THE Scottish aquaculture industry’s target to double production by 2030 cannot be met because of government red tape, said Craig Anderson, boss of the Scottish Salmon Company.
Scotland produced 162,817 tonnes of salmon in 2016 and set out plans last year to more than double this total to 350,000 tonnes.
But Anderson (pictured), whose company is Scotland’s third biggest producer, told the Herald that the system for applying for Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) licences to farm fish had to ‘radically’ change, along with the bodies governing the industry.
‘Under the current regime of licence applications that [target] is not going to be hit,’ said Anderson. ‘We as a salmon producing nation will miss that target by far, that’s just a fact.
‘Currently it takes three years from SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and once you get your CAR licence you then have to go to the local authority to get planning [permission] to anchor your previously approved farm site to the seabed and if they refuse, that’s three years wasted.’
He acknowledged that the Scottish government had been ‘very supportive’ of the salmon farming industry, but he called on the four bodies who regulate the industry to look at how they could work together to make the industry ‘fundamentally better’.
These bodies are Marine Scotland, Marine Scotland Science, Fish Health Inspectorate and SEPA.
‘Maybe the government should look at those four bodies becoming one. Fairness and straightforwardness would be good for the whole industry rather than mixed messages and clutter.’
SEPA claimed a CAR licence typically takes six months to complete, the Herald reported.
‘There are occasions when this process can take longer due to the complexity of an application. In some instances SEPA may require additional information in order to ensure that the environment is protected,’ a SEPA spokesman said. Planning permission can be applied for ‘before, during or after the CAR application submission’.
The industry set up its own body to drive growth following the publication of its Vision 2030 a year ago. The Industry Leadership Group holds meetings several times a year, attended by the Minister for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing.
Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, said he fully understood Anderson’s frustrations, but added that ‘a lot of work had been going on over the years to de-clutter the red tape’, including the SSPO’s Planning Reform for Aquaculture initiative in 2012, and the independent review on consenting, commissioned by the government and supported by the industry.
‘Obviously, the Vision 2030 group put forward an ambitious target but nevertheless it was based on sound reasoning, and particularly on the fact that our competitor countries had grown exponentially while Scotland had flat-lined for 10 to 15 years.’
The Scottish Salmon Company increased its net operating revenue by a quarter in the first half of the financial year, to £72 million. Anderson said the US was its main focus for exports, with projected sales this year set to top £8 million, up from £1 million in 2016.