Gagging of Scottish Government by salmon farmers exposed; FOI shows how authorities capitulated after threat of legal action

November 26, 2010 16:40

A series of Freedom of Information requests on behalf of the Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA) has exposed how the Scottish Government made a policy u-turn in the face of pressure, including the threat of legal action, from the salmon farming industry, reports with reference to S&TA.

In March Marine Scotland informed the industry that it would be publishing details online of certain inspection reports on salmon farms relating in particular to sea lice infestations and fish escapes, carried out under the terms of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act - given a ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner that such information should be in the public domain.

The industry's trade body, the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation (SSPO), responded threatening Marine Scotland with legal action if any company's business was "compromised" as a consequence. Marine Scotland then announced that it was "suspending the publication plan" and reviewing the situation in light of the issues raised by SSPO. In October Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham confirmed that no audits or inspections of fish farms had taken place since March 2010.

Guy Linley-Adams, the lawyer tasked with spearheading S&TA's campaign to protect wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout from the negative impacts of aquaculture, commented: "The threat by the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation to bring claims for damages against Marine Scotland over publication of enforcement audits is, in my experience, unprecedented. On the one hand it shows just how confident the salmon growers are of their position in Scotland with respect to central government. On the other it is a clear indication of just how impotent the authorities are in the face of the salmon farmers' bullying tactics."

Paul Knight, S&TA CEO, said: "This saga gives the lie to Scottish Government's contention that the salmon farming industry is properly and effectively regulated. It now appears that the industry is calling the tune and consequently there must be fundamental questions over the credibility of Scottish Government's aquaculture policy and, indeed, its commitment to protecting wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout, two of Scotland's iconic natural resources." Prominent amongst salmon farming companies opposing the publication of inspection reports in March was Loch Duart Ltd, which brands itself as the "Sustainable Salmon Company".

Loch Duart admitted to an escape of 4,000 farmed salmon from its Loch Laxford site in early November. Mr Linley-Adams added: "Loch Duart is a prime example of why Marine Scotland's inspection reports should indeed be in the public domain. The company has an abysmal record on fish escapes and is reported to have lost almost 60,000 in eight separate incidents in the last ten years. Perhaps it is understandable why it so keen to suppress certain inspection reports on its farms."

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