Revealed: the salmon industry’s ‘outrageous’ lobbying 6

Revealed: the salmon industry’s ‘outrageous’ lobbying

The multinational salmon farming industry privately lobbied the Scottish Government at least 20 times in the last year, calling for regulations to be relaxed, consents to be streamlined and companies to be given public subsidies.

Internal correspondence seen by The Ferret reveals that industry bosses have written 18 times to ten senior ministers and officials since March 2023 pleading for action on nine issues. They have also met with ministers twice, once pressing for “more financial support”.

Most of the lobbying was done by Tavish Scott, the former LibDem MSP and minister who now heads the industry body, Salmon Scotland. He has opposed new rules to control sea lice at salmon farms, urged “root and branch streamlining reform” of the process for approving new fish farms and sought a series of other changes.

Campaigners condemned the extent of industry lobbying as “shocking” and “outrageous”, warning it was “tying the Scottish Government’s hands”. According to one expert, companies’ privileged access to decision-makers lacked “environmental justice”.

Scotland's seas in danger

The Scottish Greens warned against “throwing public money” at multinational salmon firms that made “multi-billion pound profits”. It was “hugely disappointing” to learn that the industry had been lobbying against plans to control lice, they said.

Scott argued that it was Salmon Scotland’s job to “regularly engage” with government, and expressed gratitude for the Scottish Government’s “strong support”. He promised to continue to press for “more streamlined regulation”.

The Scottish Government said that ministers and officials heard from a diverse range of views, including industries impacted by regulation and those representing community and environmental concerns.

Revealed: the salmon industry’s ‘outrageous’ lobbying 7

The Scottish Government has released 72 pages of emails between the salmon industry and senior ministers and officials from March 2023 to January 2024. The emails were requested by The Ferret under freedom of information law.

Much of the lobbying was attempting to delay or block plans by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) to control sea lice. Lice can infest caged salmon and spread to wild fish swimming in the sea.

Salmon Scotland’s Tavish Scott wrote to ministers and officials six times about lice controls between March and December 2023. He also met with the rural affairs secretary, Mairi Gougeon, at St Andrews House in Edinburgh on 30 May 2023.

In March 2023 Scott messaged Humza Yousaf during the SNP leadership election before he became first minister. “I wish to express our strong desire to continue the positive relationship we have with the Scottish Government,” he wrote.

He singled out Gougeon for praise. “We have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with your colleague Mairi Gougeon, who has been a tireless champion for Scottish salmon,” he said.

Scott pressed Yousaf for the consents and licensing process for salmon farms to be “streamlined” to avoid “delays, uncertainty, unnecessary cost and bureaucratic procedures”.

He also criticised Sepa’s proposed lice controls. “We remain concerned that Sepa continues to exceed their brief in this area, developing a highly complex, restrictive and scientifically questionable regulatory framework, which may have a considerable impact on our sector,” he wrote.

In April 2023, Scott wrote to rural affairs secretary Gougeon and the net zero secretary, Mairi McAllan, again complaining about Sepa’s lice controls. The letter was copied to the Scottish Government’s marine deputy director, Malcolm Pentland.

“Our sector has repeatedly raised significant concerns with the development of this new regulatory framework, noting serious issues with the underpinning principles and scientific justification,” Scott said.

He accused Sepa of failing to demonstrate that lice from fish farms had a “significant adverse impact” on wild salmon. New regulations “must not be developed in haste, in response to wider political pressures,” he argued.

Instead, Scott proposed a more “collaborative approach” based on a memorandum of understanding with Sepa drafted by the industry. The memorandum does not appear to have been agreed by ministers.

Salmon industry lobbying

DateWho lobbiedWho in Scottish Government was lobbiedAbout what
10 March 2023Salmon ScotlandMarine director Annabel Turpie; marine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandDelaying the deadline for responding to consultation on highly protected marine areas
13 March 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandMarine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandSea lice controls
14 March 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandWould-be first minister, Humza YousafStreamlining regulation; sea lice controls; highly protected marine areas; rural housing
25 April 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandRural affairs secretary, Mairi Gougeon; net zero secretary, Mairi McAllan; marine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandSea lice controls
3 May, 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon Scotland; Ben Hadfield, Mowi; Ian Laister, BakkafrostRural affairs secretary, Mairi Gougeon; net zero secretary, Mairi McAllan; marine director, Annabel Turpie; marine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandPublic funding for industry; streamlining regulation
30 May, 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandRural affairs secretary, Mairi GougeonSea lice controls
2 June 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandRural affairs secretary, Mairi Gougeon; marine director Annabel Turpie; marine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandSea lice controls
15 June 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandHousing minister, Paul McLennanRural housing
22 June, 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandMarine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandStreamlining regulation; sea lice controls
1 September, 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandEnvironment director, Kevin QuinlanObjection to new salmon cages near Barra
14 September, 2023Salmon ScotlandMarine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandSea lice controls
21 September. 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandMarine deputy director, Malcolm Pentland; special advisor, Kevin PringleFunding for rural housing
11 October 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandNet zero director, Roy BrannenStreamlining regulation
23 October, 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandEconomy secretary, Neil GrayTransport logistics
2 November, 2023Salmon ScotlandNet zero secretary, Mairi McAllan; rural affairs secretary, Mairi Gougeon; marine director, Annabel TurpieRestrictions on use of the pesticide, emamectin
13 November, 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandMarine director Annabel Turpie; marine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandOpposing funding for a fisheries post
16 November, 2023Salmon ScotlandMarine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandSea lice controls
6 December, 2023Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandMarine deputy director, Malcolm PentlandSea lice controls
20 December, 2023Scottish Sea FarmsMarine deputy director, Malcolm Pentland; seven other unnamed government officialsStreamlining regulation
17 January 2024Tavish Scott, Salmon ScotlandEconomy secretary, Neil GrayStreamlining regulation
Sources: Scottish Government and Scottish Aquaculture Council

Scott wrote again to Gougeon about lice in June 2023, after meeting her on 30 May. The letter was copied to Pentland, and to his boss, Scottish Government marine director, Annabel Turpie.

