Scottish Aquaculture Council minutes: June 2022

Minutes from the meeting held on the 27 June 2022.

Attendees and apologies

Scottish Government

  • Mairi Gougeon, Chair, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
  • Mairi McAllan, Minister for Environment and Land Reform

External organisations

  • Elaine Jamieson, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Tavish Scott, Salmon Scotland
  • Nick Lake, Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers
  • Alan Wells, Fisheries Management Scotland
  • Oliver Robinson, British Trout Association
  • Jo Green, Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • Owen Stevens, Scottish Seaweed Industry Association
  • Dawn Purchase, Marine Conservation Society
  • Clare Cavers, Scottish Environment LINK/Fidra
  • Russel Griggs, Independent Reviewer
  • Simon Hodge, Crown Estate Scotland
  • Heather Jones, Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre
  • Colin Blair, Cooke Aquaculture/Salmon Scotland
  • Cathy Tilbrook, NatureScot [remote]

Scottish Government

  • Sheila Voas, Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland
  • Kevin Quinlan, Director, Environment and Forestry
  • Malcolm Pentland, Deputy Director Aquaculture and Recreational Fisheries
  • Diarmuid O’Neill, Head of Marine Scotland Science
  • Alice Hall, Deputy Director Environment Quality Division
  • Cara Davidson, Team Leader, Planning Architecture and Regeneration
  • Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland [remote]


  • Nick Halfhide, NatureScot
  • Robert Nicol, COSLA
  • Ben Hadfield, Mowi/Salmon Scotland
  • Annabel Turpie, Director, Marine Scotland
  • Fiona Simpson, Chief Planner, Scottish Government

Secretariat provided by Marine Scotland officials.

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the first meeting of the Scottish Aquaculture Council (SAC) and set out the Ministers aspirations for the SAC in fostering collaboration and acting as an expert advisory council.

Role and remit of the Scottish Aquaculture Council: terms of reference - paper SAC-01 (02)

Comments were invited on the draft Terms of Reference (ToR). Members discussed the remit of the group and how work would be prioritised. A request was made that a reference to the 12 month delivery challenge is included. Members noted that the SAC should not overly restrict itself given the expertise in the room to allow issues to be addressed through natural progression, where required. It was discussed and clarified with members that Ministers are committed to equal progress of aquaculture commitments within the Programme for Government and Bute House Agreement, including delivery of the commitments made in response to the Salmon Interactions Working Group report and that there was a requirement to ensure work is delivered in an integrated way. The 12 month delivery challenge in the regulatory review report was discussed. There was some discussion on Scottish Government and organisational resource to support delivery. The SAC discussed community representation. The Cabinet Secretary advised that community benefit would be a key feature of the Vision for Scottish Aquaculture which the SAC will have the opportunity to discuss at the next meeting. Ministers agreed to consider the issues raised and to revise the ToR.

A Review of the Aquaculture Regulatory Process in Scotland report: presentation from Professor Russel Griggs - paper SAC-01 (03)

Professor Russel Griggs presented a summary of his report and its recommendations and invited questions and discussion by the SAC.

The sector commented on their experience of the consenting system and the length of time taken for consents as an example of the issues with the current consenting process. An issue regarding Habitats Regulations Appraisals caused by duplication between planning and marine licensing was raised. It was commented that the aspiration to have a single body or management system for each application to manage across the entire process was the key recommended outcome from the regulatory review report. Members discussed the importance of the aquaculture sector to rural communities, the opportunities presented to the sector to be ambitious and tackle long-standing challenges (housing, infrastructure etc.), and the need to be environmental stewards. It was highlighted that recommendations from prior reviews and the parliamentary inquiries were an important component in future delivery. There was a discussion on science and its independence.

Members agreed that separate regimes for finfish, shellfish and seaweed should be supported. Concern was noted that much of the regulatory review report does not apply to seaweed and shellfish development and it was asked that the SAC agreed to this upfront and the possibility to distinguish between sectors requiring CAR licences was raised and set fees which are proportionate to the industry concerned. It was commented that it could be disingenuous to suggest that planners cause the issues observed in the regulatory review report and that some did not recognise the vitriol and mistrust referenced.

