Strict fish farm laws proposed following pollution evidence

Scotland is to tighten up the regulations for salmon farming given that medicines, animal waste and uneaten feed are polluting the environment.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has just completed “one of the largest and most comprehensive marine research projects into aquaculture”. The environmental impacts from eight Scottish fish farms were assessed, with 302 chemical samples analysed from 93 sample stations and 296 ecological samples taken from 142 sample stations.

Samples for chemical analysis were analysed for the sea lice medicine Emamectin Benzoate (EmBz) and Teflubenzuron (Tef), last used in 2013. The medicines were detected in 98% and 46% of samples respectively. Residues were also more widely spread in the environment around fish farms than had previously been found. The research concluded that the impacts of individual farms might not be contained to the vicinity of individual farms.

The findings increase “the now substantial weight of scientific evidence that the existing approaches do not adequately protect marine life” said SEPA.

The agency has released proposals for a new, stricter regime, including tighter standards for the organic waste deposited by fish farms and more powerful modelling to assess and understand the risks presented by aquaculture to the local environment. A new enforcement unit will also be created, whilst operators will have to invest in more accurate monitoring, including of waste coming from fish farms.

SEPA chief executive Terry A’Hearn said: “Whilst we’re seeing innovation in the sector, we’ve concluded that Scottish salmon farm medicine is significantly impacting local marine environments, which increases the now substantial weight of scientific evidence that the existing approaches do not adequately protect marine life.”

He also told the BBC that some farms could be closed and relocated. "Some operators may decide to close some sites that are in shallower waters where the environmental impact is bigger [then] move to deeper and faster flowing waters. Some may look at containment."

The proposals follow 16 months of work by the agency, including a 2017 consultation, and two Scottish Parliamentary committees, one of which concluded that “the status quo is not an option”, adding that the industry’s expansion goal “will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage to the environment” unless governance and practices are improved markedly.

Scotland is the largest Atlantic salmon aquaculture producer in the European Union and third in the world after Norway and Chile. The Scottish government wants to double the economic contribution of the sector from £1.8 billion in 2016, to £3.6 billion by 2030.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said: “We share SEPA’s vision of an innovative, sustainable salmon industry underpinned by clear and accurate regulation. This report will remove many of the barriers preventing the development of more modern facilities further from the shore and we look forward to SEPA’s support as the industry makes this change.”

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