- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05712, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill. I remind members to speak through the chair by referring to other members by their full names and not as “you”.
- The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Paul Wheelhouse):
I am pleased to open the debate on the general principles of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill—the first bill that I have been involved with in a ministerial capacity.
Over a year ago, we consulted on a number of key issues and priority areas for possible legislation to ensure a regulatory regime that is fit for purpose. We wanted to build on existing best practice and voluntary arrangements wherever appropriate and to promote openness and transparency. That consultation continues; discussions with our stakeholders have greatly informed our thinking and have helped to shape the bill that we are debating.
I thank the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee for its work. I also thank everyone who gave evidence to the committee through the course of the consultation. I am pleased that the committee supports the general principles of the bill, which are that we must ensure that Scotland’s farmed and wild fisheries sectors, and their interactions with each other, continue to be managed effectively. In doing so we can maximise the combined contribution of both sectors to supporting sustainable economic growth, while giving due regard to the wider marine environment.
Earlier this week, I provided a written response to the committee’s report. I hope that my response has helped to provide the clarity that some in the chamber have asked for and that the Parliament will feel able to endorse the bill going forward.
The committee commented on the need to improve the relationship between wild fisheries and the fish farming sector. I share that view and, indeed, I made reference to it in my opening remarks to the committee. I have also expressed that view to stakeholders. Some areas already provide excellent examples of joint working at a local level, but that is not universally evident. That must change. Good neighbours talk, listen to and engage with each other.
I have already intimated my intention to lodge some amendments at stage 2. I hope that they will be welcomed by our stakeholders as points of clarity to improve technical aspects of the bill. I will take note of and reflect on any further points that are raised in the debate.
- Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD):
I thank the minister for giving way. He mentioned the amendments that he plans to lodge and he answered a parliamentary question this week in which he acknowledged the considerable amount of secondary legislation that will have to be introduced. Will he give a commitment that that secondary legislation, when it is introduced, will be subject to full consultation—particularly with the industry, because that is the aspect of this process that they potentially fear?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I have said on record and I am happy to reiterate that, where appropriate, we will use the affirmative procedure to ensure that there is adequate consultation on any secondary legislation that is made. I am happy to work with the member to ensure that we give maximum consultation opportunities for those important measures.
I move on to the importance of aquaculture and freshwater fisheries to Scotland. In Scotland, we are fortunate to have an abundance of water that is suitable for aquaculture and fishing. I am pleased that the committee agrees that the bill improves the framework for the aquaculture and freshwater fishing sectors’ sustainable development—in the short, medium and long term. Both aquaculture and freshwater fishing provide jobs, often in remote and fragile economies, investment, exports, and rural vitality and social cohesion.
The committee asked about the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007 and to what extent its aquaculture provisions have been successful. In our view, the management regimes that are monitored by the fish health inspectorate are working well. Aquaculture’s code of good practice—independently audited, with compliance of 98 per cent—is guiding the industry on its statutory responsibilities and day-to-day good practice. However, this bill is not about updating the 2007 act. It has been drafted to further enhance the existing regulatory regime to ensure that it is effective for 2020 and beyond, and to provide a platform for sustainable growth with due regard to the environment.
The provisions within the bill provide: new legal measures for fish farm operators, including statutory farm management agreements or statements; provisions for obtaining samples from fish farms; requirements for technical equipment standards and control mechanisms for the operation of wellboats; moves to improve the management and governance of district salmon fisheries boards, making them more transparent and accountable; safeguards for the shellfish industry, with measures to ensure that shellfish waters continue to be protected from pollution once the European Union shellfish waters directive is repealed in December this year; and powers to impose charges in connection to services that are provided by the Scottish ministers in the carrying out of fish farming and fisheries functions. Also included are additional enforcement powers to support sea fishery officers in carrying out their monitoring and investigation duties, and the extension of fixed-penalty notices to respond to issues of regulatory non-compliance.
I welcome the committee’s endorsement of proposals for the aquaculture sector, including to place farm management agreements and statements on a statutory footing. We will work with the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation to ensure that the new regulatory system is implemented and managed to best effect. I also welcome the committee’s endorsement of proposed powers to improve further the containment of fish. My officials will work with wellboat interests to ensure that regulations to manage the sector are proportionate, reasonable and, where possible, transferable. Reflecting the committee’s interest in the matter, I will also encourage the wellboat industry to explore the potential for wellboat development, manufacture and maintenance in Scotland.
I have repeated on a number of occasions that not everything that we require to achieve needs legislation to deliver and work is, therefore, being developed alongside the bill. We have noted the recommendations of the committee in respect of sea lice data. The Government already has access to the information on sea lice levels that we need to meet our current regulatory requirements, as well as access to industry data to undertake and inform our scientific work.
In that regard, I am pleased to announce today agreement to joint funding, totalling £1 million, for a programme of research between the Scottish Government and industry, overseen by the Scottish aquaculture research forum. The programme will have at its core a project to assess the impacts of sea lice and salmon of farmed origin in the wild in Scotland. The industry also acknowledges that data needs to be available to reassure the public and to aid the management of local fisheries—that is a key area of interaction.
- Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con):
I am not absolutely persuaded that the need to inform the public is as important as the minister suggests, although I accept that that is desirable. However, I am persuaded that there is a need for science and academia to have a considerable amount of farm-by-farm data in order to monitor the expansion of the industry. Would the minister care to comment on that?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
We are persuaded that there is a wider public interest in the health of our fish farms in terms of the quality of the stock. I accept that there are commercial confidentiality considerations that come into play, but I believe that we have the balance right in terms of seeking a greater degree of public awareness of the health of the stock in our fish farms, allowing inspectors to inspect the data and ensuring that we have the appropriate level of enforcement actions to deliver improvements in the situation around sea lice contamination.
I am encouraged by the SSPO’s voluntary proposal to increase the number of areas in which there is public reporting of sea lice levels from six to 30. I consider that to be a significant development that can be further developed in time. I will keep the new scheme under active review through the ministerial group on aquaculture, mindful that the Scottish ministers already have the power to legislate in the area, if necessary, through the 2007 act.
The committee welcomed my plans to reinvigorate the ministerial group on aquaculture and supported the current role that is played by the stakeholder reference group. Both of those groups have been established for the longer term and will be key to improved relations and engagement between the aquaculture and wild fish sectors. I am currently considering how best we might replicate a group with a structure similar to the ministerial group on aquaculture for the wild fisheries sector, to ensure similar engagement among stakeholders and interest groups on wild fishery matters.
The bill is the first step in delivering the Government’s commitment to modernising management structures for salmon and freshwater fisheries. I welcome the committee’s endorsement of that view. There are two themes in this part. First, the bill will deliver immediate improvements to the openness, accountability and transparency of district salmon fishery boards. Many boards are already carrying out the requirements that we are making statutory, and the bill will drive forward best practice in good governance. We will work with the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards to give guidance on implementation, mindful that boards are of varying size and capacity.
The second theme is the enhanced management of salmon fisheries. The bill looks to improve the collection and sharing of data and information on fisheries to help promote science-based management. It will provide ministers with access to the full range of management measures—specifically, annual close time orders—so that they can act in cases of national interest, local failure or absence of management. The bill will strengthen the consenting process for certain freshwater activities, introducing the ability for ministers to attach conditions to consents and to require monitoring.
I am pleased that the committee has largely endorsed the package of measures that I am introducing. While there is broad agreement on the principles, I acknowledge that there are differing views on the precise detail of some of the provisions and how they will be implemented. Carcass tagging is one example. The bill provides an enabling power for the creation of a scheme on that, but there are mixed views about what the scheme should look like. We will discuss the issue of individually numbered tags with stakeholders and consult fully on options for a scheme before bringing forward secondary legislation.
There has been some comment about what is not in the bill. Some have argued that it lacks ambition and that it focuses exclusively on salmon to the detriment of other fisheries. On that point, the Government is committed to supporting the development of all types of fisheries; only this week I awarded £17,000 to the Angling Development Board of Scotland to roll out a Scottish Qualifications Authority level 3 qualification that covers game, coarse and sea angling.
I assure members that our ambition is not limited. The past century has seen numerous attempts by various Governments to modernise the legislation on freshwater fisheries, which is a complex and emotive area. There has been progress, but not the major step change that the committee rightly notes is needed. Many significant issues need to be addressed, and the committee’s report highlights a number of specific areas that need more work.
I can confirm that I will take that work forward in the context of a major review of salmon and freshwater fisheries management in Scotland, which will perhaps be regarded as long overdue. Officials have started the process of scoping that review and I hope that it will get under way this summer. I can confirm that it will include all fisheries in Scotland, not just salmon fisheries. I anticipate the review considering in depth a number of key issues for the sector, including management of netting interests, the operation of close times and how fisheries management should be funded. The review will be conducted independently of Government, and I am pleased that the committee shares my vision for its outcome: a management system that is robust, sustainable and fit for purpose in the 21st century. I believe that it is imperative that all those with an interest use this unique opportunity to get matters right.
I welcome the committee’s recognition that the sea fisheries provisions bring Scotland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom as regards marine enforcement powers. However, we will look at the one or two minor points highlighted in the evidence and report back to the committee on our conclusions.
We recognise the tremendous potential that the shellfish sector has for increased production because of the demand for our quality products. I am therefore pleased that the committee welcomes the bill’s proposals for a framework to give continued protection from pollution to shellfish growing waters. I recognise that the provisions will provide only baseline protection in the process and I agree that both the Government and our agencies must continue to work with the sector and other stakeholder interests to ensure that proportionate measures are taken to deliver continued protection.
I welcome the committee’s support for our proposals to lodge amendments at stage 2 to strengthen the law on illegal cockle fishing, not least because of its current significance in the Solway. In addition, we continue to work with other agencies that are enforcing the law in respect of illegal shellfish harvesting to find solutions to other aspects of the issue.
We must manage our resources wisely. The bill gives ministers the power to charge for fisheries functions undertaken by Marine Scotland. Ultimately, if something is being provided that is of benefit, then it is right that the beneficiary should pay a fair contribution for that benefit. I am glad that the committee recognises that we would not bring forward a charging order without consulting those affected. I can confirm that a charging order will be subject to the affirmative procedure to ensure appropriate scrutiny of it.
