Aquaculture

Proposals for the future regulation of finfish aquaculture, June 2017

Aquaculture

By regulating fish-farming processes, we ensure that aquaculture continues to play a key role in the development of a vibrant and sustainable economy while protecting the environment.

In Scotland, aquaculture is a valuable part of the economy, helping to sustain economic growth and producing our most valuable food export.

Aquaculture is defined as the rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants in both seawater and freshwater for food and it can take many forms.

In Scotland, aquaculture is dominated by the production of fin fish – predominantly salmon, but there is a range of other fish species such as trout, cod and halibut which have been produced or are currently in production in Scotland.  As well as fin fish, shellfish such as mussels, oysters and scallops are produced in significant quantities.

Why does aquaculture have to be regulated?

We have an important role in the direct regulation of fin fish production and a lesser though still significant role in relation to shellfish farming – ensuring that water quality is suitable for the production of wholesome shellfish.

The majority of fin fish farming takes place in floating net cages in freshwater lochs or coastal waters. Fish are fed with specially formulated pelletised diets, of which a small proportion – along with waste matter – is released from the cages and into the water column, to be deposited on the sea or loch bed.

These discharges of feed and waste – along with dissolved waste from the fish and residues of medicines used to treat disease or parasitic infection – may pose a risk to the environment. We impose controls to limit the damage that may be caused by these emissions.

How is aquaculture regulated?

Operators wishing to establish a fish farm in Scotland must apply for and be granted a licence under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR). These regulations provide us with powers to ensure that activities which may pose a risk to the water environment are controlled. In most cases, this allows fish farms to operate in an economically viable and sustainable way while placing strict limits on the extent and severity of impacts.

We enforce the regulations by setting site-specific limits on the amount of fish that can be held in the cages and the amount of medicines and chemicals that can be used.

As well as the controls that we impose, a number of other regulators deal with the aquaculture sector. These include the local authorities which deal with planning controls; Marine Scotland, dealing with navigation and fish health; and the Crown Estate which has a role as landlord, leasing areas of seabed to fish farmers.

What do I need to do?

The pre-application process

Before submitting an application, operators should contact us to discuss their proposals with us.

This pre-application consultation can avoid potentially costly difficulties and disappointment, allowing us to help you develop proposals so they are appropriate for the site concerned.

Our guidance on the pre-application process contains more information and advice on how to go about this.

Licence applications and modelling

A CAR licence application involves a number of steps, which are described in detail in the fish farm manual and is a subject to a fee, as described in our CAR charging scheme.

Applicants must submit survey information on the physical, chemical and biological condition of the seabed. They must also measure the currents in the area and conduct computer modelling simulations showing how waste will be dispersed from the site. Our modelling page provides more information on how this information should be collected and reported.

Licence determination and site monitoring

Following submission and advertising of the application, we will consider the proposals and either grant or refuse a licence.

Where a licence is granted and a farm is developed, we will monitor and undertake inspections of it. The operator will also be required to commission regular studies of the effect of the farm on the seabed.

Fish farmers also make regular data returns to us detailing the scale of the discharges from each of their farm premises. This data forms a large part of the publicly available Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory (SPRI) – most of this data is contained within the Scotland’s Aquaculture website.

Compliance with regulations

The degree of compliance with the licences issued under CAR for fish farms is described and publicised in our compliance assessment scheme.

Operators are expected to comply with the conditions of their CAR licence and ensure that sites meet our published standards on an ongoing basis. Should they fail to do this, we have powers to withdraw or vary the authorisation if they fail to meet its conditions.

If an operator does not agree with the conditions and requirements imposed by a CAR authorisation or notice, they can make appeal directly to the Scottish Government.

Contact us

If you require any further help or advice at any stage during the application process, please contact us.