This time Scott accepted that ministers had ordered a lice control framework. But he argued that it was “critical” for this to be based on a “robust, properly validated model” that should be “piloted through field testing prior to wider roll out.” 

Gougeon replied saying that Sepa was “open to the concept of exploring a pilot of the modelling approach as a supporting component to the phased implementation of the sea lice risk assessment framework.”

Scott then wrote to Pentland in June thanking him for the “heavy lifting” of government officials in preparing Gougeon’s response. He also proposed a new liaison group for regulators to improve “transparency and communication”.

Salmon Scotland helped lobby Gougeon and McAllan against proposed restrictions on the use of the lice-killing pesticide, emamectin. It forwarded a letter from industry vets asking for a meeting to highlight “the potentially significant impacts” of the restrictions.

Revealed: the salmon industry’s ‘outrageous’ lobbying 8

As well as lice, Scott lobbied the then economy secretary, Neil Gray, in January 2024 in support of “root and branch streamlining reform” of the fish farming consenting process. This, he said, had been recommended by a 2022 fish farming regulatory review by Professor Russel Griggs, and agreed by ministers.

Scott wrote: “We are disappointed and puzzled as to why such a clear ministerial endorsement of an independent regulatory assessment has proved so difficult to implement or even make substantive progress.”

Salmon industry asks for financial support

In October 2023 Scott wrote to the Scottish Government’s net zero director Roy Brannen. “It does not seem that long ago that I was asking your advice on roads and rail projects,” he said, presumably referring to 2005-2007 when Scott was transport minister and Brannen was chief executive of Transport Scotland.

Scott asked to “set up a coffee or a call” to discuss “the sheer weight of documentation that government is pushing out at business”. He wanted to provide “a wider perspective”.

In September Scott lobbied the Scottish Government’s environment director, Kevin Quinlan, to spike an objection to new salmon cages near the island of Barra. In November Scott asked marine director, Annabel Turpie, to withdraw funding for a fish farming post, which he said could help fishing bodies object to salmon farms.

In a pre-Christmas message in December 2023, one salmon farming company, Scottish Sea Farms, circulated Pentland, seven unnamed government officials and others under the heading “happy festive holidays”. It thanked them for “progressing the simplification/streamlining of the consenting process” for salmon farms.

Tavish Scott and other salmon industry executives were also at a Scottish Aquaculture Council meeting in May 2023 when ministers Gougeon and McAllan were lobbied for “further financial support” for fish farming. According to the minutes, there was also “discussion for the need for policy and regulation to become more adaptive”.

‘Lack of transparency, trust and equity’

The campaign group, WildFish, described The Ferret’s revelations about salmon industry lobbying as “shocking, both in terms of the amount, and the content of the lobbying itself.”

“We are particularly concerned about attempts by Salmon Scotland to develop a direct agreement with the Scottish Government around developing the sea lice regulations – effectively cutting out any third-party scrutiny from civil society,” said the group’s Scotland director, Rachel Mulrenan.

“It’s outrageous that the industry feels entitled to demand a seat at the table to develop regulation for its own activities, effectively tying the Scottish Government’s hands on making any progress to curb this risk.”

Professor Andrew Watterson, an expert on environmental regulation from Stirling University, argued that the “lack of transparency, trust and equity” needed to be urgently corrected by the Scottish Government.

He pointed out that individuals and communities with limited resources have “minimal” input. “There is no level playing field and there is a real environmental justice deficit here,” he told The Ferret.

The Scottish Greens rural affairs spokesperson, Ariane Burgess MSP, was concerned about the salmon industry’s lobbying for government subsidies. “Salmon farming already makes multi-billion pound profits,” she said.

“We should not be throwing public money at subsidising salmon farm multinationals, which are damaging our marine ecosystems.” It was “hugely disappointing” to learn that the industry had been opposing and delaying Sepa’s  lice controls, she added.

Engaging with government is ‘our job” says salmon industry

Tavish Scott pointed out that Salmon Scotland was “the trade body for the UK’s biggest food export, representing the employers of 12,500 Scots, and helping to showcase a world-renowned, low carbon, and nutritious Scottish food on the global stage.”

He added: “So of course we regularly engage with government; it is our job. We are grateful for the Scottish Government’s strong support for our sector and continue to press for more streamlined regulation to enable us to meet the growing demand for the UK’s most popular fish.

“With the right support we can generate up to £1bn a year for the economy, which in turn will create more revenue for vital public services.” 

Scottish Sea Farms did not respond to requests to comment.

According to the Scottish Government, Sepa had started the “phased implementation” of lice controls in February 2024. In the course of their duties ministers and officials heard from a range of organisations with diverse views, said a spokesperson.

“This naturally includes those representing industry sectors which stand to be impacted by regulation, as well as those representing community, environmental and many other concerns.”

The Ferret reported in 2020 that the salmon farming industry was one of Scotland’s top 14 lobbyists. It recorded 22 face-to-face meetings with ministers on the lobbying register between March 2018 and July 2020.

Main image: MariusLtu/iStock

The emails released by Scottish Government

1 comment
  1. Articles like these are why I support THE FERRET as a member. Thank you for your excellent investigative journalism and for making the findings of your FOI requests public.

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