The economics of salmon farming

SEPA fish farm salmon
Scottish fish farm image, SEPA

An independent economic report, commissioned by two leading Scottish charities, has revealed that the Scottish Government has failed to assess the costs the salmon farming industry causes to other economic sectors and has only considered those benefits the industry brings.

As a result, the report proposes the Scottish Government’s policy of supporting the substantial expansion of the salmon farming industry should be put on hold until further economic evidence has been obtained including a comprehensive Cost Benefit Analysis.

Report co-author Dr Geoffrey Riddington noted that:

“The Scottish Government’s support for salmon farming industry expansion relies exclusively on estimates about income and employment creation. The reality is that the industry’s damage to Scotland’s inshore waters must result in many other stakeholder groups being worse off. At no time has the Scottish Government even identified these stakeholder groups, let alone calculated the extent of their costs.”

The report estimates that the salmon farming industry’s “Gross Value Added”, which has been extensively quoted and relied on by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Marine Scotland, is possibly exaggerated by 124%, whilst employment could be overestimated by a massive 251%’ and that, given an “evidence base that is partial, incomplete, unreliable and even irrelevant, it is difficult to understand how the Scottish Government can sensibly address the question of whether further damage to Scotland’s marine environment is a price worth paying.”

The report also questions the way the salmon farming industry’s economic contribution is reported, noting how a widely reported £2bn turnover figure for aquaculture companies and their trading partners has been conflated with overall economic impact. The report notes that such turnover figures “do not relate to any coherent economic performance indicator and should not influence public policy.”

The charities also commissioned an independent peer review of the report. The peer review concludes that the evidence on which Scottish Government relies for expanding salmon farming is “partial, incomplete and inappropriate for use in assisting public sector decision making’ and that ‘if the Scottish Government does propose to support expansion of the Scottish aquaculture sector then a proper assessment needs to be made.”

The Community Perspective

The report not only provides valuable insight into the industry and has potential policy implications, but also puts this data into the hands of communities who are challenging planning applications for new or expanded sites within their local inshore areas. Scottish coastal communities have reacted to the report with anger, calling for a moratorium on new salmon farms and an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s Salmon Farming in Scotland Review. Some have called for the resignation of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing.

Read more at Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland: Salmon Farming: New study shows economic costs never assessed by government