Salmon farmers warn against SNP-Green deal

A coalition deal between the SNP and Scottish Greens would be “catastrophic” for Scotland's salmon farming industry it has been claimed, as talks between the parties on a co-operation agreement entered a new phase.

Salmon farming on Loch Duart.
Salmon farming on Loch Duart.

Negotiations which began in June, are believed to have progressed to conversations between individual government ministers and Green MSPs to discuss policies.

However the SNP is coming under increasing pressure from sectors of Scotland’s rural economy who claim that any agreement would be “devastating” for businesses.

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Dozens of rural organisations, including gamekeepers and moorland groups, have already written to Nicola Sturgeon claiming an agreement with the Greens would “tear apart” rural jobs, and now salmon farmers have warned that Green party policies would be ruinous for their industry.

The Greens have pledged to phase out open net pen salmon farming, toughen conditions on licences to farm in coastal waters and stop any further growth of the sector until environmental and animal welfare concerns are discussed.

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Scottish Green co-leader Lorna Slater said on Thursday that rural businesses needed to be realistic and could not continue to run in a way that damages the planet – though she admitted to having never visited a salmon farm and did not know they were located on the west coast.

While it is not clear if the party’s aquaculture plans will be part of the negotiations with the SNP, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation has said talk of a deal was concerning its members, as Green manifesto plans “have the potential to prejudice the sector's future and thousands of jobs.”

The SSPO has also said the industry is a relatively low carbon form of protein production and farmers are working hard to reduce their environmental impact.

Meanwhile Anne Anderson of Scottish Sea Farms, said in a BBC interview, that the Greens’ desire to shut open pen farms would have “a catastrophic effect on the Scottish salmon farming.”

She added it would have a “devastating conclusion and impact on people.”

However Ms Slater said: “I don't want workers to worry. We want to put in place jobs guarantees, just transition plans, build up sustainable environmentally friendly industries, so that we know that people will not lose their livelihoods and their incomes.

"Business owners need to be realistic; they cannot continue to run businesses that damage the planet, that put in danger wildlife and habitats. We have to have a sustainable system.”

Ms Slater admitted she had not visited a salmon farm, and had thought they were located in Shetland and Orkney. In terms of the talks with the SNP she said: “We are coming into this with what's in our manifesto.

"So, at the moment we are absolutely supporting what's in our manifesto and we are not committing to any particular policy area, what we are going to do or not do. We want to get as much of our manifesto implemented as we possibly can.”

Hamish Macdonell, director of strategic engagement at the SSPO said he had issued an invitation to Ms Slater to come to a salmon farm, a processing plant a hatchery or any other facility in the sector.

He said: “We are eager and looking forward to hosting Ms Slater at one of our farms.”

The talks between the SNP and Greens were announced by Nicola Sturgeon in May, and the Greens are believed to be taking advice from their sister party in New Zealand who share power with Jacinda Ardern's Labour administration.

Ms Slater said the one area which would be a "problem” in talks is the “maximum extraction of oil and gas” but she added: “If any areas where we cannot find an agreement, where we cannot find a good cooperation, we would just leave those out of the cooperation agreement and we would continue to be opposition, a vocal and constructive opposition in those areas.”

Scottish Conservative rural affairs spokeswoman, Rachael Hamilton, said the Greens had “continually failed to stand up for Scotland’s rural economy” and that “vital jobs and livelihoods in these communities are at serious threat if they are given a seat round the Scottish Government table.”

She added: “Salmon farmers are the latest in a long line of sectors queuing up to voice their concerns about the Greens being at the heart of the Scottish Government. It is little wonder our rural industries are so worried by that prospect.

“We already know the Greens want to kill off Scotland’s oil and gas sector, but their plans would be a disaster for the whole of our economy.

"Putting the Greens anywhere near government would be devastating for rural communities and their livelihoods right across Scotland. The SNP needs to stop prioritising their nationalist campaign, do what is right for Scotland's economic recovery and rule out any agreement with the Greens."

A spokesman for Scottish Green MSPs said environmental harm and fish welfare was a higher priority for the party than phasing out caged fish farms altogether, and the party's intention was to support industries in finding alternatives to harmful and polluting activities, and not to force sudden change.

Previously land and river management groups representing more than 90,000 jobs said their livelihoods were in jeopardy if the SNP takes on Green party manifesto pledges in any agreement.

The SNP has said it will not give a running commentary on the talks with the Scottish Greens.

The government has said its investment in tourism and the rural economy has increased to £1.12bn, including £613m in ongoing support for farmers and crofters.

“We are supporting economic activity in rural and island areas which supports thousands of jobs and livelihoods. That includes aquaculture, which generates millions for the Scottish economy – and support for businesses in the wider seafood supply chain, which we helped through a £7.75 million package earlier this year in response to the issues they faced following Brexit and Covid-19.

“We must tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, and there will be opportunities in all of this for rural industries and workers to secure green, clean and new jobs.

"That is why delivering a just transition is a central part of our journey to net zero and becoming a climate resilient nation. Rural communities will be at the forefront of this and we will work with all partners and sectors to support them to benefit from the activity we plan as part of our green recovery.”

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