regard to this Plan and future regional marine plans. It is therefore important that marine and terrestrial planners co-operate to ensure the planning and regulatory regime is aligned and easily understood by stakeholders. More detail is available in the Planning Circular - The relationship between the statutory land use planning system and marine planning and licensing [70] .

Part 2: Key issues for marine planning


7.4 Aquaculture contributes to sustainable economic growth in rural and coastal communities, especially in the Highlands and Islands. Many communities depend on the employment and revenue it provides and, as a growing industry, it has potential to contribute to future community cohesion by providing quality jobs in rural areas and helping to maintain community infrastructures such as schools, ferries and other services [71] .

7.5 The aquaculture industry contributes over 2,800 jobs from direct production and a total of over 4,800 jobs across the Scottish supply chain, based on 2012 figures. Taking into account the multiplier effect of the added income across the economy, it is estimated to contribute around 8,000 jobs to Scotland [72] .

7.6 Farmed salmon is Scotland's most valuable food export and exports continue to grow as the demand for high quality Scottish farmed salmon continues to increase, reaching 55 countries worldwide in 2012.

7.7 Aquaculture also makes an important contribution to food security in the context of an increasing global demand for seafood and a limited or decreasing wild catch resource. In terms of protein conversion efficiency, farmed salmon compares favourably with other sources of protein.

7.8 A growing industry has the potential to bring additional benefits, including from other areas of the value chain. Benefits will be maximised when services and products are produced or provided in Scotland, for example the increased supply of domestic smolt production (additional production may require increased land-based closed containment facilities) or the development of further processing facilities.

7.9 There is significant scope for growth in Scotland's shellfish industry, particularly mussels and oysters [73] . The shellfish industry predominantly comprises of small-scale operations, with a large number of small farms and many part-time farmers, although there are larger operations in Shetland, the Western Isles and at Loch Fyne.

7.10 Other opportunities to grow and diversify the sector include:

  • Pursuing prospects and opportunities for growth of other shellfish sectors, trout and other finfish species such as halibut.
  • The development of projects that seek to improve environmental management of the industry is particularly encouraged. The commercial farming of wrasse, for example, has the potential to become a significant ancillary sector given its effectiveness in biologically controlling sea-lice with a limited impact on the environment.
  • Increasing seaweed production [74] for a variety of products, such as human food, a gelling and thickening agent, animal feed, and nutraceuticals (food products that provide health and medical benefits) as well as in integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems, where the by-products from one species are recycled to become inputs for another.


7.11 Finfish and shellfish cultivation depends on farms being sited at locations where the water quality is good and the current flow allows the growth of healthy fish and shellfish. Aquaculture sites require rigorous long-term maintenance of good environmental standards and absence of pollution. The filter feeding nature of shellfish makes them particularly vulnerable to bacterial or chemical contamination deriving from human shore-based activities or vessel discharges.

7.12 The control of sea lice is acknowledged as a substantial challenge, which is reflected in the Code of Good Practice for Finfish Aquaculture ( CoGP) by a specific national treatment strategy [75] .

7.13 Farm Management Areas ( FMAs) are established by industry and described in the CoGP. Principally, these statutory farm management agreements or statements cover actions that promote biosecurity, disease and parasite control [76] . Co-ordination of management takes place within these FMAs with companies sharing information. Scotland's aquaculture stocks are internationally recognised as having a high health status maintained by a regular inspection programme that includes the evaluation of mortality and sea lice numbers. Any evidence of interactions with wild fish is taken into consideration by the local authority considering a planning application. Improved sea lice control has been identified by the industry members of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre ( SAIC) [77] as a Priority Innovation Action requiring urgent and sustained attention and on which work will start within the SAIC's first year.

7.14 Growth of the industry must also take account of the sustainability of other species, including the fish species used to produce fishmeal and the fish oils that are fed to salmon. There is a continued benefit from identifying and using new sustainable, secure and affordable feed materials to further increase flexibility and maintain the high quality of feed supply. This is a research priority for the aquaculture industry and research community and has also been identified as a Priority Innovation Action by the SAIC.

7.15 Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan sets out the wider range of potential pressures and impacts on the marine environment from aquaculture [78] .