I note the recommendation that we publish statistics on the use of fixed-penalty notices and I give a commitment to publish such statistics, anonymised, on an annual basis. We will also consider publishing statistics for other non-compliance activities to provide a complete picture.
I want Scotland to continue to be a great place to do business and we want new enterprises to be attracted to Scotland. We want both indigenous businesses and new businesses coming into Scotland to grow, but we also have a duty to protect our natural resources for the long term. That is why we seek, through the bill, to ensure that the marine environment is protected while realising the benefits of a successful and growing aquaculture industry, developing side by side with the wild fisheries in Scotland. I emphasise that the bill is not a blueprint for assured growth, but it aims to ensure that there is an effective and proportionate regulatory framework to facilitate that growth. I look forward to the debate that will follow and to hearing members’ views on the bill’s provisions.
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):
Thank you, minister. I advise members that time is extremely tight and that there is no extra time. I call Rob Gibson to speak on behalf of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. You have a maximum of nine minutes, Mr Gibson.
- Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP):
The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee began its scrutiny of this important bill with limited knowledge of the challenges that face aquaculture and wild fisheries in Scotland. After viewing salmon spawning on the River Dee, freshwater and seawater fish farms, a salmon processing plant, scientific research stations, salmon-netting operations and wild fisheries hatcheries—where aquaculture and wild fisheries representatives work side by side—we learned a lot in a matter of weeks.
The extensive gathering of oral and written evidence gave the committee a better idea of how the bill should be amended. From the outset, the committee agreed that the general principles of the bill are sound and that the Parliament should support them and send the bill on to its first amending stage. I thank all who gave us their invaluable support, all those whom we met on our travels and all those who submitted written evidence and/or gave oral evidence to the committee.
However, the issue of “working together” loomed large. Every committee member was struck by the tensions between the wild fisheries and aquaculture sectors—the expression that we used in our report was “tit-for-tat”. As we waded through evidence, examining claims and counter-claims, we reached the point at which we felt that enough was enough. Fish farms and wild angling are here to stay. Both sectors contribute to Scotland’s economy and have environmental responsibilities. However, to deliver thriving sustainable aquaculture and wild fisheries, both sectors must work together.
- Tavish Scott:
I agree with the point that Mr Gibson is making, but presumably he would also reflect that that conflict, which he rightly describes, is not true of the whole country or of all the areas that the committee looked into. It is perhaps important to reflect that.
- Rob Gibson:
We might reflect that some parts of the country have greater tensions, but the intention behind the bill is to try to meet the needs of all parts of the country. The committee whole-heartedly backs the intention to improve the transparency and accountability of both sectors while minimising bureaucracy.
During the stage 1 process, the Scottish Government announced that the bill will be a first step in reforming wild fisheries management in Scotland. The committee will closely monitor that process, which should build on the aquaculture and wild fisheries legislation that was passed only a few years ago.
Turning to specifics, the committee supports most of the bill’s aquaculture provisions, such as those that will place farm agreements and statements on a statutory footing. We support the taking of samples from any fish farm where that is necessary to determine where an escape of fish originated, because preventing escapes is essential. We call on the Scottish Government to consider other methods for tracing escaped fish ahead of stage 2.
The wellboats that transport and treat farmed fish must be tightly defined in law, as retrofitting boats to meet new standards could prove costly. We would like to see provisions included in the bill that would make that commercially viable. However, having wellboats built and retrofitted in Scotland will happen only if the Scottish Government works directly with the Norwegian Government to develop common standards.
We back the provisions on defining species that are commercially damaging to fish farms. However, we ask the Government to examine the origins of such species rather than just their presence on or near to farms.
Much of the debate focused on sea lice, which is an issue that is currently not covered by the bill. Sea lice can infect wild and farmed fish, but they can spread quickly on fish farms, with effects on wild stocks. We call on the Government to look closely at that issue, as other members will mention in more detail later in the debate. Fish farms currently collect data on the numbers of sea lice. After considering the issue carefully, we agreed that we wish to see data collated and published for each farm management agreement. The committee will continue to consider that issue as the bill proceeds. However, the important point is that the bill ensures that data are available to scientists and researchers to manage sea lice outbreaks.
Seals predate on fish farms and can damage nets, which leads to escapes. The industry is working hard to address that issue. Currently, a number of seals are being shot on fish farms. The committee welcomed alternative methods of predator control, such as the development of audio devices that cause no damage to seals or other marine animals.
On wild fisheries, we were encouraged to learn that, against a backdrop of long-term decline, the number of salmon coming back to our rivers is stabilising. We need to build on that. Unfortunately, in many areas the number of sea trout has declined sharply for various reasons.
The bill addresses the governance and management of district salmon fisheries boards, which I hope will improve the accountability and transparency of their activities. The complaints procedures outlined in the bill are appropriate and proportionate, as are the proposals to ensure that board members declare financial interests.
We support the introduction of a carcass tagging scheme in which tags are individually numbered. As the minister mentioned, that will be consulted on.
Another hot topic was salmon netting at the mouths of our rivers, which has been declining in Scotland for some time. The small salmon-netting community sought to amend the bill to protect their livelihood.
We spent an afternoon at a salmon-netting station, and we talked to all who worked there and other netsmen who had journeyed from Strathy in my constituency. They argued for the management of salmon netting to be removed from district salmon fisheries boards and placed with the Scottish Government’s inshore fisheries group. They also wanted an end to the close times that require the removal of their equipment on weekends. They would prefer a more flexible days-at-sea regime. Netsmen face challenging conditions, but a days-at-sea regime would not be appropriate. However, more transparent conflict resolution in district salmon fisheries boards is needed.
The committee supported the sea fisheries part of the bill, which is not controversial. Illegal cockle fishing in the Solway was discussed—no doubt my colleague Alex Fergusson, MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, will talk about that in greater detail. The Scottish Government indicated that that issue would be pursued by an amendment to the bill to assist the police and fiscals in detaining and prosecuting offenders. Alas, amendments alone will not end illegal shellfish harvesting—which goes beyond cockles—and we call on the Government and its partners to develop practical and workable proposals to tackle the problem.
We approved proposals for charging and fixed-penalty notices. We welcome the Government’s clarification that it will not introduce a rod licensing scheme, although anglers could have a role to play in assisting investment in wild fisheries management. Fixed-penalty notices can streamline legal processes, and we want the Government to publish statistics on their use for marine offences.
With some amendment, the bill will enhance aquaculture and wild fisheries to develop sustainably. We recommend that the Parliament support the general principles of the bill, allowing us to advance to the amending stages.
- Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab):
The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee supports the bill’s general principles, as the committee convener has stated.
I want to consider the bill’s context for a few minutes, which takes me immediately to the policy memorandum and the request from the committee to the Scottish Government
“to consider whether the assessment of sustainable development in the Policy Memorandum fulfils its potential as a means of ensuring a consistent and thorough regard for environmental, economic and social impacts of the changes proposed by the Bill and alternatives.”
The memorandum does not fulfil that potential. I therefore ask the minister to assure us that there will be an on-going assessment of the measures in the bill, as it progresses.
The committee has recently heard evidence on biodiversity; I stress its importance in relation to the bill. Concerns have been expressed about the delay of Scotland’s marine plan because marine spatial planning is key to appropriate development.
All potential development in our seas, whether aquaculture fisheries, marine renewables or oil and gas, must be judged in the context of marine carrying capacity. The delay to the marine protected areas is also a cause for concern. Our fragile coast and rural communities—where livelihoods depend on fish farms, fish processing, wild salmon rivers and tourism—must be considered, too.
The science is vital in determining what appropriate development is. It is essential that data be readily and publicly available for research into the sustainable future for all sectors concerned, and for the wider marine environment. That is even more of an imperative in the context of the changes in our marine and river environments resulting from climate change. We all need to do our best to climate proof the bill—hard as that may be—and the ensuing regulations. Excellent work on that is on-going, but it is important that the Scottish Government and all sectors work strategically so that we honour our climate change commitments more broadly.
Before focusing in detail on the sections of the bill, I, too, will say something about the adversarial nature of the engagement of some of the sectors involved. As our report points out, the committee’s work was hindered by it, which
“made it difficult at times for the Committee to assess the best way forward”.
That was not helpful. I highlight paragraph 2 of the committee’s opening summary:
“As important as this legislation is, perhaps of equal significance for Scotland in the long-term, is improving the current relationship between the wild and farmed fishing sectors, with a view to establishing closer, productive, cooperative working relationships for the overall benefit of the people of Scotland and the environment.”
I make a strong plea to that end to all those concerned.
The committee was certainly welcomed by many on its two days of fact-finding visits, which upped my knowledge. One must always try to be positive in times of conflict, and I believe that those visits set a good tone.
Part 1 of the bill focuses on the future of the aquaculture industry. There is no doubt that the Scottish Government is keen on the development of the industry for home consumption and export markets. The minister highlighted the point that new markets are opening up. The Scottish Government is negotiating agreements on salmon exports to China, which have grown exponentially in the past two years.
During his evidence to the committee, the minister stated:
“The clear message is that growth must be sustainable.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 9 January 2013; c 1614.]
That is reassuring in the context of the Scottish Government’s target of a 50 per cent increase in the sector by 2020, 34 per cent of which is, I believe, still to be achieved.
The market for many products that are branded as being from Scotland is based on clear provenance. Scotland’s reputation for good-quality waters is quintessential. Therefore, it is essential that there is careful monitoring and action, to which the bill and the regulation following it will contribute strongly.
The committee’s visits to Marine Harvest demonstrated the good practice that exists in the fish farming sector. The committee supports the move to put farm management agreements and statements on a statutory footing, but there is a need, in addition, to focus on the minority of farms that are not currently signed up, in order to ensure their quick compliance.
Co-ordinated management to underpin the building of trust and good relationships across the sectors is as important as marine spatial planning. The committee recommends that the Scottish Government work with the SSPO to ensure that mediation services are
“fully accessible and fit for purpose”.
I acknowledge the minister’s input in that regard.
The committee also
“notes concerns raised about the number of seals which are being shot at fish farms as part of predator control.”
The key point is that alternatives to killing must be as humane as possible. Therefore, I was encouraged to hear of the work of the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum in the minister’s feedback to the committee.
The committee explored the possibility of human error, which is important in relation not only to escapes but to broader good practice. I note that there are many good in-house training schemes in the aquaculture industry, but the situation should be monitored in case there is a need for further intervention.
