SEPA launch salmon farming sector shake-up plan

SEPA fish farm salmon
Scottish Fish Farm Image © SEPA

A press release announcing their new Finfish Aquaculture Sector Plan and public consultation was published by SEPA on 7th November 2018, headlined: “Scottish salmon farm medicine is significantly impacting local marine environments. That is the conclusion of one of Scotland’s largest and most comprehensive marine research projects into aquaculture, undertaken by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)”.

Scottish salmon farm medicine is significantly impacting local marine environments.  That is the conclusion of one of Scotland’s largest and most comprehensive marine research projects into aquaculture, undertaken by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The survey, ‘Fish Farm Survey Report – Evaluation of a New Seabed Monitoring Approach to Investigate the Impacts of Marine Cage Fish Farms’, undertaken by specialist marine scientists using research vessel the Sir John Murray, examined environmental impacts from eight Scottish fish farms.  302 chemical samples were analysed from 93 sample stations and 296 ecological samples from 142 sample stations.

Samples for chemical analysis were analysed for the sea lice medicine Emamectin Benzoate (EmBz) and Teflubenzuron (Tef), last used in 2013.  The medicines were detected in 98% and 46% of samples respectively, with residues more widely spread in the environment around fish farms than had previously been found.  Moreover, the research concluded that the impacts of individual farms may not be contained to the vicinity of individual farms.

The research survey was published on 7th November as part of proposals by SEPA, one of a number of organisations regulating finfish aquaculture, for a revised regime that will strengthen SEPA’s regulation of the sector.  The proposals follow 16 months of work by the agency, including 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.

SEPA’s Industry Aspirations

Scotland is the largest Atlantic salmon aquaculture producer in the European Union and third in the world after Norway and Chile.  A contributing factor to this is Scotland’s reputation for a high quality environment and abundant freshwater resources.

SEPA’s draft Finfish Aquaculture 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.


It is also clear that all operators in the sector will reach and maintain full compliance with Scotland’s environmental protection laws, with SEPA working to help as many operators as possible to move beyond compliance.

Whilst SEPA’s latest Compliance Assessment Scheme (CAS) data saw overall compliance levels for the sector drop during 2017 to 81.14%, against a relative peak of 85.75% in 2016, the industry is innovating through the use of ‘non medicinal farming’ using wrasse, a small fish that tackles sea lice, full or partial containment and enhanced fallowing.

SEPA salmon farming consultation

SEPA’s Proposals

Specifically, SEPA’s firm, evidence based proposals for a revised regime that will strengthen the regulation of the sector include:


The tighter standard limits the spatial extent of the mixing zone around farms.   The controls we will apply to these mixing zones will bring them into equivalence with modern practice on mixing zones for other waste effluent discharges into the sea, including those from urban waste water.


The new regulatory framework will use new, more accurate computer modelling approaches that will improve our understanding of the risk to the local environment and allow assessment of the larger-scale impacts including interactions with other farms.


Operators will be required to invest in more accurate monitoring, including of waste coming from fish farms.  The creation of a new enforcement unit will strengthen the checking and verifying of monitoring that fish farm operators are required to undertake.  SEPA will also increase and strengthen monitoring of the impact of fish farms in surrounding areas.


SEPA has asked the UK Technical Advisory Group (UK TAG), a partnership of the UK environment and conservation agencies, to make recommendations on new environmental standards for Emamectin Benzoate to the Scottish Government.  While this UK TAG work continues, SEPA will adopt a precautionary principle position which imposes a much tighter interim standard for the use of Emamectin Benzoate at any new site.


The combination of the new standard, the more accurate model and enhanced monitoring will allow the siting of farms in the most appropriate areas where the environment can assimilate wastes.  It will also allow SEPA to better match biomass to the capacity available in the environment and continue to assess that through the operation of the site. This may allow for the approval of larger farms than would have been traditionally approved previously, provided they are appropriately sited in sustainable locations.

SEPA consultation salmon farming

Consultation and Engagement

As one of a number of organisations regulating finfish aquaculture, SEPA believes its proposals have the potential to significantly improve in the environmental performance of the industry.

Recognising the diverse range of views of finfish aquaculture, SEPA is keen to hear directly from individuals, interest groups, NGOs, communities, companies and others with a view on the regulatory proposals.

As part of a seven-week public consultation, SEPA will embark on one of its most significant public engagement programmes to date.  SEPA will host a series of nine events across Scotland during November and December where people can find out more, talk directly with specialist teams and provide direct feedback as we strengthen our regulatory approach.

The first event will be held on Arran on the 15th November 2018 – view the full schedule.

This press release was published by SEPA on 07/11/18 – respond to the consultation online here.

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