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Scotland’s salmon sector under scrutiny – again

Scotland’s Rural Affairs & Islands (RAI) Committee has launched a follow-up inquiry into the country’s salmon farming sector.

The committee wants to understand if the recommendations it made to the Scottish Government in 2018, to address economic, social and environmental issues related to the salmon farming industry in Scotland, have been implemented.

In November 2018, the then Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee (RECC) said urgent action needed to be taken to improve the regulation of the Scottish salmon farming industry and to address fish health and environmental challenges. The Committee also said that the current standards of regulation were ‘not acceptable’.

The Committee set out 65 recommendations about how challenges, such as the control of sea lice, rising fish mortalities and the need to reduce the sector’s impact on the environment, should be addressed. 

“We will find out what progress has been made in developing the industry since 2018 and how the various fish health, environmental and climate change challenges it faces are being addressed,” said the committee’s convenor Finlay Carson.

In a letter to the committee, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, said the review is timely: wild Atlantic salmon were recently reclassified from ‘least concern’ to ‘endangered’ in Great Britain. 

The start of the inquiry also coincides with the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO). As a jurisdiction of NASCO, Scotland has committed to the Williamsburg Resolution and associated guidelines and International Goals, which require 100% of farms to have effective sea lice management and for 100% of farmed fish to be retained in all production facilities. “Scotland is not meeting these international goals and urgent action is now required,” wrote the Trust’s CEO Mark Bilsby. 


The sector has come under continuous pressure from welfare and environmental groups. They point to high levels of fish mortality and the impact of the farms on marine biodiversity. The sector is also facing numerous challenges relating to climate change. 

Salmon Scotland, which represents producers, wants to double in size by 2030. Aquaculture is viewed as a lower carbon protein optionto some livestock products. Carbon footprints vary considerably, though. Research in 2023 funded by the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund (FHF), SINTEF, showed emission values of between 4.8 and 28kgCO2e per kilo of edible salmon on the market. Most of the emissions (75%) were from feed.

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott said “it’s absolutely right for the committee to continue its ongoing work programme to look at our nation’s vital salmon sector”. 

In a piece for Fish Farmer magazine in May, Scott celebrated the removal of the Scottish Greens from a power-sharing agreement with the SNP and called on the government to “create the conditions for change and growth, not interfere or hold back business”.

Scottish salmon is the UK’s largest food export, generating more than £750m for the Scottish economy and sustaining around 12,500 jobs. Sales values increased 0.5% to £581m in 2023, but export volumes were down 11% compared to the previous year, according to HMRC figures.

Salmon Scotland blamed the increased red tape following Brexit and the “slow pace of reform of cumbersome regulation in Scotland”.


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