The minister stated that, at stage 2, an amendment would provide a clearer definition of wellboats. My colleague the convener, Rob Gibson, already highlighted the importance of building of wellboats in Scotland. We hope that the Scottish Government will consider that on a broader level, especially in terms of employment.
I note that the minister will look to the MGA to keep the issue of the revoking of consents under review. Is that robust enough?
I welcome today’s funding announcement on sea lice. I will quote from the committee report, because I believe that this section is important:
“The Committee is still considering whether sea lice data should be published on a farm-by-farm basis, after taking evidence from the Minister, the aquaculture industry, the wild fisheries sector and other stakeholders. The Committee welcomes the Minister’s commitment to look at this issue as part of the work of the Ministerial Group on Aquaculture if not taken forward in the Bill”.
I stress that I hope that any delay in reporting that is introduced in any amendments will reassure the aquaculture industry about commercial confidentiality concerns. I am not convinced that the minister’s position takes us far enough on that.
The committee is also concerned about
“the current lack of … farm-by-farm data”,
but there has been some reassurance on that issue. Across the committee, we are absolutely conscious of the importance of the availability of scientific evidence.
The focus in part 2 is of equal importance. I know that other members will look at the management and governance of the district salmon fishery boards. As a committee, we are keen to
“establish the principle of improving accountability and transparency”
through the bill. The challenges that are faced by small boards should also be taken into account.
The disappointment of the coarse fishing sector about the lack of connection is recognised and has been acknowledged by the minister. On one of its visits, the committee was welcomed by Usan Salmon Fisheries Ltd. It is important that the Scottish Government’s review of wild fisheries considers the range of issues that have been raised, not least the weekly close times. It is reassuring that the minister has stated that those are key issues for the forthcoming review, and I hope that the discussions between Government officials and salmon fishery boards on short-term actions will help to resolve what appear to be local concerns.
The committee is clear that
“good water quality is vital for the shellfish industry”,
and I understand that the minister has already set up a working group to work collaboratively to resolve pollution challenges.
All members will be aware of the tragedy that took place at Morecambe Bay because of illegal cockling. My colleague Graeme Pearson will highlight that issue in relation to the Solway Firth and other parts of Scotland. The committee believes that it is essential that the Scottish Government provide its view of the way forward in helping to break that trade and to tackle the danger that is posed by fast-moving tides to the people who are being exploited.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I call Alex Fergusson. You have a tight six minutes.
- Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con):
To address all the issues and concerns that the bill embraces in a mere six minutes is an almost impossible task, so my remarks must be focused on just a few of the topics that it covers.
Despite the time constraint, I cannot begin my contribution to the debate without thanking the clerks to the committee for the outstanding job that they did in the preparatory work and the publication of the report, which they undertook with patience, humour and no little expertise. The clerks and, indeed, members of the Scottish Parliament information centre have made a monumental task for the committee’s members a great deal easier than it might otherwise have been.
It has been a monumental task, which has involved an equally monumental amount of written and oral evidence, through which we have had to wade and which, I believe, still leaves quite a few questions hanging unanswered. I reiterate what other members have said: our deliberations have not been made easier by the very public tit-for-tat battle of words between the aquaculture industry and the wild fishery sector that took place during our evidence gathering and which is on-going in various national journals and newspapers today. Although that has not made our task any easier, the degree of agreement among the committee on many of the basic issues that the bill deals with has been impressive.
The two items on which I want to make particular comment were not in the original bill. The first of those is the contentious matter of publication of sea lice data, which has already been mentioned. It would be fair to say that the committee heard from a large number of organisations that believe that radical changes to publication of such data are imperative, and one that does not. Over the past months, I have become more and more convinced by the views of the many, and less and less convinced by the view of the one, which seems too often to state that the sea lice issue is not an issue at all. However, it has to be an issue. Ministers quite rightly say that they take decisions and act only on the advice of the best available science. Therefore, it cannot be right that the authors of that best science cannot access farm-by-farm data on an issue as important as sea lice numbers.
In response to the recommendation that the committee made in paragraph 204 of its report, that
“the Ministerial Group on Aquaculture gives careful consideration to how farm-by-farm sea lice data can be made available to inform scientific research”,
the minister stated that
“we already have access to the information on sea-lice levels that we need to meet our current regulatory requirements, as well as access to industry data to undertake and inform our scientific work as required”,
and he repeated that in his opening remarks. That concerns me, because in a report that Marine Scotland science published recently called “Development and assessment of a biophysical dispersal model for sea lice”—on a study at Loch Linnhe—which was commissioned to help to establish more effective farm management areas, the authors state that they had to make a fairly major assumption, which is surely not the best thing on which to base a scientific paper, because
“actual sea lice data from each farm site are not available”.
At the very least, it is obvious that there is a considerable discrepancy there.
I cannot help but feel that it is vital for the industry—which the Scottish Government is encouraging to expand very rapidly indeed—to make public, or at least to make available to our scientists and academics, the data that they need to monitor safely the sustainability of that expansion. I give notice that I therefore intend to lodge amendments at stage 2 to explore how that can best be achieved. I heard what the minister said in his speech, and I undertake to monitor carefully any initiatives that the industry or the Government develops in the meantime.
As the convener so accurately forecast, I cannot possibly discuss the bill without making reference to a naturally occurring species in our marine environment: the humble cockle. Reference to this shellfish is not included in the bill, but ministers will be aware of my long-standing determination to see a cockle fishery re-established on the Solway—something that I believe is achievable, and which could be of great benefit to our local economy. I very much welcome the steps that Marine Scotland is undertaking to bring that about, even as we speak, and I greatly welcome the Government’s willingness to strengthen during stage 2 current laws in relation to illegal cockle fishing. As I think the minister mentioned, as long as illegal cockling takes place—with the large amounts of money in cockles, the temptations are huge—there will not be a legal fishery. That has been the case for too long on the Solway, so I highly commend the Government’s actions and intentions in that regard.
The bill also touches on wild fisheries—in particular, the governance of district salmon fishery boards. Although the Government is leaving much of the detail of management of wild fisheries to the review to which the minister referred, I have concerns about some aspects of the bill’s impact on the work of the boards, which I seek also to address at stage 2, specifically in relation to the suggested publication of notices for certain proposed applications and to the scale of the penalties that have been suggested for the failure of boards to monitor the effects of an order.
There is a great deal more to the bill than I have been able to cover in the time that has been available to me, and my colleague Jamie McGrigor will expand on some aspects. For now, I commend the committee’s report to Parliament, and I assure Parliament that the Conservatives will support the general principles of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill this evening.
- Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
I very much welcome the work that has been undertaken by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. The committee’s report responded to and incorporated a wide range of views in encouraging an environmentally viable and sustainable future for our fish farmers and freshwater fisheries and for all users of our marine environment.
Scotland is known worldwide for the quality of our environment, and that reputation underpins our successful food and drink export industry, in terms of both land and of the marine and river environments. People do not even need to think about making a choice between food that has been produced in a sustainable way and in pristine conditions and an alternative at the other extreme, in which production methods damage the environment and the consumer.
The general point is made by the Paisley snail case, in which a pauper, May Donoghue, successfully sued a manufacturer who had left a dead snail in a bottle of the ginger beer that she had purchased in the Wellmeadow cafe in Paisley in 1928. I regret to inform Parliament that the manufacturer of the ginger beer was one David Stevenson; as far as I am aware, he was not a relative of mine, and I hope not to find that he was.
- Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP):
Parliament might wish to be made aware of the fact that the snail may never have existed. The point was never proven, and was taken as read.
- Stewart Stevenson:
I think that, when the courts decide that the facts of a case are found, we should accept, through the telescope of age, that the snail was the point of application of the case. That is certainly true.
People want to be able to trust their food. If anything is to come out of the horsemeat scandal, it is that it illustrates that point. We want aquaculture, which is a major contributor to our food and is now a bigger industry than the wild-fish sector, to be even more successful in the future. We can help if we get things right. A country that has transparent rules and practices that guarantee that the consumer’s food comes from a pristine environment is ahead of the game at once, and having a good production environment is the first prerequisite to underpinning consumer confidence.
It is no surprise that our farmed salmon carries Scotland’s flag to all the global airts; it is a marker of quality. Our salmon are a health food—there is lots of omega 3 in them, for example—are the basis of much fine dining and are increasingly affordable in every home. Omega 3 reduces strokes and lowers blood pressure. Salmon tastes good and does people good. Therefore, when we legislate on our industry, we must legislate for it. We must provide the certainty that the environment within which the industry produces is good.
We know what people elsewhere think about our fish farming industry. In 1992, Scottish aquaculture received an unprecedented double honour; the French Ministry of Agriculture awarded the renowned Label Rouge mark to Scottish farmed salmon. That was not only the first time that the honour was given to a food that originated outside France, but was the first time that it was awarded to a fish product. That is an early indicator of the trust that our superb Scottish salmon has throughout the world. We are, of course, the European Union’s largest exporter of salmon, and there is room for substantial growth.
Other species have scope for growth, too. Our blue mussel accounts for most of our shellfish production. There were 7,000 tonnes of that, worth £8.6 million, in 2011. The aim is to double that in the next decade.
Our marine environment is, of course, a shared environment, so when we protect our clear blue—but, alas, not very warm—waters, we support sport fishing and a raft of coastal leisure activities. We also play a part in wider conservation measures that are important to a range of species. For example, who would have thought 20 years ago that we would find that we have living coral reefs in our marine waters? We support diversity, and that is part of it.
We also need to manage the production environment. That is in the interests of all coastal activity and benefits local communities. Again, sea lice are a big part of people’s engagement with the undoubted impacts of fish farming. I very much welcome plans by the Scottish Salmon Producers Association to publish data on that in considerable detail. We need enough detail to build public confidence and to support the needs of research, but not so much that extrajudicial action by extremists could result. That is unlikely, but we need to balance that.
- Alex Fergusson:
Will Stewart Stevenson take a brief intervention?
- Stewart Stevenson:
I do not think that I have time to do so. Please forgive me.
We have and we need a legal enforcement regime that deals with the small number of breaches of the rules, but above all, we need co-operation between the science, aquaculture and environment communities. Perhaps that has not been wholly evident in the evidence that has been given to the committee.
The committee was right to quote Steve Bracken in its report. He said:
“salmon farming and wild fisheries are both vital industries for the coast and inland parts of Scotland.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 5 December 2012; c 1466.]
