Proposed new Scottish government laws could cost Shetland salmon farmers millions of pounds a year, industry figures and the isles’ MSP have warned.
The government’s draft fisheries and aquaculture bill seeks to increase extra protection for wild species and the marine environment. Its consultation on the bill ended earlier this month amid widespread disquiet and fears that the bill could cost jobs, increase operating costs and introduce yet more bureaucracy on an already heavily regulated industry.
MSP Tavish Scott has received 200 letters and emails from employees, employers and local bodies, including Shetland Aquaculture. Its chairman David Sandison, who is also secretary of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), said there was an “industry-wide sense of disappointment” about some of the bill’s “draconian” measures.
Fish farmers often find themselves complaining about EU regulation, Mr Sandison said, but these proposals were “entirely homemade” and did not tally with dialogue the industry has had with government in recent years.
Among the measures causing consternation are the prospect of on-the-spot fines of up to £10,000 for salmon farm employees who breach marine licences, and a requirement to divulge information which industry considers to be sensitive to the operation of commercial fish farms.
Mr Sandison said the SSPO had begun a significant campaign against the bill, which was a “pretty unprecedented reaction from an industry that’s probably been quite compliant and benign” to date. He stressed the SSPO wanted to be constructive about finding ways to change how industry operates.
One proposal is to force the industry to publish site-by-site reports of sea lice levels on a weekly basis. Mr Sandison said that was already done every month, but not publicised, and the government had been unable to explain why it feels such a move is necessary.
“The bill is going to increase our cost base, make us less competitive, threaten our ability to grow and increase exports, which is the big thing – in the grander scheme, that’s what we’re told is expected of this industry,” Mr Sandison added.
Mr Scott said government ministers rightly highlighted the importance of food and drink exports to the economy, but were giving no consideration to the damaging effects the bill could have on commercial salmon farming. The industry estimates the cost could be in excess of £20 million a year.
He pointed to figures showing that salmon exports grew by 20 per cent in 2011, with 25,000 tonnes coming from Shetland. “In order that the industry remains internationally competitive it does not need greater costs and risk uncertainty laid on it by the Scottish government,” he said.
Mr Scott said the legislation looked “unnecessary and counter-productive” because there were few of its clauses which could not be delivered by voluntary agreement. He also felt the consultation process had been inadequate.
“This is a seriously flawed piece of Scottish government legislation which I believe needs to be completely reconsidered, both in terms of policy and impact. Two hundred letters in my constituency office confirm I am not alone.”
The government said it would give “careful consideration” to all submissions received during the consultation.