Scottish Aquaculture Council minutes: May 2023

Minutes from the meeting held 3 May 2023.

Attendees and apologies


  • Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
  • Màiri McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition 


  • Clare Cavers, Scottish Environment LINK/Fidra
  • Russel Griggs, Independent reviewer
  • Ben Hadfield, Mowi/Salmon Scotland
  • Heather Jones, Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre [Remote]
  • Ian Laister, Bakkafrost/Salmon Scotland
  • Nick Lake, Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers [Remote]
  • Ronan O’Hara, Crown Estate Scotland
  • Nicole Paterson, Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • Dawn Purchase, Marine Conservation Society
  • Oliver Robinson, British Trout Association
  • Tavish Scott, Salmon Scotland
  • Owen Stevens, Scottish Seaweed Industry Association
  • Cathy Tilbrook, NatureScot
  • Alan Wells, Fisheries Management Scotland
  • Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland [Remote]
  • Alice Hall, Deputy Director, Environmental Quality and Resilience Division
  • Malcolm Pentland, Deputy Director, Marine Economy and Communities
  • Fiona Simpson, Chief Planner
  • Annabel Turpie, Director, Marine Directorate

Additional attendees

  • Professor Maggie Gill, Scottish Science Advisory Council
  • Alasdair Maclean, Scottish Science Advisory Council (Secretariat)/ SG
  • Diarmuid Ó Néill, Deputy Director Science, Evidence and Data, SG


  • Elaine Jamieson, Head of Blue Economy Food and Drink, Highlands and Islands Enterprise   
  • Sheila Voas, Chief Veterinary Officer, Scottish Government  

Secretariat provided by Marine Directorate officials.

Items and actions

Summary of meeting 3 actions

  • minute from the scottish aquaculture council’s second meeting to be considered for publication by ministers
  • Scottish government to consider any comments provided in relation to the development of the vision for sustainable aquaculture
  • the finfish aquaculture sector will consider potential sites to trial live applications to test the new approach being developed by the consenting task group
  • an environmental non-governmental organistaion will follow up the meeting with further information on the community voice method
  • Scottish government to consider scottish aquaculture council member views on the scottish science advisory council report and the next steps

Welcome, apologies and housekeeping

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands (RALRI) welcomed everyone to the third meeting of the Scottish Aquaculture Council (SAC) and welcomed Màiri McAllan in her new role as Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition (NZJT). 

Agreement of scottish aquaculture council meeting two minutes (15 November) 

No further comments were provided on meeting two minutes. Minutes will be considered for publication by ministers.


  • minute to be considered for publication by ministers

Vision for sustainable aquaculture

The Cabinet Secretary (RALRI) highlighted that a draft version of the Vision document had been circulated by email to members in advance of the meeting. She thanked members for their previous contributions and noted that there would not be a full discussion on the draft in the meeting but confirmed that members could provide any final comments, requesting that those be submitted to officials by 12 May for consideration.

Consenting task group  

Malcolm Pentland provided a verbal update on the progress of the consenting task group. He confirmed the group was established swiftly after the last SAC meeting, meeting for the first time on 29 November and again in February. He also highlighted that an advisory group with industry, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish government (SG) and local government representation had been established and is meeting regularly to help ensure momentum is maintained. He noted thanks to Professor Russel Griggs for his support in relation to this work.

Malcolm also updated members on a workshop held on 29 March where a draft consenting model - effectively a blue print proposal to run the SEPA controlled activities regulation (CAR) permit and local authority planning process side by side rather than sequentially - was presented to, and considered by, participants. 

In terms of next steps, there are three meetings of the advisory group scheduled between now and the end of June in which the blueprint will be turned into a more detailed draft management framework. 

SG Marine Directorate officials are leading on that with input from others. Industry colleagues on the advisory group have also agreed to provide sites for trialling a new co-ordinated consenting process. The intention is that trialling will begin in early July.

It was confirmed that the group will consider trialling a new fish farm application and modification to existing fish farm application, and would explore how to build in other relevant policy developments as they arise, including the SEPA sea lice risk assessment framework.