That is undoubtedly true.
I take an interest in wild fishing. My brother and I had a wonderful summer in 1968, when we were employed by the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board as water bailiffs. I therefore very much welcome the opportunity that the bill creates to modernise a rather Victorian structure for supervising wild fisheries, and I look forward to future developments.
- Jayne Baxter (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
I am sorry to say that because I joined the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee only towards the end of December, I was unable to participate in the site visits and earlier consideration of many of the issues that are raised in the stage 1 report. I thank my fellow committee members and the clerks for their patience as I got to grips with the bill. In that process, it became apparent to me that there are a number of governance issues in the aquaculture and fishing industries that need to be addressed. I am pleased that the committee was able to scrutinise some of those issues.
The nature of some of the difficulties in the communication, structure and governance in the sectors is highlighted at the start of the committee’s report, which draws attention to the nature of the engagement between the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors, which is perceived to have been less than helpful at times. The committee’s recognition of the value of productive and co-operative working relationships is vital to the success of the legislation.
In taking evidence from the minister, it was established that an industry body that was involved in developing proposals for the bill—the freshwater fisheries forum—had not met for some time. I believe that it had not done so since 2009. I was therefore pleased that the minister recognised the need to learn from that and to ensure that the structure and governance arrangements are fit for purpose, and that he remains open to reviewing the role of the forum in the future and sees the importance of stakeholder engagement.
The committee’s report highlights the consultation and the engagement of key stakeholders on the proposed legislation, so I will not focus on that, although I hope that the Scottish Government learns from the experience as we proceed. The minister has recognised the concerns of respondents about the nature of the consultation, and I welcome his commitment to reflect on the process.
The aspect that generated the most discussion during the committee’s consideration of the bill was the publication of sea lice data. However, as the committee’s report notes and as my committee colleagues have highlighted, the bill as it stands does not cover the issue. I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government will give further consideration to data publication and to whether data should be placed in the public domain. I note that the issue is to be considered by the ministerial group on aquaculture, although it is obviously disappointing that the group’s next meeting will not take place until 26 March.
As is clear from the committee’s inquiries, the data exist and in some circumstances are made available or shared as part of farm management agreements within farm management areas. However, as Douglas Sinclair from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency pointed out:
“It is one of the few areas in the Scottish environment in which someone can be doing something that can significantly impact on someone else’s interests and there is no public access to what is going on.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 5 December 2012; c 1431.]
I recognise the concerns about the publication of data on a farm-by-farm basis, but I am disappointed that the Scottish Government has not included in the bill a measure on publication of sea lice data on a farm management area basis.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I ask Jayne Baxter to bear it in mind that some farm management areas might involve only a single company or, indeed, a single fish farm, and that that presents difficulties in publication of the data.
- Jayne Baxter:
I am aware of that. It is disappointing that, judging by the minister’s response to the committee’s stage 1 report, the Scottish Government does not intend to lodge amendments on the issue at stage 2. I support the committee’s view that publication of data for areas that are covered by farm management agreements and statements could facilitate greater public scrutiny while—I believe—minimising the potential impact on the industry.
I note the voluntary proposal from the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation to increase the level of publishing of data for the industry, which is a positive step. However, given the committee’s recent experience in its evidence sessions of the relationships between sectors, I am sceptical as to whether a voluntary approach will be enough.
That point draws me back to the importance of establishing coherent, transparent and effective governance arrangements for the aquaculture industry and fisheries sector. The formalising of farm management agreements and statements is to be welcomed, as they are crucial to establishing the framework surrounding farm management areas for the future. If a provision on the publication of data is not to be included in the bill as amended at stage 2, I would welcome early consideration of the matter by the ministerial group on aquaculture.
As we return to legislate on aquaculture just a few years after the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007, it is clear that we must ensure that the legislation is fit for purpose in order to avoid having to repeat the exercise in the near future. Therefore, although I am pleased that the committee recommends support for the general principles of the bill, I hope that the Scottish Government will use the opportunity to make improvements at stage 2.
- Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP):
As a relatively new member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, I was pleased to take part in the bill scrutiny process from the start. The committee has undertaken extensive work. As the committee convener said, we had a large amount of submissions to digest as well as the information that was gleaned from our worthwhile fact-finding missions to Lochaber, royal Deeside and Montrose.
The bill has so many aspects that, like Alex Fergusson, I will be able to touch on just a few in the six minutes that I have for my speech.
The first aspect is aquaculture. We all want a sustainable aquaculture industry that is run with consideration for the environment and adapted to the marine environment and biological diversity. As a top-quality food producer, the aquaculture industry relies on good environmental conditions and water quality, which means that, if fish farmers are to protect their businesses, they have an obvious vested interest in maintaining good water quality and avoiding any negative impact on their surroundings.
Diseases and parasites represent a serious threat to wild salmon populations, and it is primarily sea lice that have the most serious impact on wild fish. The issue has proved to be a challenge to the industry in the past. The committee acknowledged that sea lice are an emotive and controversial issue, which has attracted a great deal of comment and conflicting views from stakeholders in responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation and in evidence to the committee.
Although salmon lice occur in wild salmon and sea trout, they are an example of a parasitic disease that has been intensified by the presence of a multitude of hosts in aquaculture facilities. In additional to being passed from fish to fish, the parasites can be spread over long distances by currents.
I was pleased that there was consensus in the committee on how to deal with the matter, and I was pleased that the SSPO announced an increase from six to 30 in the number of areas from which sea lice data will be collected. The committee seriously considered whether sea lice data should be published on a farm-by-farm basis, after taking evidence from the minister, the aquaculture industry, the wild fisheries sector and other stakeholders.
The minister said in his response to the RACCE committee’s stage 1 report that he is
“encouraged by the SSPO’s voluntary proposal to enhance its public reporting from 6 to 30 areas.”
However, I and the majority of members of the committee—if not all of us—would much rather that sea lice data were published on a farm-by-farm basis or at least a farm management area basis. I note that the minister said of the SSPO’s proposal:
“I consider this to be a significant development and an appropriate balance between public reassurance and commercial interests at this time.”
I am pleased that the matter will be kept under close review, particularly if the voluntary approach does not bring the desired result and sea lice data are not independently verified.
Members will be aware that the committee’s work on the bill overlapped with our scrutiny of the draft second climate change report on proposals and policies. It is fair to say that aquaculture has an impact on and is influenced by the climate. Changes in weather and temperature affect disease levels in fish and test aquaculture facilities’ tolerance to disease.
The production and sale of seafood also affects the climate, through discharges. As we heard from the cabinet secretary when we were considering RPP2 at this morning’s committee meeting, food production, including salmon production, has an impact in relation to food miles. There is a need for shorter supply chains. Major retailers here should be doing their bit by buying quality Scottish salmon rather than Norwegian salmon—to be fair, most retailers are doing that.
When the committee was considering the freshwater fisheries aspect of the bill, we saw at first hand the upper Dee riparian scheme. We learned about efforts to increase tree cover along parts of the river, to mitigate the effects of climate change-related rising water temperatures at times when salmon are spawning. It was good to see what was going on, but it was worrying to hear that in other parts of the country riparian woodlands are being cut down to allow better access to the river for anglers. Such an approach is in direct contrast to the long-term planning that is going on in royal Deeside.
The committee heard that higher river temperatures may lead to reduced reproduction in salmon, as a result of physiological stress and increased susceptibility to disease. The higher temperatures might cause young salmon to migrate to sea earlier, which results in a disconnect in relation to the availability of marine food sources. Reductions in summer rainfall reduce summer flows, further increasing water temperatures while making it more difficult for salmon to migrate upstream. Increased winter flows might damage the gravels in salmon spawning beds, resulting in the loss of or damage to eggs.
The committee therefore recommended that the Scottish Government, as part of its review of wild fisheries management, consider how the experiences in the upper Dee scheme and other best practice can be rolled out across the country. The committee also recommended that
“the Scottish Government gives careful consideration to ensuring the Bill ... takes full account of climate change mitigation measures, to ensure the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors contribute to helping Scotland meet its statutory climate change targets and are able to continue to adapt to the emerging effects of climate change.”
The river restoration fund is a good example of a way of making that happen.
I hoped to have time to talk about fixed-penalty notices, protection of shellfish waters, and wellboats and the need to ensure that fabrication and retrofitting happens in Scotland, but my time is up. I have covered a few of the issues that the committee considered, but I am sure that my committee colleagues will pick up on other aspects of the bill in the debate.
- Graeme Pearson (South Scotland) (Lab):
As someone who is not a member of the committee, I am delighted to be speaking in the debate. I wish the minister well in seeing his first bill through Parliament successfully. In spite of some divided opinions shared with the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee in evidence sessions, we have had a largely consensual debate around the measures proposed in the bill, although with the caveat that the committee believes that the bill can and needs to be improved before it can achieve the aims set out by the Scottish Government. I have to say that I share that view.
Given that the Scottish Government has recognised that it is not only achievable but desirable to strengthen the bill and given that it has already suggested some amendments for stage 2—should the bill pass stage 1—I believe that we can support the bill with a degree of confidence that it will be improved considerably by stage 2.
One aspect of the bill that the committee feels needs strengthening is the provisions on illegal cockle fishing. I have a particular interest in that, not solely because of my engagement in South Scotland as a regional representative but because since the cockle-fishing ban was introduced in the Solway almost 18 months ago criminal gangs have been involved in poaching there. Those gangs have been organising the lifting of significant numbers of cockles and have often been exploiting foreign workers to get the work done.
Despite that being a major problem, the police have struggled to prioritise sufficiently work to tackle it as the current legislation does not give them a sufficiency of powers to deal with it. The Scottish Government has recognised the need and the potential to strengthen the bill in that respect. I am pleased that the committee has backed the principle that the bill be improved to help deal with illegal cockle picking and has advocated that the Scottish Government discuss any possible amendments with the police and other authorities to ensure that the bill addresses the issues that officers are experiencing on the ground.
The committee also advocated that the Scottish Government consider the suggestion made in evidence sessions by David McCallum, a chief inspector in Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, that any amendment be split into two parts: the first to deal with a person found in circumstances in which it is reasonable to suspect that they intended to commit the offence; and the second to deal with those found with tools and paraphernalia from which it is reasonable to conclude that they intended to commit the offence. It is crucial that any new legislation is fit to deal with organised criminality in this context. I commend those suggestions to the committee and to the Parliament.
