MSPs have called for urgent action to improve the regulation of Scottish salmon farming and to tackle fish health and environmental challenges.
It follows an in-depth inquiry into the industry by the Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee (RECC).
Highlands and islands Tory MSP Sir Edward Mountain, the committee’s convener, said: “The salmon farming industry offers significant economic and social value to Scotland, providing jobs and investment in rural areas.
“There is a desire within the industry to grow, however, if this is to happen, it is essential that the serious challenges it faces such as the control of sea-lice, lowering fish mortality rates and reducing the sector’s impact on the environment are addressed as a priority.
Sir Edward added: “If the reputation of Scottish salmon as a premium product is to be maintained, Scotland’s salmon farmers must demonstrate responsible and sustainable production methods.
“The committee is strongly of the view that the status quo in terms of regulation and enforcement is not acceptable, and that we need to raise the bar in Scotland by setting enhanced and more effective standards.”
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The MSPs 65 recommendations include taking a “precautionary” approach to any potential impact of sea-lice infestation from salmon farms on wild salmon.
There should be an “immediate and proactive” shift towards locating new farms in more suitable areas away from wild salmon migratory routes, the report says.
It also calls for “a more strategic approach” to identify areas that are either suitable or unsuitable for the siting of farms, and immediate dialogue with the industry about moving poorly sited farms.
Salmon farms have been plagued by sea-lice and other husbandry issues in recent years, while escapes have heightened concerns about their impact on the environment.
Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland director Andrew Graham-Stewart welcomed the MSPs’ report, saying it “cuts through many years of Scottish Government and industry spin and prevarication”.
He added: “The onus is now on the Scottish Government to act without delay to implement the report’s recommendations, giving wild fish much needed protection from sea-lice and diseases emanating from salmon farms.”
Don Staniford, one of the industry’s fiercest critics, said: “Whilst this scathing report is a shot across the bows of the industry, it is disappointing that the RECC stopped short of recommending a moratorium.
“The closing down of Scotland’s worst salmon farms must happen as a matter of urgency.”
Mr Staniford, who has campaigned against salmon farming for years, added: “Scottish salmon farming is an environmental and welfare nightmare.”