Scotland's new Sea Lice Framework launches

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency begins the first phase of its new Sea Lice Framework, a new regulatory system aiming to protect wild salmon in Scotland.
Panorama of salmon farm net pens on Loch Harport, Isle of Skye, Scotland.

Panorama of salmon farm net pens on Loch Harport, Isle of Skye, Scotland.

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Scotland has introduced a new regulatory framework for sea lice in salmon farming operations, effective from 1 February 2024

Implemented by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the new Sea Lice Framework aims to reduce the potential impact of sea lice from salmon farming on wild salmon populations, and follows a two-year consultation.

Wild salmon protection zones introduced

Announcing the framework, SEPA says the new regulations employ "a proportionate, evidence-based approach to protect young salmon from sea lice", drawing on international best practices and advanced scientific methodologies.

According to SEPA, the Sea Lice Framework "aims to support the sustainable development of fish farming in Scotland by establishing wild salmon protection zones". These zones are designed to steer aquaculture development towards areas of minimal sensitivity and enforce stricter sea lice control measures for finfish farm operators within these regions, the agency said.

The new framework will influence the evaluation of new farm applications and expansions in existing farms on Scotland's west coast and Western Isles.

Scotland "one of the first countries to take action" on sea lice risks from fish farms on wild populations

“Scotland is renowned for its salmon, with a leading aquaculture sector delivering high-quality produce across the world and contributing significantly to our economy," said Peter Pollard, SEPA's Head of Ecology, in a press release.

"However, we know a range of pressures, including commercial aquaculture, habitat barriers, and invasive species, mean populations of wild salmon are dwindling here and across the North Atlantic."

"SEPA is part of an international community working to address this shared challenge, with Scotland one of the first countries to take action to manage the risk posed by sea lice from fish farms. Reaching the first phase of the Sea Lice Framework’s implementation is an important milestone and achievement for all those who we have engaged with."

Pollard emphasized the framework's role in setting a regulatory precedent and its potential for industry adaptation.

"We’re confident the industry will be successful in adapting to this new regulatory landscape and look forward to continuing to work with producers, and all other interests, on future phases," Pollard added.

In addition to the new framework, SEPA is also developing monitoring programs within the protection zones to give a more accurate assessment of sea lice impacts and thus guide future framework phases. This includes plans to protect sea trout populations from March 2025 in Scotland's West Coast, Western Isles and Northern Isles. 

Sea Lice Framework builds on results of 2-year consultation, but differences of opinion continue

The framework's introduction follows the Scottish Ministers' decision in October 2021 to appoint SEPA as the principal organization for managing sea lice risks to wild salmon and sea trout.

Over two years of consultation preceded the finalization of SEPA's regulatory approach in December 2023, including consulting with leading scientists in Scotland and Norway, and incorporating input from regulators, industry stakeholders, environmental NGOs, coastal community groups, and wild fishery interests.

However, most industry stakeholders disagreed with SEPA's proposals last year. Salmon farming companies including Mowi Scotland, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, Scottish Sea Farms and Organic Sea Harvest all responded to SEPA in September 2023 criticising the proposals.

Trade body Salmon Scotland also said it did not support the framework proposals. "We support the development of a properly constructed, tested, and validated model that accurately assesses the risks that might arise from the activities of Scotland’s salmon farms," Salmon Scotland wrote, however, "We must state from the outset that we do not support the current proposal for a SLRF, as presented in the consultation document. SEPA have failed to demonstrate risk of significant environmental harm to wild salmonids, arising from the activities of salmon farms."

"We believe the only way forward is for a collaborative programme of work, to establish models that accurately and proportionately assess the risk that might arise from farming activities," the Salmon Scotland response said.

In December, SEPA published its response to the feedback, noting it had "carefully considered all the feedback and, in response, made several changes to implementation detail and timelines".

Full details of the consultation and responses can be viewed here.

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