The committee rightly noted in its report that strengthening the bill will not in itself be enough to resolve the issue of illegal cockle picking or other illegal shellfish harvesting in Scotland. It did, however, suggest that further progress could be made if the Scottish Government continued to work closely with all relevant agencies and industry bodies to develop proposals for tackling issues such as the difficulty in tracing and tracking shellfish and the documentation required to sell it both in the UK and overseas.
- Alex Fergusson:
Does the member agree that the best way to prevent illegal shellfish, and particularly cockle, fishing is to encourage legal fishing activity? The more that can be done to bring about an open cockle fishery on the Solway, the less likelihood there will be of illegal activity.
- Graeme Pearson:
I concur with the member’s suggestion. Equally, however, I am sure that he would acknowledge that organised crime will seek profit wherever it can. The amendments that have been suggested are therefore essential.
I hope that by working with the industry and other relevant agencies, including those engaged in money laundering investigations, and by giving the police powers to deal more effectively with illegal cockle fishing, it will be possible to shut down that avenue for criminal gangs to raise money and thereby reduce the potential for the exploitation of foreign workers in that process.
I also hope that, by foiling poachers, we will ensure that there is a sustainable cockle population in the Solway. That could also help with the establishment of a fishery that is run by local fishermen who fish responsibly and that provides local jobs.
The extent of the bill is such that I could not possibly cover it all in my speech. However, on the issue of sea lice, I agree with the comments that Alex Fergusson made earlier. I hope that some cognisance will be taken at stage 2 of the way in which we measure sea lice and deal with the threat that they present.
- Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP):
I cannot recall approaching a bill on a subject about which I knew so little, so I start by thanking the committee clerks, the staff of the Scottish Parliament information centre and others who have educated us. I am sure that every other member of the committee started in a better place, but I really did not know much—possibly only one end from t’other—as far as salmon went.
I particularly draw attention to the contribution of our visit to the upper Dee riparian scheme, and I thank Mark Bilsby, the river director. I am also conscious, as are other members, of the enormous contribution that Marine Harvest made to our education. I thank Steve Bracken on the record for that. Members in the chamber who were not involved in those visits can be reassured that the committee learned a great deal from them, and as a result we are in a position to produce a stage 1 report that is, at the very least, well informed.
I want to comment briefly on the points that others have made about the number of emails that we have received. I think that the industry is perhaps still not learning. A document that arrived yesterday has lots of pretty pictures and writing in white on a dark background that is almost impossible to read. In contrast, I commend Alan Wells, whom I think we can commend throughout, for the clarity of his information, which has black writing on white paper and is on two sides of a single piece of paper. I think that that is the way forward. Outside bodies might like to take note.
We picked up, in particular, that there are conflicts across the industries. Fish farms are seen by the angling community as being the providers of lice, and the netsmen are everybody’s enemy because dead fish do not spawn. We need to understand—some members have alluded to this already—that the economic conflicts that are inherent in all of this are inevitable and they must be respected. We have to work with them; we cannot get rid of them.
On the issues of anglers and netsmen, I note that the long-term trend in salmon returning to our waters has been downward. Perhaps it is stabilising, as the convener said, but perhaps it is not, because we will only know afterwards. The data never quite tell us at the time. I therefore commend the catch and release scheme on the River Dee. We were impressed by the work on that.
I also need to note the views of Usan Salmon Fisheries in my constituency. It is concerned about some of the controls on it, and it wants to see a days at sea approach as an alternative to its having to get its nets out at the weekends. We understand that. Also, it likes the idea of management being transferred to the Scottish Government. We looked at that and—I think rightly—we concluded that the Government needs to consider the issues more deeply. I am glad that they will be looked at.
We must not lose sight of the fact that these fishermen work in a business to which they have a proprietary right. However difficult we might find the management of that, we must not lose sight of their rights. I do not think that the Government will do that.
Lastly, I turn to a subject that others do not usually think about. As convener of the Subordinate Legislation Committee, I would like to comment on what we did and the Government’s response to it, because I think that it will be instructive.
Marine Scotland’s responses show that in the first instance there is a matter of clarity. The committee drew the Government’s attention to the status of the code of good practice, and the Government responded with the view that “a clarificatory amendment” will be made and, in addition, it will make an amendment to new section 4A. We have seen the Government respond to concerns about clarity regarding what a code of practice might be.
There were also concerns about the powers that the bill will give. Regulations under section 3(1)
“confer functions on any person in relation to the prescribing of requirements.”
The Subordinate Legislation Committee was naturally concerned about that—the right people should have powers. The Government responded by saying that that will
“be adjusted, by way of an amendment at stage 2”,
for which I thank it.
There was also some concern about the level of fine. The Parliament should be extremely concerned about that. Levels of taxation should not be open ended, and I suggest that, in principle, levels of fine should not be open ended. The Government has again responded appropriately. It said that
“Further consideration will ... be given”
to the specifying the level of
“a daily or periodic fine.”
Finally, the committee was concerned about procedure. The committee noted that, after discussion and reflection on delegated powers, the Government has decided that the affirmative procedure would be more appropriate, and it will bring forward amendments at stage 2. The detail need not concern us, but I thank the Government for those responses.
I have taken the opportunity to highlight some of the things that the Subordinate Legislation Committee looks at, because I do not think that we highlight them very often.
- Jim Hume (South Scotland) (LD):
To say that the progress of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill to date has been without controversy would be pushing the truth to some degree.
It has become apparent that the wild fishery sector and the aquaculture sector have differing views on what is best for their different sectors in some locations. For us on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, it has been apparent how important the two sectors are for Scotland. Wild fishing in the likes of the Tweed, Dee and Tay brings in a huge amount of income and generates a huge amount of employment, not to mention that wild fishing is the most popular participant sport in the UK and thus a large attraction for the tourism industry. Throughout Scotland one will find many hotels full due to anglers, who are so important that when a family member of mine looked to have a wedding reception in Kelso, one particular hotel was unavailable as at that time of year the anglers came to fish on the famous junction pool on the Tweed.
Angling is an iconic sporting pastime in Scotland, which Stewart Stevenson mentioned, but aquaculture, too, has an important place in our economy. Although it is located more in the north and west, it nevertheless provides important employment opportunities in communities where there may be less on offer. The Government has recognised the further economic opportunity that aquaculture could provide for Scotland. The Scottish aquaculture industry has an admirable ambition to grow by 32 per cent by 2020, which is supported by the Scottish Government.
That ambition has to be achieved sustainably—I hate to use that word, which is often overused. All stakeholders agreed that we need a clean environment for not just the wild fish and invertebrates but the fish farms that are located in our wild places.
Many people raised the concern of sea lice and the potential of outbreaks from fish farms to wild fish, and, of course, from wild fish to fish farms, although it has to be argued that wild fish are by definition wild and therefore there could be little human intervention in them that would increase lice population.
There are concerns that if fish farms are mismanaged they could be a breeding ground for pests such as sea lice, although representation to the committee stated that the aquaculture industry has a good, clean image, and of course it is in its interest to treat and control any pests that may be present. I believe that that clean image is already being used as a powerful marketing tool by the industry. The recent horsemeat scandal has highlighted the importance of good local food, which farmed Scottish fish has the advantage of being, and the importance of keeping the clean, green image of our wild and farmed fish, not just for the public in Scotland, but for our export market and tourist industry.
Concerns were expressed on both sides, not just about pests such as sea lice but about escapes of farmed fish into the wild. During the committee’s debates on the bill, I highlighted the example of rainbow trout, a non-native species that is farmed in my region. The trout are treated at egg stage to become what are known as triploids; basically, they are made infertile to ensure that if any of them escape they have no chance of creating their own community, which would obviously displace our native fauna.
Triploids do not seem to be widely used in salmon fishing in Scotland, although good research has been carried out on that issue at Stirling. The industry has expressed concern that triploids do not grow as fast as normal fish, but they are still a non-chemical, non-genetic way of ensuring that any farmed fish that escape have no chance of breeding with our native stock. I would appreciate it if the minister, along with the industry and stakeholders, could examine that issue to find out whether there is still scope for using triploid salmon fish to negate results of unintentional escapes and I ask the minister to mention the issue when he sums up.
The bill addresses not only what needs to be done to best protect our environment while we grow the aquaculture industry, but the transparency of district salmon fishery boards. To be honest, I think that the Government has provided scant detail of what it wants to achieve with the boards and when and why it wants to take such measures. I questioned the minister on that very matter at committee; after all, this has been talked about since at least the 1960s with little real change being made. We should note that the good work of many advisory boards in the catchment areas of the Tweed, Nith and Dee has significantly improved riparian habitat and non-native species control and we are now reaping the benefits with increases not just in salmonid species but other aqua fauna. According to the Tweed Foundation’s figures, more than 13,000 salmon alone were rod-caught last year and in the first half of last year returns were 13 per cent above the five-year average.
The Liberal Democrats support the bill at stage 1. We recognise the importance of a sustainable wild and farmed fish industry for economic and environmental reasons and look forward to the bill’s further stages and any amendments that may improve it.
- Richard Lyle (Central Scotland) (SNP):
As a member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, I am very pleased to take part in the debate and hope in the time available to cover the essence of the bill.
Committee members carried out fact-finding visits to salmon rivers, wild fisheries hatcheries, coastal netting stations, fresh and seawater fish farms, scientific stations and processing plants and, with the extensive written and oral evidence that it has received, the committee has built up a detailed picture and understanding of both the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors. Given that their economic, environmental and social contributions and impacts are of considerable importance to Scotland, legislation is needed to enable them to develop sustainably and to co-exist as harmoniously as possible. Salmon farming and wild fisheries are vital industries for the coastal and inland parts of Scotland.
Climate change might have many implications for aquaculture and fisheries in Scotland. For example, in the case of salmon fisheries, any increase in river temperatures might reduce salmon reproduction. Reductions in summer rainfall will reduce summer flows, which will also increase water temperatures and make it more difficult for salmon to migrate upstream, and increased winter flows might scour the gravels and salmon spawning beds, resulting in the loss of or damage to eggs.
The bill places requirements for farm management agreements and farm management statements on a statutory footing, but I note that a significant majority of Scotland’s fish farms are already operating voluntarily within such a system.