7.16 Chapters 3 and 4 of this Plan, alongside existing regulatory controls including Environmental Impact Assessment, provide a framework within which the industry should aim to achieve their growth targets. This framework aims to minimise and mitigate environmental impacts through:

  • Ensuring farms are located so that they do not negatively affect the carrying capacity of the environment.
  • Taking account of existing Locational Guidelines based on nutrient enhancement and benthic impact (Map 6) [79] .
  • Appropriate siting and design of farms, including in relation to protected areas, protected species, wider biodiversity interests, heritage assets and landscape character/visual impacts.
  • A strategic approach to disease management.
  • SEPA licensing for the discharge of waste.
  • Licensing of discharges from well boats by Marine Scotland [80] .
  • The seal licensing regime operated by Marine Scotland, in order to address issues of predation where non-lethal alternatives cannot be used [81] .
  • Appropriate management practices including: farm/area management agreements; use of efficacious treatments; integrated sea lice management in an appropriate scale area; addressing predators and marine non-native species.
  • Improved containment and reduction in reported escapes.

7.17 Marine Scotland Science is in the final year of a 3-year project to identify areas of opportunity and constraint for both finfish and shellfish sectors. This will consider constraints from competing uses of marine space as well as environmental sensitivities and capacity, and will represent a development of current Locational Guidelines.

Interactions with other users

7.18 Aquaculture has the potential to interact with a number of other sectors:

  • Wild salmon and migratory fish: The farming of salmon carries a risk of impacting on wild salmonids. There is an on-going programme of research to establish the effects of interactions with wild salmonids, primarily because of the potential impact of sea lice, but also because the potential for impact of escaped farmed fish on the genetic stock of wild salmonids is, as yet, not fully understood. There is a continuing presumption against further marine fish farm developments on the north and east coasts to help safeguard migratory fish species (Map 6).
  • Inshore fisheries: The location of fish farms potentially restricts the access to existing fishing grounds by inshore fisheries operators however this issue is taken into account by planning authorities through consultation. There are also concerns about the potential for sea lice treatments to affect inshore shellfish stocks, which are currently addressed through licensing by restricting quantities discharged.
  • Recreation and Tourism: It is recognised that fish farm cages and mussel lines are potential hazards to navigation and, as such, are considered in all cases to be licensable marine activities. While there can be competition for space with recreational boating and shipping, for instance in approaches to moorings and anchorages, the industry's own requirements for marine infrastructure such as harbours and slipways helps retain these facilities locally.

Although some tourism interests are concerned about the visual impact of aquaculture infrastructure on the landscape and seascape [82] , there is some evidence that tourism businesses can benefit from the presence of a fish farm because it may provide a good point of interest for wildlife tours and supply local high quality produce [83] .


7.19 It is recognised that climate change is likely to have an impact on the marine environment, although evidence to date is limited as to what exactly that impact might be on aquaculture. For example, increased shellfish contamination, harmful plankton events and the establishment of non-native species may be a risk but it is not yet clear that a changing ocean climate is responsible for these effects.

7.20 Given the current predictions, there is unlikely to be a significant effect over the next decade however, within the next 50 years or more, the forecast changes are likely to result in noticeable effects. Potential changes to storminess will need to be taken into account in engineering standards for fish farms, as defined by the Scottish Technical Standard. In addition, a rise in sea-level may reduce coastal habitat suitable for bivalve cultivation. Rising average water temperatures will result in faster growth rates for some species ( e.g. Atlantic salmon, mussels and oysters) but prolonged periods of warmer summer temperatures may cause thermal stress, particularly for cold water species ( e.g. cod and Atlantic halibut) and intertidal shellfish (oysters). Warmer waters may provide opportunities to culture new species, or species that are currently economically marginal in UK waters.

7.21 Some diseases may become less prevalent while others may increase and new diseases are likely to emerge. Any changes which impact on fish health should be addressed through industry fish health management plans, farm veterinary surveillance, biosecurity plans and official surveillance schemes, as well as co-ordinated and synchronised zone/area management approaches to support healthy stocks with an emphasis on disease prevention.

7.22 When compared to most other production systems, aquaculture has a low carbon footprint. Within the aquaculture sector, carbon footprints vary significantly being low for mussel farming but higher for other sectors such as salmon farming, due to fish feed production and transport. There are also opportunities for the use of renewable resources in providing energy for aquaculture installations.

Part 3: Planning policies

Economic Social Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 1: Marine planners and decision makers should seek to identify appropriate locations for future aquaculture development and use, including the potential use of development planning briefs as appropriate. System carrying capacity (at the scale of a water body or loch system) should be a key consideration.

