Struan Stevenson: There’s plenty of gold in them there gills

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Scottish aquaculture is a success story that we can all be proud of. Our climate allows a variety of fish and shellfish species to be reared by a highly-trained entrepreneurial base and we have set rigorous quality standards that have led to huge advances for the sustainability of the industry.

This means Scotland is now the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the EU, with sales of £400m per year, accounting for more than a third by value of Scottish food exports.

Yet there is much more that can be done to help the industry flourish. Overall, the EU still imports some 1.65 million tonnes of farmed seafood products annually. Scotland is in the perfect position to help turn this around, but in order to do so, the industry must not be hampered by unnecessary red tape. In Brussels, steps are being taken to sweep away some of the most egregiously unnecessary EU regulation that has been holding back the industry. Disappointingly, those efforts are being undermined here in Scotland by the government’s new Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill.

It proposes no obvious benefit for producers or the environment, while threatening to reduce competitiveness, undermine workers’ morale and put development of the sector at risk. There is no evidence that the proposals will lead to improvements in the industry but every sign that its punitive liability measures could force environmental problems underground.

Moreover, the imposition of a risk-based, centralised system in which civil servants duplicate many of the checks already carried out would merely drive down numbers of skilled, well-paid jobs in areas of Scotland where there are few other job opportunities.

The government should think again. Instead of hammering aquaculture with red tape, it should be working with the industry to seize the very real opportunity offered by Common Fisheries Policy reform to push for the proposed Aquaculture Regional Advisory Council to be headquartered in Scotland.

That way, we can be at the centre of wider efforts to make Europe a world leader in fish farming once again.

• Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland and senior vice-president of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee