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Aquaculture and fisheries bill backed by environment committee

SCOTLAND - The Scottish Parliament's Environment and Rural Development Committee today endorsed the general principles of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland)Bill.

In its findings, the committee emphasises the importance of preventive measures to stop the parasite Gyrodactylus salaris (GS), which affects salmon, reaching Scotland. It calls for more robust measures at ports to prevent it spreading to Scotland and recommends the launch of a high profile public information campaign about the importance of disinfecting angling gear and other water-sports equipment.

As a whole, the Bill provides a package of measures aimed at conserving wild fish stocks, controlling parasites on farmed fish and preventing the escape of fish from fish farms. New powers to address access to freshwater fisheries, the welfare of freshwater fish and conservation measures aimed at ensuring the sustainability of freshwater fisheries are also proposed.

Committee Convener Sarah Boyack said:
"The Committee is generally pleased to note the way in which the Bill has been developed in association with stakeholders and notes that most of its provisions have received broad support.

"We welcome the new provisions on controlling parasites and the containment of fish and recommend that there should be a regular review of the effectiveness of the proposed Code of Practice to ensure that it builds on the voluntary arrangements already in place."

On the parasite Gyrodactylus salaris
There are substantial powers in the Bill to enable Scottish Ministers to tackle GS. It is not currently present in Scotland but is present in other parts of Europe, including Norway. If GS was introduced here it would have devastating consequences for wild salmon stocks. Treatment to eradicate GS involves the release of the chemical Rotenone into affected rivers, which as well as killing fish would have a serious impact on all river life.

Sarah Boyack added:
"We recognise that GS could devastate Scotland's salmon industry and agree that action must be taken to address this threat. The chemical measures used to tackle the parasite, however, could have a huge effect on biodiversity and other water users, including the whisky, leisure and renewable energy industries.

"The Committee found it difficult to come to a fully-formed view on the wide-ranging powers in the Bill on this issue because of conflicting views on how eradication measures could affect Scotland's water courses and other industries reliant on water supplies.

"Raising awareness of the risk of GS entering Scotland is essential and the committee calls for a high profile public information campaign on the importance of disinfecting angling gear and other water-sports equipment. More robust measures should be introduced at ports of entry to further enhance the safeguards in place."

In the Stage 1 report the Environment and Rural Development Committee has asked the Executive to produce more information on the GS contingency planning exercise it plans to undertake early next year.

BACKGROUND NOTES
The Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Ross Finnie on 28 June 2006. Copies of the Bill are available on our website and copies of the Stage 1 report are also available. The web address is: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/environment/index.htm

The Industry:
According to evidence provided to the committee, Scotland is the third largest producer of Atlantic salmon in the world (after Norway and Chile) with a production of just over 158,000 tonnes per year. The farm-gate value of Scottish salmon production is estimated at £300 million per year, with added value (for example from processing) of between £300 and £400 million giving a retail value of approximately £700 million. Salmon farming is estimated to support the employment of 10,000 people of whom 4,700 live in the Highlands and Islands. Although heavily centred on salmon, the aquaculture industry also produces 6,000 tonnes of rainbow trout and around 4,000 tonnes of shellfish per year.

Escapes:
During evidence sessions, the committee heard that Salmon are kept in various types of nets, tanks and cages at different stages of the production cycle and fish can escape through a variety of different ways, including storm damage or flooding. Between the years 2000 and 2004, a total of 1,282,955 salmon and Rainbow trout escaped - the majority of escapees being salmon from seawater cages. The Committee heard that 900,000 fish had escaped in 2005 and 100,000 had already escaped to June this year.

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