By JOHN ROBERTSON
The Scottish Government has agreed to help the big Norwegian salmon companies in Shetland following last week’s outcry when it ruled out compensation for multi-million pound losses caused by its infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) restrictions.
With no money on offer, the industry is in discussions with environment minister Roseanna Cunningham and her department about other possible avenues of assistance, including the waiving of fees paid by farmers to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa). For Hjaltland Seafarms and Scottish Sea Farms, the two main companies hit by control measures to eradicate the virus, such a measure could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The industry was up in arms last week after an expected announcement on compensation turned out to be an offer of £1.5 million only for small and medium-sized Shetland and Scottish companies caught up in the ISA outbreak. Local organic sea trout company QA Fish has been saved from going out of business by the package.
The companies involved in Shetland Aquaculture were meeting in Lerwick the day after the announcement and vented their fury about being let down by the government. It has been estimated that the culling of fish and the inability to put a full year’s stock of smolts to sea until next year could wipe around £20m from the industry’s value and mean 15 per cent less salmon being grown in Shetland waters this year.
Shetland Aquaculture general manager David Sandison said the industry had been under the impression since government minister Mike Russell’s visit to Shetland in January that compensation for culling fish and adhering to quarantine regulations would be on its way. The industry then relaxed its lobbying pressure on the government, believing, wrongly, it had won its fight.
The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation secured a meeting with Ms Cunningham on Thursday last week and she said afterwards it was vital the government did everything it could to support Scottish aquaculture.
Mr Sandison said this week discussions were ongoing but with no conclusion and he was waiting for the government to give details of what it could do. “We’re basically into the art of the possible,” he said.
His aim all along has been to draw attention to the costs and problems that ISA controls are causing Shetland and its economy rather than how they affect the Norwegian shareholders of Hjaltland and Scottish Sea Farms. Part of what he wants is the right climate for investment in salmon farming in Shetland, which includes not scaring business off.
He said: “We’ve been told quite clearly there will be no direct compensation for compulsory slaughter of stock – or destruction of property, which is another way of putting it – but that doesn’t mean to say that the government isn’t willing to help companies that are adversely affected. You have to be very grateful and thankful that we have got a government that is listening and willing to speak.”
One option, which was pursued some distance after the last outbreak of ISA in the late 1990s, is to create a “sink fund”. The government and the industry would pay into a multi-million pound fund, which could be called upon in times of crisis.
Meanwhile, Hjaltland is continuing to harvest its fish from the third ISA-confirmed site, north of Papa. Contrary to what was said last week, some of the fish is big enough to be viable to process and sell rather than all having to be destroyed, Mr Sandison said. The site is due to be empty by 10th April.
It will leave only two commercial salmon farms still stocked in the ISA zone off Scalloway and Weisdale, owned by Skelda Salmon and Hjaltland, and a small cage owned by the NAFC Marine Centre. The whole zone will be devoid of fish by the end of September and left fallow until the end of March next year.
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Shetland salmon was served up to world leaders at the G20 summit this week.
The organic Framgord salmon, grown in the Skerries, was offered at Downing Street as part of a three-course meal cooked by Jamie Oliver and apprentices from his restaurant, Fifteen.
The Shetland salmon starter was accompanied by samphire and sea kale, followed by a main of roast shoulder of Welsh lamb and a bakewell tart for dessert in a feast that celebrated the “best of British”.