SEPA sets out guidance for marine cage fish farms

date09 July 2015

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has today (9 July 2015) published updated guidance on how fish farms are regulated in Scotland.

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The licence review document for Marine Cage Fish Farms was originally published in 2011 but has been revised to include more detailed information on how SEPA works to improve performance at failing sites and protect the environment.

SEPA issues licences for fish farms with conditions designed to ensure that the water environment out with the immediate vicinity of the licensed site is protected.

In order to protect the environment SEPA licences include conditions:

• Limiting the biomass (weight of fish) held on a site;

• Restricting medicine and chemical releases;

• Requiring monitoring of seabed conditions

SEPA will take action, as described in the guidance, if improvements in environmental quality are required at fish farm sites.

For example, in light of a history of non-compliance with SEPA standards on seabed quality, SEPA decided to reduce the amount of fish which could be held at three Orkney fish farm sites in late 2013.

SEPA held discussions with the site operator and issued variation notices, under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011, for its fish farms at Chalmers’ Hope, Quanterness and West Fara in 2014.

The site operator Meridian Salmon Farms Limited, which was later taken over by Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, appealed SEPA’s decision. In May 2015 SEPA’s decision to reduce fish numbers at Quanterness and West Fara was upheld, and the new reduced biomass limits will come into force at these sites on 1 August 2015.

The decision to reduce biomass at Chalmers’ Hope was not upheld as new evidence was provided to show that seabed conditions had improved during the determination of the appeal.

Hazel MacLeod, fish farm specialist at SEPA, said:

SEPA takes a proportionate, risk-based approach to environmental protection and the regulation of marine cage fish farms in Scotland.

“If fish farms fail to comply with the conditions of their SEPA licence we will take the actions necessary to protect the environment. The licence review document outlines this approach and provides sector-specific guidance for marine cage fish farms.

“Action was required to be taken by SEPA in order to combat the impact three fish farm sites, now operated by Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, in Orkney had on seabed conditions. We look forward to seeing improvements in seabed conditions affected by the fish farms at Quanterness and West Fara after the new biomass limits come into force at these sites.”