Scottish government 'too close' to salmon farmers

By Lucy Adams
BBC Panorama

  • Published
fish farm - loch fyne
Image caption,
There are more than 200 fish farms around Scotland's coast

The Scottish government and regulators have been accused by campaigners of being too close to the salmon farming industry.

The criticism came after information that should have been released was repeatedly withheld.

Guy Linley-Adams, from Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, has appealed to the Information Commissioner 10 times in the past two and a half years.

On each occasion the watchdog said the information should be released to him.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
All commercial Scottish salmon is farmed

Mr Linley-Adams, who is a lawyer for the trust which has concerns about the impact of salmon farms on wild fish, said his appeals were against either the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) or Marine Scotland, the Scottish government body that oversees fish health.

He said: "I think it's because the information that I'm asking for is controversial.

"They don't want it out in the public domain, at least they don't want it out in the public domain at that particular time. So they can push it down the line, they can force me to go to the Information Commissioner, and that takes weeks and months.

"By the time the information comes out, it's less controversial, or it's been superseded by something else."

Image caption,
Mr Linley-Adams is concerned about the effect of fish farms on wild salmon

The Scottish Information Commissioner asked Scottish ministers to apologise and retrain staff.

The Scottish government told the BBC it receives a high volume of information requests, with Marine Scotland alone processing 200 in the 2017/18 period.

It said it "strives to answer all requests fully and on time".

The government said Marine Scotland staff received training in March.

Sepa regulates Scotland's £1bn salmon industry alongside Marine Scotland.

Both regulators and the Scottish government have also been criticised for a lack of transparency in relation to the salmon farming industry.

Last year, two Scottish Parliamentary Committees reports found gaps in regulation and concluded the status quo was not an option.

Campaigners have accused the Scottish government and regulators of being too "pro" the salmon farming industry.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Fergus Ewing said the conversation around salmon farms should be evidence based

They point towards a speech Rural Economy Minister Fergus Ewing gave in Orkney last year where he promised industry that the government would give every support it needed to "deal with its detractors".

Mr Linley Adams believes the minister's words were directed at people like him who are raising legitimate concerns.

Mr Ewing told the BBC: "These comments were made with regard to emphasising the importance of making sure that the conversation around salmon farming in Scotland is an informed and evidence-based one.

"There are concerns regarding the industry, and I have absolutely agreed with some (or even many of) those concerns - I have made clear on more than one occasion, the status quo is not an option."

"However, I have always stated that we equally must be better at recognising and celebrating the good environmental credentials of this industry."

Graham Black, director of Marine Scotland, said the regulator was definitely not too close to the salmon farming industry.

"While some criticise us for that, some in the industry criticise us for not facilitating expansion of the industry as quickly as they would like," he said.

Mr Black said the industry was a big exporter of food from the UK and highly successful in terms of bringing jobs to remote and rural parts of Scotland but that had to be balanced against protecting the marine environment.