THE aquaculture industry can help deliver on the First Minister's key priorities for the Scottish Government, a Cabinet Secretary has said. 

The SNP MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, believes the Scottish aquaculture industry “ticks all the boxes” regarding two of the First Minister’s government's priorities of economic growth and reaching net zero.

Earlier on Friday, John Swinney said he believes firmly “that economic growth is essential to generate additional value, enabling investment in public services, infrastructure, and innovation”.

He also made it clear in a speech in Glasgow that investing in the economy will go "hand in hand" with creating a more sustainable future for Scotland, one in which Gougeon believes the aquaculture industry can play a pivotal role.

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Speaking after Aquaculture UK, the UK’s biggest tradeshow for the industry, Gougeon highlighted the sector's huge opportunity to help the Scottish economy grow by leading in innovation and providing skilled jobs to rural communities.

She said: “We [the Scottish Government] are keen to see the sustainable development of the industry in Scotland and to continue to see that innovation, the science and research that goes into that as well.

The National: Rural affairs secretary Mairi GougeonSNP MSP for Angus North and Mearns Mairi Gougeon

“It's very important for our rural and island communities as well.

“The last time that we've looked at work on that it supports around 12,000 jobs.

“I've just talked about the level of exports, and I think it's worth nearly a billion pounds to the economy as well, so it is really significant.

“In the most rural parts of Scotland and in our island communities it's an industry that provides really well-paid jobs.

“I think quite exciting career opportunities as well.”

Tom Arthur, the Minister for Employment and Investment, introduced £1.5m in funding for the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) at the Aquaculture UK conference.

SAIC supports projects that research the health and welfare of farmed fish as academics collaborate on projects with the public sector to promote positive and sustainable farming practices in the industry.

Collaborating is something Gougeon is keen to see Scotland continue doing, as she says the Scottish industry can not only lead in the fish farming sector, but also learn from the experiences of other countries around the world.

She said: “We've got so much to learn from each other, from these other big aquaculture-producing countries.

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“Seeing some of the innovation that's happening there, seeing if there are any lessons that we can share with others as well about how our industry works here.

“I mentioned a bit at the start there about innovation and that's where I think there are so many exciting opportunities because we're seeing people doing aquaculture and fish farming in a completely different way.

“In some of these other countries, in Norway, they have the world's first offshore fish farm, which again, you know, seeing the benefits for the health of the fish better for the environment.

The National: A salmon farmer at the Strondoir Bay fish farm at Loch Fyne Scotland. The Food Standards Agency today urged people to keep eating Scottish farmed salmon after a scientific report claimed it is so full of pollutant chemicals it should only be eaten three

“As much as I'm positive about the industry, too, I mean, there's no doubt that yet again looking at other regimes in other countries, there are improvements that we can make here as well.”

Scotland is the second biggest salmon producer in the world, behind Norway and Chile, and the industry is worth over £1.8bn annually according to a government report from 2023.

The industry is expected to more than double its production by 2030 and following a review of existing regulations by Professor Griggs and two inquiries the Scottish Government has committed to making the industry more sustainable as it continues to grow due to global demand.

Gougeon has outlined that it’s not just fin fish, a term used to separate fish from other marine animals like shellfish, crayfish, and jellyfish, that there is a huge demand for as Scottish shellfish is also an expanding sector.

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She said: “When you look at our fin fish, you know, it's a sustainable low carbon source of protein, but particularly our shellfish as well.

“There are other elements to aquaculture, it's not all about the fin fish and the salmon when you look at our shellfish, our mussel production.

“There's also, I think, some quite exciting opportunities that come with seaweed aquaculture as well that I think we would like to see develop too.

“Our shellfish is something that when you look at the mussels that we produce, it's a cheap, sustainable source of protein.

“Ideally, we would want to see people in Scotland in particular eating more of it, because I think that's what always strikes me when you go to other countries as well.

“I was just at the Seafood Expo in Barcelona. There is such huge demand for Scottish seafood, whether that's our salmon, whether it's our shellfish.

“There are so many opportunities for us in Scotland.

“The demand is there.”