Innovation sites to drive salmon growth

MOVES to introduce aquaculture innovation sites in Scotland have taken a step forward following the latest meeting of the Aquaculture Industry Leadership Group (AILG), set up to drive growth in the sector.

A key recommendation in the Vision 2030 report, published a year ago by the industry, innovation sites will promote growth by conferring special status on both new and existing locations, and they could be established as early as next year.

Vision 2030 recommended that innovation sites would be for ‘controlled trials and development of equipment, technologies or disease control measures, and regulation’.

A sub-group of the AILG, led by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre and involving all Scotland’s finfish producers, as well as representatives from academia and the supply chain, has drafted proposals that it will bring to a meeting with Marine Scotland on November 13.

The plan has already been discussed with Rural Economy Minister Fergus Ewing (pictured) at the last meeting of the AILG in October and he is said to be driving the initiative.

If approved, aquaculture innovation sites will see changes in licensing arrangements to facilitate green development licences, new high energy and exposed sites, higher biomass sites, and a more innovative regulatory framework.

Although the AILG looked at Norway’s development licences during its discussions, this is ‘going to be very much a Scottish system’, said Stewart Graham, co-chair of the AILG and managing director of Gael Force Group.

‘We expect there might be a class of innovation site which is large and new, but we’d also expect that small sites could be innovation sites, and also that we might have existing sites moving into innovation site status.

‘We’ve had two initial industry meetings to start to formulate the ideas as to what an innovation site might consist of. It might be trialling new equipment, or it might have a partnership with academia, or be trialling new medicines, biological innovation, or regulatory trialling.’

For sites to qualify for innovation status, several criteria have been identified, including environmental performance, economic and community benefit, technical innovation, regulatory innovation, and support for supply chains.

The AILG has proposed that there should be a simple application process to set up the sites, along with local community engagement.

‘It’s moving really quickly and the minister has been very supportive of this particular recommendation and suggested that this must happen in a matter of weeks and months not months and years,’ said Graham.

He also said that the AILG will discuss with the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation a new approach to promoting the industry.

While there wasn’t a recommendation in Vision 2030 relating to image and presentation, this is something the industry has decided to address with some urgency. Bad press continues to plague the salmon sector, despite its contribution to the Scottish economy and its role in bringing much needed employment to rural areas.

‘I’m hugely frustrated and I know the Cabinet Secretary is too that we appear in many ways to have been sitting back and being reactionary and taking things on the chin when we have a wonderful positive story to tell and we don’t tell it,’ said Graham. ‘I think it’s absolutely critical to do something.’

A more detailed report on the latest Aquaculture Industry Leadership Group meeting appears in the November issue of Fish Farmer.

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