Speech: Stage 1 Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill

I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the bill’s basic principles at stage 1. Although a lot of my colleagues have identified during the debate issues that require more work or consideration, I think that there is consensus that work can be done to improve the sustainability, accountability and transparency of the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors. Indeed, the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s report on the bill commented that

“the current draft of the Bill is very much the starting point, and should the Bill reach Stage 2 it will require amendment in order to make it … robust”.

There is no doubt that the cabinet secretary and the Government have a tough and delicate task on their hands. Again, the committee’s report reflected the difficulties in finding consensus on the way forward on contentious issues due to current difficulties between the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors. Although it is not something that can always be addressed by legislation, I am sure that we would all agree that improving the relationships could and should be part of the process.

The importance of the aquaculture and wild fisheries sectors to Scotland’s Highlands and Islands communities must not be underestimated. The popularity of Scottish salmon continues to grow at an exponential rate, with aspirations to increase sustainable production by 4 to 5 per cent per annum until 2020.

Enabling the sectors to continue to grow and to provide jobs and exports in an ecologically sound manner is essential to ensuring the sustainability not only of the sectors but of many rural and remote communities. However, do we know what the increase of 5 per cent per annum until 2020 will look like? Planning applications are already being refused on the basis of proliferation. We need a national plan if we want to see such growth.

Recognising the opportunity for Scotland and realising its potential is the right thing to do. Being sensitive to the natural environment, legislating against abuse by a large industry, always protecting the fantastic wild salmon and its life cycle and believing that quality must not be compromised by quantity should all be Scotland’s trademarks.

Of the issues that the bill seeks to address, I am of the opinion that the presence of sea lice and the strategies used to contain them will be paramount to the bill’s success. I welcome the minister’s announcement of £1 million of funding for scientific research. I believe that that is essential not only to reassure the public but to ensure that we have sustainable growth in fish farming.

In conclusion, I support the bill at stage 1. I look forward to seeing work on the bill continue over the coming weeks and months to create a strong framework for the sector.

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