The focus on marine aquaculture was raised and whether changing farming lengths in the marine environment would impact upon freshwater stages. A member raised that transparency around data and performance was key. It was commented that a social contract could open up farms to locals and promote ongoing communication and transparency between developers and communities.

Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC) scoping agreement - paper SAC-01 (04)

The Minister for Environment and Land Reform introduced this paper and provided context of ongoing work, including the development of SEPA’s sea-lice framework and the importance of ensuring work on this continues. The Minister also took the opportunity to provide an update on SEPA’s recent charge increase, confirming it would be implemented in 2022 with further detail to follow shortly.

Further context by government officials and the Chief Scientific Adviser on the overall scope and aims of the science project were provided, noting that:

  • the SSAC as Scotland’s highest level science body had been asked to examine this issue to ensure everyone has confidence in evidence-based decision-making moving forward, and that
  • the review will not be technical (SSAC membership does not include experts relevant to the science in question) but will rather advise on the high-level processes, e.g. how do we assure quality of science? How do we judge different publications against one another? How will the data be managed and accessed? These process-level findings could then later be applied in the context of specific issues

There was a discussion around the scope of the SSAC work and whether the SEPA sea lice framework was in scope of evaluation of the SSAC. Ministers noted that the SEPA framework is ongoing and the proposed framework has its own consultation process that is continuing. However, if there was any learning coming from the SSAC findings that can be applied to this part of the consenting process then action would be taken. Members suggested that further clarity on the scope of the SSAC’s work was required to confirm whether the sea lice risk assessment framework is included.

There was support for SSAC conducting this work and the aims of the project overall. Some specific suggestions were put forward including:

  • examining how other sectors deal with similar issues, for example the offshore renewables, (ScotMER) was raised as a good example, as well as lessons learned from COVID-19
  • whether the SSAC could consider the  precautionary principle and different legal requirements
  • a request for transparency of the process - will this review be made publicly available?

It was noted that the SSAC project would not delay existing processes, nor would it be a technical review of the science in aquaculture. The SSAC work would focus on high level principles and processes that could be applicable to processes within aquaculture consenting. If new information comes forward then it will be taken into account.

Consenting task work stream plans - paper SAC-01 (05)

An outline of the aims and proposed membership of the new consenting task group was provided, asking whether members had any views on a single, focused group but providing opportunities to bring in additional participants on an ad-hoc basis to inform specific tasks. The operation of this taking into account the different sectors was specifically queried. It was suggested that membership is restricted to applicants and consents providers and that the aim was to establish this group before the next meeting of the SAC.

The following points were made during discussion:

  • statutory consultees’ membership of the group should be considered
  • industry advised that they will provide names of company representatives for the group that were actively working on applications
  • it was suggested an independent chair could manage the process, considering the range of different views that will be in the room
  • ad-hoc additional participants could be a useful way to engage other views and what they want from the consenting process
  • the principles of transparency of the SAC should extend to the consenting group
  • that the 2016 Independent Consenting review should be referenced
  • that different meetings for different aquaculture sectors would be helpful, especially one for regenerative aquaculture (shellfish and seaweed) as these sectors also have very different consents and requirements from finfish
  • fish welfare issues should continue through the involvement of the Chief  Veterinary Officer and Fish Health Inspectorate
  • mapping in detail should be commenced to examine all the processes and procedures to avoid duplications and add value at each stage
  • that focus could be directed to the pre-application stage, with issues resolved before the application stage and
  • that piloting of new ways of working could begin quickly

The Cabinet Secretary noted the aim to keep the membership focused to avoid duplicating SAC, but agreed that feedback and reporting would be provided to the SAC, given the significance of the consenting work to deliver the regulatory review.

Any other business

The dates for next meetings were noted as follows:

  • 14 September 14:00-16:30 [subsequently rescheduled to 15 September 14:30-16:30]
  • 15 November 11:30-13:30

Scottish Government
Aquaculture Consenting Secretariat
July 2022

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