Committee members have heard a range of opinions on the number, causes and effects on the wider environment of escapes from fish farms. Given that such escapes are obviously undesirable for the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors, it is important for the sectors to work together to limit the number of escapes and their effects.
I note that some fish farms are putting in better nets with finer mesh to make it hard for seals to access them. Many fish farms are deploying acoustic deterrents in a bid to keep seals away from the farms. The culling of seals is not supported by the general public—or by me. Non-lethal alternatives need to be explored to allow seals to co-exist with the aquaculture industry. I welcome the efforts of some parts of the aquaculture industry to pursue alternative measures—in terms of netting and other equipment—that would prevent seals from being able to break through into farm cages. I also welcome the work that is being done at the University of St Andrews to develop an audio device that is as humane as possible for seals and which does not harm other species. I am encouraged that that device has secured investment.
As part of its evidence gathering, the committee learned that few, if any, wellboats are built in Scotland—they are mostly built in Norway. The retrofitting of wellboats may also largely take place in Norway. Like the convener, I encourage the Scottish Government to work towards securing further building and retrofitting of such vessels in Scotland.
The committee has taken evidence on provisions to allow the introduction of a carcass tagging scheme for all net-caught salmon to replace the current voluntary scheme, making it an offence to sell or possess salmon that is not tagged.
I compliment the work of the committee convener over the past months, the work of other committee members with regard to the bill, and especially the work of the clerks and the advice that they have given us. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, members visited various areas and fish farms. Unfortunately, due to an eye operation that weekend I was not able to go on those visits. However, I commend the bill to the Parliament.
- Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab):
I speak as a former member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. I was present for most of the bill inquiry, but unfortunately I left before the scrutiny was concluded.
During the inquiry, I took part in a committee visit to Aberdeenshire to the upper Dee riparian scheme to look at salmon fisheries issues and then went on to the Usan Salmon Fisheries in Montrose. I thank the people who were involved in facilitating those visits, because I found them incredibly useful and much more informative on the practical issues that are facing aquaculture fisheries than sitting round a committee table.
Environmentally, we need to promote sustainable fishing and tackle the effects of climate change. While at the upper Dee riparian scheme, we saw proactive attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change such as using tree cover to lower water temperatures to enable salmon spawning, which has already been mentioned. It was hard to believe that while we stood shivering on the banks of the Dee, salmon were under threat of losing their spawning ground if the water temperature increased by another degree. I recommend that the Scottish Government looks at the methods that are being used by the Dee scheme to mitigate climate change as part of its review into wild fisheries.
At Montrose we heard about the challenges that are experienced by the netsmen in keeping to close times because of bad weather and other circumstances. Although adherence with close times is important for conservation and stocking reasons, account must be taken of the operational issues that are faced by netsmen. It was suggested to the committee that current close times should be replaced with a designated days-at-sea allowance. However, I concur with the committee’s conclusion that that would not be an acceptable solution, due to the difficulties that it would pose. The issue is due to be included in the Scottish Government’s forthcoming review of wild fisheries management, which is a welcome development.
The Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill is designed to make changes to the law on fish farming and shellfish farming, including new requirements for freshwater fishers, changes to the law on sea fishers and shellfish waters and the ability to introduce fixed-penalty notices for certain offences in aquaculture fisheries, to name but a few.
It is vital to ensure that the bill is not only fit for purpose right now but fit for purpose as we move into the future. Since the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007 was passed, progress has been slow and work is still required. I agree with the committee report in stating that it is disappointing that we have needed primary legislation so soon after that act. We must ensure that the new bill is robust, sustainable and fit for purpose. There are still a number of reviews to be carried out, and I ask why they were not all included in the bill.
We need a bill that will promote sustainable aquaculture and wild fisheries, economically and environmentally, in the long term, given how important those industries are to Scotland.
The aquaculture industry is looking to grow by 32 per cent by 2020, which is about 4 per cent each year. In evidence, Steve Bracken, of Marine Harvest, said:
“salmon farming and wild fisheries are both vital industries for the coast and inland parts of Scotland. I am absolutely sure that we can go on and become bigger and better in both areas.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 5 December 2012; c 1466.]
We need to ensure that the bill supports that growth.
Sustainable fishing faces many challenges, not least the threat to fish stocks from predators such as seals. I believe that the committee’s conclusion that seals should be shot to protect fish farm stocks only as a last resort is correct. It is important that non-lethal alternatives such as netting and other equipment such as audio seal scarers should be used, provided that they are as humane as possible and do not harm other species. I am pleased to hear that the minister has informed the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee that work continues to be done to find further options for seal management.
I support the bill at stage 1, but I want it to be more robust so that it not only promotes economic and environmental growth but brings Scotland’s aquaculture and fisheries sector into the 21st century, making the sector sustainable in the long term.
- Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP):
As Alex Fergusson and Angus MacDonald have said, it would be impossible to cover every aspect of the bill and the stage 1 report in six minutes, so I will confine myself to addressing two aspects, in particular the most contentious one, which is the publication of sea lice data. That topic has been the cause of considerable discussion and will continue to be so. As the minister has confirmed today, the Scottish Government is minded to continue the voluntary approach, accepting a commitment from the SSPO to move to publishing data online, with a time lag, on a 30-area basis.
The committee heard evidence that, in Ireland, there has for some time been access to such information on a farm-by-farm basis, and that it has been made public within a month of monitoring being carried out. I found myself asking why we should not do that in Scotland, especially when—as I understand it; the minister might clarify this later—the data is recorded on that basis and is available to the fish health inspectorate on request. I found the resistance of the SSPO to that level of granularity to be poorly explained. Its input to the debate on the issue did not come close to neutralising the contribution of Douglas Sinclair of SEPA, who said that this is
“one of the few areas in the Scottish environment in which someone can be doing something that can significantly impact on someone else‘s interests and there is no public access to what is going on ... if someone lives downwind of smoking chimneys on a factory and they want to find out what is in the smoke, they can find out from us—from the published record. Fish farming in Scotland is the one omission. For all sorts of reasons, it ought to be sorted out and the information ought to be published.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, 5 December 2012; c 1431.]
However, when Paul Wheelhouse made a case for the industry’s position, he revealed that there was more to it than simple intransigence. He explained that there was substance behind talk of commercial sensitivity and that there is a genuinely held and perhaps justified concern that retail contracts that are placed with firms on multiple farms might be jeopardised if it became public knowledge that one of the locations had a significant sea lice issue.
There is no easy solution to the issue, or one that will satisfy everyone. The committee believes unanimously that greater transparency is required in the aquaculture industry, although we recognise that that could threaten reputational damage for companies and potential difficulty for the marketability of an important food product and employment in rural areas in an industry that is reckoned to employ, directly or indirectly, up to 6,000 people.
- Claudia Beamish:
Does the member agree that the possibility of a delay in the publication of the sea lice data would help with regard to the SSPO’s concerns?
- Graeme Dey:
I do, indeed. The recommendation in our report that the ministerial group on aquaculture look closely at the possibility of data being collated and published with a built-in delay on the basis of a farm management agreement or farm management statement struck us as a reasonable compromise. However, the matter will undoubtedly be returned to if the bill reaches stage 2.
In his response to the committee’s report, the minister defended the 30-areas approach, describing it as striking
“an appropriate balance between public reassurance and commercial interests at this time.”
He added that, although he regarded the new set-up as moving things
“forward in a balanced and proportionate way,”
“keep the matter under close review.”
To shed further light on the matter, could he clarify in his closing remarks whether figures reported for the 30 areas would be subject to independent verification?
I turn now to salmon netting and in particular its management. The committee heard of the conflict that can arise between the netting interests and district fisheries boards. We were made aware in evidence of the desire of some to see coastal netting removed from the management of local fisheries and placed under the control of the inshore fisheries team. Further, we heard suggestions for introducing a days-at-sea regime rather than the current weekly close time arrangements. However, as the convener indicated earlier in the debate, the committee was not persuaded that either way was necessarily the correct path to tread.
The obvious question is how in practice a changed set-up could be monitored. In addition, members heard nothing to suggest that the conflict between netsmen and boards is so widespread as to justify the suggested moves. That said, no one doubts the difficulties and, indeed, dangers that netsmen can face in plying their trade, so it is welcome that the Scottish Government will look at the whole issue as part of its review of wild fisheries management.
Like Alex Fergusson and others, I express gratitude to the SPICe team and the committee clerks for the support afforded members in scrutinising the bill and producing the report. As noted on page 1 of the report and as mentioned by other speakers, the process of arriving at conclusions on the bill’s proposals was not helped by the adversarial engagement of some of those holding an interest in the subject matter, who felt it appropriate to launch excessive levels of counterclaim evidence.
The evidence that was gathered in the committee rooms of the Parliament and out in the field furnished members with a balanced and objective knowledge base on which to reach conclusions. However, the committee continued to receive, by way of follow-on from stakeholder sessions, many responses that did not add to the sum of knowledge on the issue and which, in some instances, merely comprised an attempt to discredit alternative viewpoints. In spite of that, the committee produced a stage 1 report that we feel appropriately reflects the situation out there and identifies areas of the bill that could undoubtedly be improved by amendment.
I seek members’ support for the stage 1 report on the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill and for the broad principles of the bill.
- Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):
I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the bill’s basic principles at stage 1. Although a lot of my colleagues have identified during the debate issues that require more work or consideration, I think that there is consensus that work can be done to improve the sustainability, accountability and transparency of the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors. Indeed, the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s report on the bill commented that
“the current draft of the Bill is very much the starting point, and should the Bill reach Stage 2 it will require amendment in order to make it ... robust”.
There is no doubt that the cabinet secretary and the Government have a tough and delicate task on their hands. Again, the committee’s report reflected the difficulties in finding consensus on the way forward on contentious issues due to current difficulties between the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors. Although it is not something that can always be addressed by legislation, I am sure that we would all agree that improving the relationships could and should be part of the process.
The importance of the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors to Scotland’s Highlands and Islands communities must not be underestimated. The popularity of Scottish salmon continues to grow at an exponential rate, with aspirations to increase sustainable production by 4 to 5 per cent per annum until 2020. Enabling the sectors to continue to grow and to provide jobs and exports in an ecologically sound manner is essential to ensuring the sustainability not only of the sectors but of many rural and remote communities. However, do we know what the increase of 5 per cent per annum until 2020 will look like? Planning applications are already being refused on the basis of proliferation. We need a national plan if we want to see such growth.