Economic Social Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 2: Marine and terrestrial development plans should jointly identify areas which are potentially suitable and sensitive areas which are unlikely to be appropriate for such development, reflecting Scottish Planning Policy and any Scottish Government guidance on the issue. There is a continuing presumption against further marine finfish farm developments on the north and east coasts to safeguard migratory fish species. (Map 6)

Economic Social Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 3: In relation to nutrient enhancement and benthic impacts, as set out under Locational Guidelines for the Authorisation of Marine Fish Farms in Scottish Waters, fish farm development is likely to be acceptable in Category 3 areas, subject to other criteria being satisfied. A degree of precaution should be applied to consideration of further fish farming development in Category 2 areas and there will be a presumption against further fish farm development in Category 1 areas. (Map 6)

EconomicAQUACULTURE 4: There is a presumption that further sustainable expansion of shellfish farms should be located in designated shellfish waters [84] if these have sufficient capacity to support such development.

EconomicAQUACULTURE 5: Aquaculture developments should avoid and/or mitigate adverse impacts upon the seascape, landscape and visual amenity of an area, following SNH guidance [85] on the siting and design of aquaculture.

EconomicAQUACULTURE 6: New aquaculture sites should not bridge Disease Management Areas [86] although boundaries may be revised by Marine Scotland to take account of any changes in fish farm location, subject to the continued management of risk.

Economic Social Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 7: Operators and regulators should continue to utilise a risk based approach to the location of fish farms and potential impacts on wild fish.

Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 8: Guidance on harassment at designated seal haul out sites [87] should be taken into account and seal conservation areas should also be taken into account in site selection and operation. Seal licences will only be granted where other management options are precluded or have proven unsuccessful in deterrence.

Economic Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 9: Consenting and licensing authorities should be satisfied that appropriate emergency response plans are in place.

SocialAQUACULTURE 10: Fish farm operators should carry out pre-application discussion and consultation, and engage with local communities and others who may be affected, to identify and, where possible, address any concerns in advance of submitting an application.

Economic Social Climate ChangeAQUACULTURE 11: Aquaculture equipment, including but not limited to installations, facilities, moorings, pens and nets, must be fit for purpose for the site conditions, subject to future climate change. Any statutory technical standard must be adhered to.

Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 12: Applications which promote the use of sustainable biological controls for sea lice (such as farmed wrasse) will be encouraged.

Economic SocialAQUACULTURE 13: Proposals that contribute to the diversification of farmed species will be supported, subject to other objectives and policies being satisfied.

Economic Social Marine EcosystemAQUACULTURE 14: The Scottish Government, aquaculture companies and Local Authorities should work together to maximise benefit to communities from aquaculture development.

Regional policy: Regional marine plans should consider the potential for sustainable growth of aquaculture in their region, taking into account the policies set out above, and working in close partnership with terrestrial planners, SEPA, Marine Scotland, SNH and other regulators.

Map 6 - Guidance on the location of marine fish farms

Part 4: The future

7.23 The immediate prospects for Scottish aquaculture are strong, with worldwide demand for farmed Scottish salmon continuing to grow and new markets opening up [88] . Prospects for the growth of mussel, trout and halibut sectors are also positive and further diversification is encouraged.

7.24 The Scottish Government's Ministerial Group on Sustainable Aquaculture ( MGSA) is focused on the 2020 growth targets and beyond. It is also tasked to ensure the long-term sustainability of aquaculture within the wider environment. Working Groups under the auspices of the MGSA are working to improve capacity, resolve interactions issues, support the regulatory framework, and identify suitable areas for shellfish water designations (new areas and expansions).

7.25 The Scottish Government supports future initiatives to research and develop new systems which improve the long-term sustainability of the aquaculture industry. For example, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre [89] will deliver outputs from research, knowledge exchange and training contributing to the efficiency and profitability of the aquaculture industry in Scotland through stimulating sustainable structural changes in linkages between academia and industry.

7.26 The combination of developments in traditional aquaculture production, seaweed cultivation and offshore renewables, may offer synergies to these sectors and the Scottish Government will continue to work with these industries to determine such possibilities.

7.27 The Scottish Government encourages planners and the industry to identify opportunities for expansion in the number of larger, further off-shore [90] sites which will represent a significant increase in the value of the Scottish industry and reduce potential environmental impacts at more sensitive inshore locations. The Scottish Government also supports the sustainable growth of the seaweed sector.


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