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SEPA backs lifting the 2,500 tonne limit on fish farms

Atlantic Salmon Environment Politics +3 more

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has informed Scotland’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that new environmental modelling techniques have given them "the necessary confidence to remove the cap" which currently limits production levels to 2,500 tonnes per site

In report, originally sent to Scotland’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC) but used to inform the members of Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee prior to today’s meeting at Holyrood, SEPA laid out the case for and against a move towards instigating a new depositional zone regulation (DZR) that would mean that the limits on production levels on each marine salmon site should be determined on a site-by-site basis – according to the environmental conditions – and therefore the current 2,500 tonne cap should be removed.

The DZR approach was developed during 2016, before being consulted on last year and SEPA intend to publish the final plan in the summer. But before they do they told the REC Committee that: “Up to now, the 2,500 tonne cap reflected the appropriate level of precaution given the degree of uncertainty in risk assessments for large farms with the then available modelling techniques. The revised version of the depositional model coupled with hydrodynamic modelling and more extensive monitoring provide us with the necessary confidence to remove the cap.”

Moreover, at those high energy sites which might qualify for producing more than 2,500 tonnes, “waste impacts on the sea bed will normally be much less severe than elsewhere; and the risks of disease and, hence, medicine usage, are also likely to be lower”.

Meanwhile, from the producers’ perspective, SEPA point out that the removal of the cap would encourage farmers to invest in the high spec infrastructure required to cope with fish production in exposed and more remote locations with strong tides, and also, they say make it more attractive for producers to “consider re-locating to, and consolidating production at, sites that have the greatest capacity to cope with farm wastes.”

“It will also help work with operators to plan licence revocations for sites in the most unsustainable locations in terms of environmental risks and disease issues,” they argue.

“The proposals are designed to deliver increased protection of the environment through enhanced modelling and monitoring. We do not envisage disadvantages from this,” they conclude.

Such a view is supported by the industry, who back the idea of shutting down some of their smaller, more sheltered sites in favour of increasing production levels at their better performing sites.

Indeed Grieg Seafood Shetland, in their own statement to the committee, outlined how they had already shut down the worst performing 16 of their marine sites, leaving them with only 17 – reducing their harvest volumes from a peak of 19,723 tonnes in 2015 to 12,055 tonnes in 2017.