Scotland is rightly proud of its food and drink sector: one of the best performing sectors of the economy with exports worth £8 billion in 2022. Whisky and aquaculture lead the way with Scottish salmon being the UK's biggest food export, worth £362 million in 2020.
Aquaculture is the breeding, growing and harvesting of plants and animals in water, both freshwater and at sea. The sector includes not only salmon, but other finfish such as rainbow and brown trout, shellfish such as mussels, oysters and scallops and seaweed now forms a growing part of the sector. Figures provided for 2018 estimate that the sector and its supply chain generated £885 million Gross Value Added, contributed £94.1 million in tax and supported 11,700 jobs, many of these located in rural areas.
The Scottish Government has just published its Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture (July 2023) which sets out its aspirations for the sector and the key outcomes it wants it to achieve which will ensure development within environmental limits providing social and economic benefit for Scotland.
In order to achieve its Vision, the Scottish Government has identified a number of outcomes to be realised.
- Improvement of the planning and consenting system at each of national, regional and local levels to understand and manage cumulative risks, and the aligning of the consenting regime between all the different regulatory processes. The different scales of the finfish, shellfish and seaweed sectors is to be recognised as regards their different social, economic and environmental impacts. Collaboration between the sectors is to be encouraged to investigate opportunities for multi-species farms or areas, with redevelopment of farms to alternative forms of aquaculture, other marine development or the return of the site to the wild.
- The sector is to continue to work to minimise negative environmental impacts and collaborate with other stakeholders to protect and restore biodiversity. This will include accelerating the adoption of non-medicinal treatments, waste recovery and sea lice controls to help protect both wild and farmed salmon, minimising the escape of farmed fish and prioritising non-lethal predator control methods. The benefits of shellfish and seaweed aquaculture for improvement of the environment through biodiversity restoration, carbon sequestration and nutrient recycling is to be further explored.
- Aquaculture is required to play its part in Scotland achieving net zero emissions by 2045 and transitioning to a zero waste and circular economy. This requires reductions in emissions, reducing waste discharges, capturing, recycling and repurposing more waste and by-products, and minimising use of single-use non-recycled materials and increasing use of reusable packaging.
- The improvement of aquaculture health and welfare is a priority which will result in enhanced economic and environmental performance. This will require continuing research and adoption of new and innovative techniques.
- Communities which host aquaculture or supply chain businesses are to benefit from the sector through a range of lasting benefits, including employment opportunities and support to people wishing to enter the aquaculture sector. They will be able to meaningfully contribute to the planning and consenting process and it is to be ensured that statutory and voluntary funds raised from the sector for community benefit are of appropriate scale and put to best use.
- There is to be a renewed national focus on innovation, supply chain and infrastructure development that will support increased productivity and the growth of Scottish businesses. The profile of the industry will be raised so that people can see the opportunities in the sector. Port and harbour infrastructure, broadband coverage, and housing in rural and island areas will be improved so that people can live and thrive in the areas in which they work. New markets will be identified, and Scotland's reputation as a leader of aquaculture innovation and excellence enhanced.
There is strong policy support in Scotland for expansion of the aquaculture sector to benefit the economy and support rural communities in our Highlands and Islands. This Vision shows that along with the opportunities the aquaculture sector presents, it is intended that there be a focus on sustainable development, and contribution to the net zero, circular economy/zero waste and biodiversity policy agendas.