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Monster of the Deep That Now Nets 250k an Hour

SCOTLAND - In recent years, a new kind of fishing industry has been gradually spreading across the sea lochs around Scotland's coasts.

Fish farming still has negative connotations, but many communities rely on it.

Figures released yesterday by the newly created Aquaculture Information Bureau (AIB) showed fish farming was worth more than £400 million in 2006. This placed it ahead of fishing - which was worth £370 million - for the first time. Assuming a typical year of 224 working days, and a working day of seven hours, fish farming is netting £255,000 an hour, or £71 every second, for the Scottish economy.

The fish farming business has taken off at an astonishing rate. The first sites started in the 1970s and by 1980 only 9 per cent of the fish consumed came from aquaculture; now it is 43 per cent.

Aquaculture "products", as the industry refers to its shellfish and fish, also represent 50 per cent by value of all Scottish food exports.

In the past year, Scotland exported more than 12 million salmon to 60 countries and it is now the third-largest salmon producer in the world.

According to Ken Hughes, of the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation, the success of the industry comes down to Scotland's geographic position.

"The water quality of the country is extremely high," he said. "Also, geographically, you have good, strong sea lochs, which enjoy a bit of protection - the technology for the wild seas isn't there yet - to allow aquaculture cultivation.

"There's been a massive upturn in the consumption of fish. There are two figures in terms of salmon consumption: for smoked salmon, it has increased approximately 37 per cent, while fresh salmon has risen by up to 15 per cent."

The average Scot, though, still eats only a third of a portion of fish a week, well below the recommended two portions, and Mr Hughes acknowledges that "there's a long way to go". However, the fish-farming industry is now making a vital contribution to the rural economy, especially in the western and northern isles, where many communities are sustained by the employment provided - about 1,500 direct jobs, with a further 4,700 downstream.


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