New poll shows no support for more fish farms around Scotland

An organisation campaigning for an end to open water salmon farming says a new poll shows support is at an all-time high.

By John A. MacInnes
Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 8:27 am
Open water salmon farming cages
Open water salmon farming cages

The ISSF say the Scottish Government have endorsed a 2016 plan by the fish-farming industry to double open cage salmon farming in Scottish waters, with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy viewing the growth of salmon farming as “a key driver of the confidence that is necessary to ensure that when we have that next independence referendum, that we will succeed in that referendum.”

A new poll by Survation for the ISSF suggest this expansion would not be popular with the Scottish public.

Other major salmon farming nations are moving away from open cage aquaculture towards less polluting alternatives, citing the need to avoid obsolescence, protect the environment and ensure a long-term future for their industry.

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The end result on a plate

Norway's Fisheries Minister (Norway has the largest open cage salmon farming industry in the world) has made it clear that he wishes to see much more salmon farming carried out in closed containment to protect the environment.

Meanwhile the Canadian government is closing open cage salmon farms and the Danish Environment Minister announced legislation last October which brings “an end to the expansion of marine production”, noting that the "aquatic environment is in crisis" and that "the sea should not be a dustbin.”

It is estimated that over two million tonnes of salmon could be produced in land-based facilities around the world in the next decade, but that none of this is expected to come from Scotland.

Corin Smith, founder of the campaign to clean up salmon farming in Scotland said: “The Scottish Government’s policy of expanding open cage salmon farming appears to be completely out of touch, out of date and out of support in Scotland. The public rejects the reality of Scotland's seas continuing to be used as a sewer for salmon feedlots.

Farmed salmon in open water cages is a big business in Scotland

"Other nations are already benefiting from billions being invested in the huge opportunities associated with land-based alternatives, meanwhile the Scottish Government's exclusive backing of archaic open cage salmon farms looks like the equivalent of investing in diesel car production when the rest of the world is going electric.”

“To protect and promote our country's natural assets, as well as securing a long-term future for those employed in salmon farming, the Scottish Government needs to join Norway and others in a rapid transition into clean, green, modern alternatives.

"Until then we must see an end to the indiscriminate pollution of our seas and urgent robust protection for habitats where salmon feedlots are located.”

Wide ranging and long-standing concerns about the damaging environmental impacts of open cage salmon farming were crystalised in two Holyrood Committee Inquiries in 2018. Both the Rural Economy and Environment committees delivered extensive reports highlighting a range of concerns and regulatory gaps the industry and Scottish Ministers needed to urgently address.

Open water cage salmon farming

Campaigners have since accused the Scottish Government of being too close to the open cage salmon farming industry, not considering alternatives and moving deliberately slowly on regulation.

Research by the charity Salmon & Trout Conservation showed that since publication of the committee reports in 2018 there has been a rush to expand the industry. They found that despite both committees being of the view that urgent action needed to be taken before the industry could expand, between March 2018 and December 2019, salmon farm planning permissions for an additional 76,000 tonnes of biomass were either granted or are in the planning process, which equates to almost half of all the farmed fish harvested in 2018.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, said: "It is clear from this polling that the Scottish Government has no public mandate to expand open cage salmon farming in Scotland.”

Numerous local community groups have also raised concerns that their views are not being properly considered and that the negative impacts of open cage salmon farming are being ignored.

The end product on a plate, but some are suggesting it's too high a price to pay

The poll also asked whether local communities should have the final say on whether fish farms are approved: 56% of those expressing a view agreed, and just 21% disagreed.

John Aitchison for the Coastal Communities Network said: "This survey confirms that Scots want coastal communities to have more say in whether these farms are foisted on them by a flawed planning process with the full weight of the Scottish Government behind it.

Farmed salmon is big business