Green watchdog report sees ‘de facto ban’ on use of Acoustic Deterrent Devices in salmon farming

A clamp down on the use of Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) at Scottish salmon farms has been prompted in the first intervention of its kind by the country’s new green watchdog.

Environmental Standards Scotland, which was set up last year to prevent enforcement gaps in environmental law after Brexit, has published a report recommending improvements to Marine Scotland’s compliance process in regard to ADDs. 

This was prompted by a referral from the Coastal Community Network (CCN), a collaborative made up of 22 community based groups in Scotland, through their solicitor Guy Linley-Adams.

CCN raised concerns in November 2021 that the Scottish Government was failing to ensure the fish farming industry was complying with regulations, and challenged whether Marine Scotland’s investigation and enforcement actions were sufficient. 

ADDs emit pulses of a high frequency that effectively create a temporary sound fence around the fin fish farm, deterring predators such as seals from attacking fish stocks. However, some of these devices can disturb European Protected Species (EPS) such as whales, dolphins and porpoises.

EPS are protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations 1994 which means a mitigation licence is needed for any work that might impact them. 

Marine Scotland’s approach to ensuring compliance with the 1994 regulation before 2022 put an emphasis on self-regulation in regard to ADDs, however more inspections will now be made according to the ESS. 

On 5 August this year, the ESS published a report on Marine Scotland’s enforcement of Acoustic Deterrent Devices concluding that an ADD which disturbs protected species can only be used if the operator has obtained an EPS licence. 

According to the ESS an application for such a licence in regard to ADDs has not been granted to this date.

Through the investigation an informal resolution was reached between ESS and Marine Scotland about how the agency will enforce the proper use of ADDs, and it is agreed that public updates on the progress of their enforcement works are to be given. 

CCN’s solicitor Linley-Adams described this result as a “de facto ban” on ADDs in salmon farming as it would be “impossible” to prove that the use of the device will not damage or harm cetaceans. He added that the Scottish government will not be able to issue ADD licences under the Habitats Regulations as alternatives to ADDs are available.

He said: “At today’s date, there should be no use whatsoever of ADDs on salmon farms in Scotland.

“We would like to thank the ESS. Their staff deserve very great credit for the speed with which they have dealt with this matter and for delivering an effective outcome in their first resolution of an environmental issue brought to them since they were established. This augurs well for Scotland.” 

The result has been seen as a landmark victory by environmental groups campaigning for this change. 

Marine biologist David Ainsley, Sealife Adventures founder and CCN member, said: “This is a great result. Harbour porpoises and dolphins will enjoy greater protection as a result. Any salmon farmers who try to use ADDs must now expect enforcement action against them. 

“CCN members will be watching – and indeed listening – for any lawbreaking and we encourage the general public, and any fish-farm employees,  to report any use of ADDs at once.”

Salmon Watch Campaigner and author Don Staniford took to twitter to proclaim ADDs ‘dead in the water’, labelling the ESS report ‘damning’. 

The full ESS report and investigation can be found here.