  • the finfish aquaculture sector will consider potential sites to trial the blueprint consenting document 

Scottish science advisory council

The Cabinet Secretary (NZJT) opened and chaired this item.

The Cabinet Secretary (NZJT) thanked Professor Maggie Gill, Chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC), for the detailed work carried out by her and her team and invited Professor Gill to provide a summary of the recently published report on the use and communication of science in aquaculture consenting.

Professor Gill outlined the value of social science and that it is important to take a full view of the policy and regulatory landscape. Professor Gill opined that there was an opportunity for aquaculture to get ahead and start to consider and deliver science to address issues of the future, in addition to making progress on known issues. She stressed the point that science is complex by nature and cannot simply give a straightforward answer to many issues and that independent scrutiny is key.

In discussion, concerns were raised about local authorities dealing with conflicting science at the very end of the consenting process. This role is challenging where different science or modelling frameworks may be submitted by different stakeholders in the consenting process. The Climate Change Committee and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports were highlighted, including how aquaculture might be impacted by climate change and how that question should be weaved into the broader considerations. Professor Gill asked how SG could get more out of these and suggested there may an opportunity when the next IPCC report comes out to look at sector specific impacts. Professor Gill suggested there was some criticism of Marine Scotland Science, but that this was to be expected and that it was important to have the relevant users involved at all stages of the process in order to get the questions right. Professor Gill commented on the limited funding which Scotland has within its control and fragmentation of research, suggesting that more connections are required to create join up in risk management of the blue economy.

Some members queried how the key findings from the SSAC report could be used to develop regulation and whether this would allow for the inclusion of other policy work currently in train. This led to the discussion for the need of policy and regulation to become more adaptive than it has been in the past, noting that some policies have been in place for years and might not have kept up with innovation or may need to be looked at again. The New Zealand Government’s co-creation and co-design for policy of livestock was raised as a good example of collaboration which was about horizon scanning, requiring farming community and other buy-in and creating sound bites of science occasionally.  

The Scottish Government highlighted the Marine Scotland Science audit process, which is a lengthy and robust process carried out by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) and that for international bodies to accept our data in the first instance it must be captured by accredited methods. Marine Scotland Science produces over 200 independently peer-reviewed papers a year covering issues such as aquaculture to renewables and everything in between. Marine Scotland Science stated that they are happy to continue to have open discussions and publish openly and involve external partners as currently it does; though the importance of its independence as a Government institute was reiterated within a scientific community rubric. The Cabinet Secretary (NZJT) noted that she was proud of Scottish Government scientists, and encouraged those good conversations already occurring to continue. An SAC member suggested that there is a need to understand what are valid issues moving forward and consider who is being asked to judge those issues.

The group discussed the polarisation of views in wider discussions on aquaculture. The Chief Scientific Advisor highlighted that the volume of science available and the speed of development is challenging. The Chief Scientific Advisor agreed that knowledge exchange could be improved and that the development of briefs to explain data may be a helpful way forward. The Cabinet Secretary (NZJT) asked the group for their views on the effectiveness of an annual forum, as suggested in the SSAC report. A member noted that there may be a lack of understanding of what it means to move to a new regulatory approach and the ability to build in new policy developments as information improves. Professor Gill suggested that a greater explanation of adaptive management could be beneficial to allow things to adapt as new information is made available and create a more accommodating space for innovation.

The issue of funding for the sector was raised, with one member opining that the Scottish Government could be more proactive in providing funding, given the sectors importance as a food producer to Scotland. Professor Gill stated that one of the stakeholders interviewed for the SSAC report indicated they were not supportive of any food producing activity in any of Scotland’s wild areas and asked how to engage with this opinion. The Scottish Government stated that they could not commit to a specific level of funding at this time but acknowledged that behavioural change is a challenge, suggesting there are roles that all members can play to help address this issue.

