After more than 30 years in the salmon industry and 18 years as a founder and sales director of the Sutherland-based salmon company, Loch Duart, I’m pausing for a moment to reflect on the industry and its place in Scottish life.
I can’t explain my travel schedule and expect anyone to feel I am hard done by. Large parts of my time are spent in Sutherland, its stunning scenery now being enjoyed by thousands of North Coast 500 travellers. Trips to provincial France to discuss salmon and seafood are frequently punctuated by a glass of wine and a meal with fishmongers and restaurateurs. The privilege of seeing the bustling fish markets of Tokyo and Paris are topped off by the constantly disarming friendliness of our American customers who embrace new, sustainable farming methodologies with evangelical zeal.
So that’s all the fluffy stuff which makes my working life a joy, but what is the salmon farming industry doing for Scotland? You could be fooled by some of the negative stories you might read about Scotland’s salmon farming industry to underestimate our contribution to Scottish life. Even wee Loch Duart (four per cent of Scottish production) employs 115 people and is paying over £3m in wages each year – mainly into remote rural communities (Sutherland has about six people per square mile!).
But even I, as a dyed in the wool supporter of our sector, was impressed by the forecast benefit to the future of Scotland represented by salmon farming. Scottish Government figures record that there are currently 8,800 jobs supported by the aquaculture sector in Scotland and approximately 170,000 tonnes of salmon are produced on farms each year. The Aquaculture 2030 report has forecast that by 2030 salmon production is set to increase to around 350,000 tonnes per annum, with a rise in jobs to around 18,000.
Everyone can see around them an intention at least by friends and family to eat less red meat and more fish. We see around us a growing population, people are living longer, striving for healthier lives and fighting obesity. The World Health Organisation tells us that “…dietary goals can be met by … ensuring a regular intake of fish (one or two times per week).”
Salmon farming uses less fresh water than raising cattle or chickens. We’re not short of fresh water in Scotland but, globally, fresh water availability is a critical issue. Salmon converts feed more efficiently than chickens, pigs or cattle and meets the lifestyle aspirations of the world population – being healthy, versatile and easy to cook. In China, where they still remember baby’s milk being tampered with, the traceability that salmon farmers can offer in all aspects of feed, farming and processing is a massive draw to the consumer.
Scotland is rightly looking to its natural resources to provide the economic prosperity to replace falling oil revenue. Salmon farming is already Scotland’s biggest food export and the macro economic factors I have outlined here underline its importance for our future. People rightly debate the sustainable growth of the industry but please, let’s have that debate while recognising the massive potential of salmon farming for Scotland.
Andy Bing is one of the founders of Scottish salmon farming business Loch Duart.