Aquaculture is the growing of finfish and shellfish. In Scotland, this primarily involves the farming of:

  • salmon and sea trout held in sea pens;
  • salmon and trout in freshwater pens and;
  • shellfish (oysters and mussels) on rafts and lines in the sea.

As one of a number of organisations regulating finfish aquaculture, SEPA's job is to protect the marine environment for the people of Scotland. We do this by ensuring that the aquaculture industry meets environmental standards.

A high quality environment and abundant freshwater resources are vital to Scotland’s aquaculture sector. SEPA regulates discharges from finfish farms by issuing permits that limit the levels of pollutants that they discharge to the water environment. Where farms use fresh water SEPA issues permits to control the amount of water that can be abstracted. SEPA does not regulate shellfish growing. 

Our powers to deliver these functions are defined under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR).

Regulatory framework for marine pen fish farms

SEPA, as one of a number of organisations regulating finfish aquaculture, is implementing a revised regulatory framework that will strengthen the protection of the marine environment for the people of Scotland.

The new framework follows twenty-two months of work by colleagues across the agency, a 2017 consultation, and two Scottish Parliamentary committees, one of which concluded that “the status quo is not an option”, adding that the industry’s expansion goal “will be unsustainable and may cause irrecoverable damage to the environment” unless governance and practices are improved markedly.

In developing the new regulatory framework we have started with marine pen fish farms, which are the largest part of the sector.

Marine pen fish farming has grown and changed significantly since our existing regulatory framework was introduced:

  • the average size of farms has increased;
  • there has been a shift away from very sheltered, non-dispersive locations, where farms were concentrated in the early stages of the sector’s development;
  • our scientific understanding, including our ability to model the fate of discharges in the sea, has also substantially improved.

The way we regulate needs to reflect and respond to these changes. The new framework will strengthen and future-proof our ability to deliver world-leading protection of the marine environment.

Finfish aquaculture sector plan

SEPA is changing today, creating a world-class environment protection agency fit for the challenges of tomorrow. By moving away from the traditional site by site regulation to grounding our regulation and activities across whole sectors, we will shape our interactions with every sector and the businesses in them.

The finfish aquaculture sector plan was the focus of a Scotland-wide, seven week consultation in November 2018. This provided an invaluable opportunity to speak with local communities, discuss the key issues which matter most to them and hear directly from a diverse range of interests, including NGOs, marine and freshwater fishery groups and representatives of the industry. A summary from this consultation is available by clicking here.

The sector plan is ambitious in its aspirations for an industry where in the future:

  • The Scottish finfish aquaculture sector recognises that protecting the environment is fundamental to its success and is foremost in all its plans and operations.
  • The sector is a world-leading innovator of ways to minimise the environmental footprint of food production and supply.
  • The sector has a strong and positive relationship with neighbouring users of the environment and the communities in which it operates.  It is valued nationally for its contribution to achieving global food security.

A key focus of the sector plan is to ensure that all operators in the sector will reach and maintain full compliance with Scotland’s environmental protection laws, while working to help as many operators as possible to move beyond compliance.