A member opined that although the sector can deliver on the Blue Economy objectives, producing low carbon food, they do it entirely unsubsidised and challenged the Government’s view on the value of the sector. The member suggested that growth will only happen if society is brought along at the same time. The Scottish Government stated significant steps have been taken to address some of the big issues but recognised that there is more to do on coordination and addressing gaps. The Cabinet Secretary (NZJT) stated that there is a need to both support Scotland’s industries while protecting the environment in parallel. Some members welcomed this support and indicated that they would like to see further financial support for the sector.

The Scottish Government highlighted that there are wider options of funding available in addition to the Scottish Funding Council and suggested there may be an opportunity to map ongoing science work in aquaculture to identify any gaps. A member raised the issue of social media and the reliability of information obtained through it.  

The Chief Scientific Advisor commented that collaborative working has been successful in the past, pointing to the Covid response and suggested there was similarities to the work on the Sea Lice Risk Assessment Framework. The Chief Scientific Advisor also suggested that a series of informative webinars may be a useful tool to counter negative messaging on social media. Another member suggested that a diverse range of tools could be used to reach the public more effectively including both soundbites and comprehensive information. Professor Gill raised the issue of access to data and its interpretation, particularly in relation to models and that advice should be sought on how to effectively communicate science by looking beyond our own disciplines.

Some members asked how can we help local authority planners to be more confident in their decisions given the pressure they are under to address the volumes of correspondence on applications, suggesting that a link between the SSAC report and the work of the Consenting Task Group was key.

Professor Gill suggested that the sector would benefit from raising their profile and becoming more competitive in the funding space. One member indicated that the sector and the UK Government provide more financial support than the Scottish Government and that innovation can help with regulation but noted that Government is slow to adopt. The member opined that the idea of webinars, as suggested by the Chief Scientific Advisor, would likely have more impact than a single annual forum for broader voices.

The group discussed how to address the lack of trust some have in the available science with one member referencing a situation of crowd funding science suggesting that it was not desirable but may not be a science issue. The same member raised concerns about how far this work would take us in addressing these issues. Professor Gill suggested that this was a social science issue opining that while the SSAC report would not pave the entire way to a solution, it is a stepping stone in the right direction. The Cabinet Secretary (NZJT) agreed with the need to improve the process to reduce frustrations.

The issue of innovation outpacing regulation was raised and queries raised on how to counter negative messaging and whether the sector should keep trying to and asked for opinions on the term modelled evidence. Professor Gill noted that it was difficult to change people’s minds but pointed out that it is important to listen and understand concerns and to continue to address them. On modelled evidence, Professor Gill opined that models can be large and complex and that an understanding of the assumptions applied is required. Another member suggested that it is important to keep up with innovation and that adaptive management with some precaution would allow that. It was agreed that changing perceptions is difficult. The Scottish Government pointed out that while it is important to interrogate modelling assumptions there should not be dismissal of all models and rather an acknowledgement that while there is some level of uncertainty in models we use them as part of our daily lives, for example weather forecasts, they are essential in some cases. It was suggested that a discussion on where innovation has helped or not would be useful.

The work on the sea lice risk assessment framework was raised and how important collaborative working has been to drive that forward. It was recognised that communication with stakeholders is crucial to ensure progress is made on the framework with the sector credited for their recent effort in this. It was also noted that SEPA are aiming to publish a Future of Regulation document shortly. There was a discussion on communication methods that can bring together diverse opinions to find commonalities, such as the community voice method. An environmental non-governmental organistaion (ENGO) offered to follow up with further information following the meeting.

The Chief Scientific Advisor indicated support for further funding for the sector pointing to Horizon EU funding and Pioneer funding currently under negotiation by the UK Government as options and suggested there may be more opportunities for Marine Scotland Science to link with the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre for future work.

The SAC members indicated that they broadly supported the SSAC report and its recommendations. The Scottish Government noted that it would take the views expressed at the meeting and consider its next steps relating to the SSAC report.


  • ENGO to follow up meeting with further information on the community voice method
  • SG to consider SAC member views on the SSAC report and the next steps

Any other business

It was noted that the next meeting would likely be held following parliamentary recess in September and that invitation would be issued in due course.

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