THERE must be urgent talks on tackling problems in Scotland’s salmon-farming industry amid a “slow pace” of reform, the Greens have said.

Green MSP Ariane Burgess has written to Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon to stress increasing numbers of farmed fish deaths, disease and suffering in Scotland’s waters are seeing conditions deteriorate.

Some of Scotland’s biggest salmon farms reported significant and continuing “biological” problems last year including Leroy, the Norwegian firm that owns half of Scottish Sea Farms.

In August, it reported problems on its fish farms had affected average harvest size. Its Scottish operations brought a cost of £13.2m in "incident-based mortality", which can mean the destruction of fish stocks if they are diseased and cannot be put on the market.

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An investigation by vegan campaigning charity Viva! also highlighted parasites and jellyfish blighting intensive fish production as cameras recorded “monstrous invasions” of sea lice.

The Greens have previously called for a moratorium on salmon farm expansions but agreed to work within the Scottish Government and industry on improvements as part of its power sharing agreement.

The Scottish Government published a new strategy for the fish farming industry in July last year which pledges to streamline the planning and consent system for the industry and promised the aquaculture sector would “continually work to minimise negative environmental impacts”.

But Burgess says communities and environmental campaigners are becoming more frustrated with what they see as a lack of progress and has now put these concerns to Gougeon.

In her letter, she said: “I am writing to express the Scottish Green Parliamentary Group’s strong concern about the slow pace of reform of the fish farming industry. This is an important issue for our party members, constituents and environmental NGOs, and is a growing concern for the public.

“I trust that we can work together to deliver urgent, meaningful action required to address the environmental impacts of the industry and reduce fish farmed deaths, disease and suffering.”

A Scottish Government survey revealed salmon farming production dropped by 18% last year.

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The Scottish Fish Farm Production Survey showed that the total weight produced in 2022, at 169,194 tonnes, was not only less than it had been in 2021, but also less than production in 2003.

In December, broadcaster Chris Packham called for a halt to the “catastrophic” expansion of the Scottish salmon industry.

In her letter, Burgess suggested the possibility of removing exemptions for the aquaculture sector from the new National Planning Framework, using a spatial plan to ensure sites cannot be established in unsuitable areas, and applying rules from environmental watchdog SEPA on all fish farms.  

Other issues in her letter lie around minimising harm to wild salmon, strategic planning to avoid long-term environmental damage, penalties and enforcement for licence breaches, and reducing chemicals and waste.

She added: “This programme has been delayed and, given the deterioration of welfare and environmental standards that this year’s mortality rate in particular reflects, the commitments no longer appear to be adequate to the challenge at hand.”