Recognising the opportunity for Scotland and realising its potential is the right thing to do. Being sensitive to the natural environment, legislating against abuse by a large industry, always protecting the fantastic wild salmon and its life cycle and believing that quality must not be compromised by quantity should all be Scotland’s trademarks.
Of the issues that the bill seeks to address, I am of the opinion that the presence of sea lice and the strategies used to contain them will be paramount to the bill’s success. I welcome the minister’s announcement of £1 million of funding for scientific research. I believe that that is essential not only to reassure the public but to ensure that we have sustainable growth in fish farming.
In conclusion, I support the bill at stage 1. I look forward to seeing work on the bill continue over the coming weeks and months to create a strong framework for the sector.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott):
We move to closing speeches. I call Jamie McGrigor—you have seven minutes or thereabouts.
- Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
I refer members to my fisheries entry in the register of members’ interests.
During my time as an MSP, I have spoken in numerous aquaculture debates and my consistent theme has been the need to see the sustainable co-existence of the aquaculture sector and the wild fisheries sector. That remains my position, and I am very glad to say that it seems also to be the strong view of the committee, whose report—as Claudia Beamish quoted—rightly states:
“As important as this legislation is, perhaps of equal significance for Scotland in the long-term, is improving the current relationship between the wild and farmed fishing sectors”.
On that point, I am encouraged that there seems to be more positive dialogue between Alan Wells of the ASFB and Scott Landsburgh of the SSPO. One cannot blame either of them for supporting their own sector, but the key is surely sensible compromise based on scientific and circumstantial evidence. Both fisheries sectors need to be profitable to help the Scottish economy. As I have said before, a prosperous salmon farming industry will be much better equipped to care for environmental issues than an industry that is hanging on by its fingertips.
In that context, we must remember that the salmon farming industry has been afflicted not only by sea lice but more recently by amoebic gill disease. The £10 million that is being spent on treatment of that new salmon plague is part of the £26 million that is spent annually on fish treatments within the industry. I am disturbed by news that Slice is no longer working as well as it did as a sea lice preventative, but I am encouraged by the cultivation of ballan wrasse for use as a cleaning fish, which acts as a non-chemical agent for the industry.
As a member of the European and External Relations Committee, this morning I visited Scottish Sea Farms, which was a very enlightening and worthwhile experience. Scottish Sea Farms placed emphasis on the need for a national strategy for aquaculture, so I ask the minister to take that on board. The company also talked about the need for a link between production and processors, which does not seem to exist to a great extent at the moment.
As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I am hugely aware that both farmed fish and wild fisheries businesses are crucial. Aquaculture is a very big part of Scotland’s growing food exports, and wild salmon and sea trout fishing attract substantial tourism income to our communities, with spin-offs for hotels and shops.
Having recently spoken to the SSPO, I understand that its ambition is for growth of some 4 per cent per annum. That was confirmed this morning by the Scottish Salmon Company, which said that 4 per cent is on the optimistic side. That is hardly the same as the Scottish Government’s call for a 50 per cent increase in production as soon as possible. I feel that that assertion has caused a great deal of angst among the wild fish interests, who perceive that sudden growth of that nature might have an extremely adverse effect on wild fisheries. A sea loch can only take so much biomass, which is understood well. Will the minister comment on that?
The committee called for improved publication of sea lice data, which was mentioned by Alex Fergusson, Graeme Pearson and Graeme Dey. It saw no reason why new transparency measures should not be based on the Irish model or applied farm by farm. Who would disagree with that level of transparency in principle? However, the SSPO has pointed out to me that the matter is complex. It considers that such a policy could hurt individual farms that have reached the testing threshold too often. In other words, people and markets could lose confidence in the product of an individual farm, and the SSPO is therefore trying to protect its members.
The SSPO has devised a new sea lice reporting system—which it says is more transparent than any other in the world—which will cover more than 30 areas of Scotland’s west coast and report every quarter. The SSPO compares that with Norway’s system, which tests only nine areas. However, in Norway, the figures for individual farms can be accessed by the public, which is the case in Ireland, too. I have sympathy with the SSPO’s point about individual farmers, but I fail to see why transparency on sea lice burdens should be such a bad thing in Scotland when it is commonplace elsewhere. What is there to hide? According to the SSPO’s principle, a farm that was not burdened by sea lice might find itself tarred with the same brush as one that was burdened by sea lice if it happened to be in the same reporting area. The SSPO’s policy is a double-edged sword. We will see what ensues at stage 2 in the debate on the issue. However, it is important to get the best compromise for all the sectors because, although the past may be important and can be learned from, what is crucial is the future, and the dogma of the past must be put aside.
The committee rightly highlights the undesirable impact of escapes of farmed fish. It is vital to have instant reporting on when and where escapes happen. Whatever the technological advances in sea-cage design, the incredible combined power of wind and water will make some escapes inevitable, so mitigation measures are essential. In that regard, I am glad that the committee praised the good work of Marine Harvest in its training of fish farm workers, which is key, as Claudia Beamish suggested.
The possible establishment of onshore sites is an interesting development that will doubtless catch on, if successful. I press for more research and development on other species—especially halibut, which do not host sea lice and could be farmed more widely in Scotland.
Will the minister explain why there are virtually no salmon farms on the east coast? The SSPO requested that I ask that question.
On wild fisheries, the committee is correct to report that we need more data on why east and north coast rivers have increased runs, but most west coast rivers suffer declines. What has happened to the grilse run on the west coast in the past two years? How do we bring back sea trout fishing to the glory days of the past in places such as Loch Maree and Loch Na Sealga in that outstandingly pretty part of Scotland?
On the subject of district salmon fishery boards, the Conservatives support the principles behind the good governance requirements, but we agree with the committee that some of the smaller boards do not have the resources to cope with all the proposed requirements. However, those smaller boards have important local knowledge, which is a vital component of good management.
There have been good speeches in the debate—Alex Fergusson’s speech warmed the cockles of my heart. I am sure that Lord Foulkes would have had trouble pronouncing illegal cockling, too.
We agree with the committee that the bill is a starting point. We look forward to improving the bill at stage 2 so that it is of genuine benefit to the wild fish and the farmed fish sectors.
- Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
This has been a wide-ranging debate with many interesting speeches.
I wish the minister all the best in taking forward his first piece of Government legislation. He might get through this afternoon quite comfortably, but stage 2 might be a bit bumpier.
I thank members of the committee for the time that they took to prepare the stage 1 report. They not only considered the proposals in the bill but took the time to consider the broader issues and discuss issues that are outwith the bill’s scope. I know that that involved more than taking evidence in cosy committee rooms. The committee also travelled to salmon rivers, wild fishery hatcheries, coastal netting stations, fish farms and processing plants—we have heard about some of those experiences this afternoon—all in the deepest, darkest Scottish winter. I am sure that that is the kind of team building that companies cannot pay for these days.
The breadth of the issues that have been discussed this afternoon perhaps demonstrated the bill’s limitations. The committee has stressed the need for the legislation to be fit for purpose for many years to come. There are exceptions—the area is complex—but, having introduced legislation as a first step, the Government needs to be careful that subsequent reviews and discussions do not weaken the bill. For example, in her opening speech, Claudia Beamish spoke about the importance of how the bill connects to the marine plan.
In the pre-legislative consultation document that explored the possible content of the bill, the Scottish Government said:
“aquaculture production and salmon and freshwater fisheries are estimated to be worth over £650m … to Scotland … It is important that both sectors—and their interactions—are managed effectively, as part of the wider marine and freshwater environment and to maximise their combined contribution to our aim of sustainable economic growth in Scotland.”
The bill aims to address those issues.
The consultation generated more than 1,000 responses. There is no denying that opinions were strongly divided. It would certainly be difficult to make easy progress on some of the issues that were raised.
However, the Government’s solution to that was to produce a bill that was accompanied by a further document outlining where future action was planned for the matters that were not addressed in the bill—which, coincidentally, also seemed to be the matters that caused the greatest dispute.
Unlike James Isbister, who caught a 6ft ling this week, the Government seems to have cast a line, got plenty of bite but failed to land the big fish.
Although the bill seeks to improve the regulatory framework, it has increasingly been seen as the start of a process, with much work being left to the refreshed ministerial group on aquaculture and a forthcoming review of wild fisheries management.
The committee talks about the need for a
“coherent wild fisheries management structure”.
It is a point well made. The minister must be mindful of the need for continuity and coherence.
Many members referred to the tensions between stakeholders and to the sometimes contradictory evidence that was received—a point that was strongly emphasised in the stage 1 report.
Scotland has a growing aquaculture sector. The Scottish Government recognises its importance to the economy. Scottish farmed salmon is viewed as a high-value, high-quality product throughout the world. It is Scotland’s top food export and is marketed in more than 65 countries, with particular growth in the far east. It employs more than 6,000 people often in rural areas, and there is a target of increasing the production of all farmed fish by 50 per cent by 2020.
Alongside that industry is a wild fisheries sector, which is also highly valued in Scotland and throughout the world. One of Scotland’s most iconic images is of a wild salmon leaping up a river. That fish must be protected, as well as pursued, in its native environment.
In its briefing for the debate, the Scottish Wildlife Trust highlighted the fact that there has been a decline in Atlantic salmon in European waters over the past three decades. It identifies the complex reasons—food availability, water temperature changes, pollution, barriers in rivers, overfishing and the effects of aquaculture—and recognises that probably a combination of all of them has contributed to decline.
- Claudia Beamish:
I want to stress something about being a sea trout champion that I did not get time to say in my speech. The serious point is the concern that the sea trout is under even greater threat than the salmon. Jamie McGrigor highlighted that as well. I would like the minister to be aware of that issue.
- Claire Baker:
I thank Claudia Beamish for her intervention.
Although the two sectors need to coexist, an appropriate balance needs to be struck, and there needs to be greater trust and transparency. The level of regulation is crucial. No one wants us to have regulation that would damage an important Scottish industry, but calls have been made for proportionate regulation, in recognition of the fact that across our food chain there is a need—perhaps now more than ever—for transparency and, as my colleague Jayne Baxter highlighted, robust governance.
