SCOTLAND'S growing and commercially successful fish farming industry was today still baffled why it has suddenly come under the spotlight with government warnings that its activities may be curtailed.
The threat came after Scotland's Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson was interviewed as part of a BBC Scotland TV investigation into fish farming.
Mr Stevenson said that fish farms may be banned from areas which are important to wild fish stocks, but promised to consult before any action is taken. "Everything is open for discussion. But we have to have the consultation, we have to understand in the environment we have in Scotland what the effects of different options would be."
However, he was less than emphatic that a ban WILL be introduced, with some observers believing he was reacting in general terms on a documentary programme.
Fish farming is one of Scotland's modern economic success stories, employing thousands of people and generating tens of millions of pounds in export revenue, not least from its newest customer - China.
Mr Stevenson also revealed he is considering forcing salmon farmers to publish information about lice levels on specific farms, a measure which has been called for by critics of the fish farm industry and which has been implemented by the Norwegian government. However, Scotland's fish farming industry said there was no evidence that parasites were threatening wild fish stocks.
The group which represents salmon farms in Scotland said the industry was not concealing information from regulatory authorities.
Scott Lansburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producer's Organisation, said: "We're regulated by the environmental protection agency, SEPA."
Some of the claims have come from the wild fish lobby. Guy Linley Adams, a lawyer working for the Salmon and Trout Association, said: "If we're getting resistant sea lice we need to know where the populations of those resistant sea lice are.
"If it does spread we get multiple resistance in sea lice across the west coast of Scotland and in the isles then you've got this awful scenario of farms with huge lice burdens causing problems not just for the farmers but for the wild fish as well."
Steve Bracken from Marine Harvest, Scotland's largest salmon producer, said there was not enough evidence to suggest that parasites were responsible for any declines in wild fish stocks."We can't say that we're not having an impact. It's just knowing how much of an impact we've got," he said.
He added: "And that's why I think it would be wrong to say 'well, we don't know, we don't really like this but we think you should go out of the loch'. We don't think that's a reason for moving."
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