As many members identified, how we report sea lice is the most contentious issue and, in some ways, it is one that encapsulates the tensions that exist across the sector. It raises issues of proportionate regulation, of transparency, of trust, of consumer confidence and of the importance of a science-led approach. Both sides of the debate make persuasive arguments, of which Graeme Dey gave a good description as he outlined the nature of the debate that has taken place in the committee. I welcome the recent moves by the SSPO to increase its accountability, but I recognise the strong arguments in favour of a more robust reporting system. Although the minister has ruled out a Government amendment on the matter at this stage, the importance that the committee has attached to the issue suggests that we will return to it at stage 2.
In the time that I have left, I will pick up on a few issues that members have highlighted. Graeme Pearson and Alex Fergusson discussed illegal cockle fishing. Thankfully, cases of illegal activity and exploitation in the sector are few and far between, and it is important that we do not allow the activities of a minority to tarnish the reputation of the rest of the sector. I am pleased that the Government has recognised the need to strengthen the legislation in this area. It is important that the Government works with the Scottish police service, the industry and other relevant agencies to ensure that robust further progress is made.
It is interesting that many members have talked about areas that were discussed in the consultation, but which were not included in the bill. That indicates that there is much more work to do.
I will touch briefly on the issue of commercially damaging species. In its report, the committee suggested that the Scottish Government should take the opportunity to re-examine the issue and to consider lodging amendments, but at the moment the minister continues to argue that the current proposals are proportionate. I hope that the Scottish Government will reflect on the committee’s comments as the bill moves forward.
Angus MacDonald and Richard Lyle talked about the potential for the bill to contribute to tackling climate change challenges, as well as the challenges that the sector faces. Rob Gibson and Margaret McDougall spoke about the contentious issue of seals and reflected the committee’s support for greater use of alternative predator controls. Jim Hume discussed escapes and promoted a solution; we await the minister’s reply. The committee recognised that escapes from fish farms are undesirable and stressed the importance of all sectors working together to minimise them.
The report also raised concerns about biomass. Last year in the chamber, I highlighted to the minister the concern that the aim of increasing the production of all farmed fish by 50 per cent by the year 2020 could result in a subsequent increase in the use of chemical treatments. I reiterate that point and ask for assurances that the Government is actively looking into the issue. It is important that the regulatory framework that the bill contains is robust enough to ensure that any increases in aquaculture will be suitably managed and regulated.
It has been an interesting debate, in which there has been as much discussion of what is not in the bill as there has been of what is in it. We might be moving towards stage 2, but wider issues need to be addressed before we can be confident that we have an aquaculture and fisheries sector that is fit for the 21st century, and which will meet the needs of the industry and the wider environment. Those will need to be resolved through the bill or through future work by the Parliament.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
We have had a good and intelligent debate. There is agreement around the chamber in support of the general principles of the bill. I am extremely grateful to members for that and for the constructive approach that everyone has taken in my first debate as a minister leading a bill. The debate has been constructive in allowing consideration of how the bill might be improved, of why we chose not to legislate on some of the issues that we consulted on and of the consultation process. I am grateful for all the contributions and will reflect on them, although it must be recognised that no bill that introduces any change or regulation will ever receive unqualified support from all stakeholders.
- Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP):
As usual, we heard a very interesting speech from Jamie McGrigor this afternoon. He mentioned that there were no fish farms on the east coast. I recently visited the Cromarty Firth and the Moray Firth, around Avoch. I saw what looked suspiciously like cages for fish farming at both locations. Am I correct in assuming that they are fish farms and that Jamie McGrigor got it wrong?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I can confirm that both those areas are on the east coast. Not having visited the sites myself, I cannot confirm whether there are fish farms there, but they are certainly both on the east coast.
Many of the comments that have been made relate to enabling powers that we are seeking through the bill. The detailed work on that continues and the powers will be discussed with stakeholders and will be consulted upon as we develop the relevant regulations and before we bring the secondary legislation to the Parliament—that picks up a point that Tavish Scott made early in the debate.
Other issues will be considered in our review of the management of salmon and freshwater fisheries. Many members highlighted the importance of that exercise, and I recognise and support that view. Further issues are progressing in discussions with the sectors concerned and voluntary arrangements are being made, such as on the issue of sea lice data.
I will try to address some of the specific points that have been raised. The honourable Jamie McGrigor has just been mentioned. He and Claire Baker picked up on the same point about growth targets and the potential difficulties in sustaining a certain level of growth. It is important to highlight the fact that the growth targets are those of the industry. They are based on 4 per cent per annum growth between the 2009 baseline and 2020. Because we are now using a 2011 baseline, it is now a 32 per cent growth that we need to achieve between now and 2020. I recognise that the 50 per cent figure is perhaps a bit out of date. Nevertheless, we are already progressing well from the baseline, and we are making good progress towards the 50 per cent target.
Stewart Stevenson and Graeme Dey raised a point about verification. Stewart Stevenson referred to Label Rouge, and there are other independent accreditors of the quality of farmed salmon and trout. There are industry pressures to improve the health of the salmon that is produced in Scotland—it is not purely down to the SSPO or other organisations; there are outside voices that ensure that consumers of quality products take an active interest in the health of the fish.
The data that are published are sense checked by the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland, although our inspectors have accessed individual farm records—Alex Fergusson referred to that—under the regulatory regime. Food Certification International Ltd, which provides the product certification scheme for Label Rouge Scottish salmon, carries out visual inspections of fish for sea lice as part of its inspection checklist. I hope that that addresses some of the concerns that have been expressed about data.
Graeme Pearson, Alex Fergusson and other members raised the very important matter of cockle fishing. I welcome Graeme Pearson’s contribution to the debate, which was based on his experience as a police officer. I am happy to report that we have been working with criminal justice partners, including the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, on proposals that we will introduce at stage 2 to deal with illegal cockling. That will build on suggestions made by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary in its evidence.
Turning to the possibility of a legal cockle fishery, which was also raised by Alex Fergusson and Graeme Pearson, my officials are happy to meet any groups or individuals with proposals for a sustainable fishery on the Solway Firth, subject to an appropriate scientific assessment that the stock can be harvested sustainably. Measures to combat illegal cockle fishing, including a multiagency approach, are taking place, but I accept that they could be further improved. Discussions are taking place on that. Those measures, coupled with the possibility of a sustainable legal fishery, will help to prevent a further tragedy like the one at Morecambe Bay, to which a number of members referred.
Claudia Beamish, Angus MacDonald, Richard Lyle and Margaret McDougall all spoke about climate change—another very important subject. When proofing the bill, we will want to ensure that it takes climate change into account. Climate change is a key driver behind our taking powers to amend the annual close time orders, the requirement to monitor management measures and the examination of powers to consent introductions of salmon into rivers.
I add to that the work on the Dee and other rivers to which a number of individuals referred. River restoration funding is being deployed to improve tree cover along river habitats in order to improve the shade for salmon and reduce river temperatures. Sadly, we are getting to the point at which many rivers are becoming particularly difficult places for salmon to survive in.
- Claudia Beamish:
I seek reassurance that, with its partners, the Scottish Government will look at the possibilities of rolling out that sort of model strategically. I think that the minister highlighted that in his report to the committee.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
That work is certainly very important. If we are to protect the iconic salmon in Scotland and its valuable role in tourism and developing the economies of some of our rural communities, it is important that we implement whatever measures are necessary to protect in particular the key rivers that sustain salmon activity.
Alex Fergusson, Jayne Baxter and Rob Gibson mentioned issues to do with sea lice data. That is probably the defining issue in the debate for the committee and for the many stakeholders who contributed to that discussion. It is important to differentiate public reporting from regulation and the need for data for compliance and research—those data requirements are handled separately. On public reporting, I recall a starting point of six regions—I think that Angus MacDonald referred to that. The Government is persuaded that the enhancement of 30 areas is proportionate as an incremental response by the fish farming industry, but I reassure members that the new voluntary arrangements that the SSPO is putting in place will be kept under review. We have powers under the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2007 to require the publication of data if we need to do that, but I would much rather seek a voluntary approach and avoid the Government being heavy-handed with legislation. It is important that we give the industry time to respond, but I promise members that I will keep the issue under constant review.
- Jamie McGrigor:
Bruce Crawford was perfectly right to say that there are very few fish farms on the east coast. I think that I said that there are virtually no fish farms there, but I am prepared to accept that I am probably wrong about that. There is also a smolt farm in Loch Shin, which eventually pours into east coast waters. I think that the SSPO’s question was that, if it is being asked to expand, there is the whole coast of Scotland, so why should everything be put on the west coast?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
The applications are largely industry led, of course; it looks for appropriate locations to develop activities. I will certainly look at the east coast issue, but I think that industry demand drives existing activity and locations.
A number of other points have been raised. I take the point that Rob Gibson made about carcass tagging. That certainly has an important role to play. Some concerns that have been expressed about it are perhaps manageable, and we can deal with them to ensure that the system is up and running.
Claudia Beamish mentioned sustainable development. I take the point entirely. We know less about aquaculture than, for example, the Scotch whisky sector, which has been more involved in providing information on its social and wider impacts on the economy. I agree with Claudia Beamish that science is critical to the debate. I hope that the ministerial group on aquaculture strand that looks at science, involving the Scottish aquaculture research forum, will play an important role in improving our knowledge.
I hope that Stewart Stevenson sought permission from George Adam to include a mention of the Paisley snail before he came to the chamber. I found that very entertaining.
I reassure Jayne Baxter that the 2007 act gives us the powers to require sea lice data if we need them.
Nigel Don commented on the role of the Subordinate Legislation Committee. I thank him for the role that the Subordinate Legislation Committee has played in preparing for the debate and for its scrutiny of the bill. That has been invaluable.
Jim Hume made a point about the salmon industry and the use of sterile fish to avoid the problem that is presented by escapes. The salmon industry has considered their use but, unfortunately, there are issues to do with their vigour and quality. We will watch developments on that front with interest.
Richard Lyle talked about the seal population and the requirement to shoot seals. Although we do not have definitive data on the number of seals that were, unfortunately, shot under the previous regime, the introduction of licensing, which requires demonstration that non-lethal methods have been used before a licence can be sought, has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the numbers that are shot.
I am near the end of my time, so I thank members for their contributions. I look forward to discussing with the committee the points that have been raised. I invite members to support me by agreeing to the principles of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill so that we can move on to detailed scrutiny at stage 2.