Green campaigners issue legal threat over fish farming regulation

Environmental campaigners have threatened the government with legal action over its recently published Joint Fisheries Statement, which they argue fails to include “meaningful policies” to regulate the growing fish farming industry.

In a statement issued this week, campaign group Feedback said that it had instructed lawyers to write to the UK government “in view of launching legal proceedings for its failure to regulate the growing aquaculture industry”.

Feedback’s statement noted that in Scotland the farmed salmon industry is worth £1 billion and generates the UK’s largest food export by value, but also highlighted the “significant environmental impacts” of the fish farming industry. A review commissioned by the Scottish Parliament of the Scottish salmon industry listed a range of issues including sea lice, disease, waste, impacts on wild salmon, and fish welfare, according to the statement.

The statement continues that, despite the size and impact of the Scottish farmed salmon industry, there are “no meaningful policies proposed in the recent Joint Fisheries Statement to regulate the industry’s insatiable appetite for wild-caught fish and profits for shareholders”.

“Climate change and overfishing are putting increasing strain on wild fish populations; while it is touted as a solution, aquaculture is in fact contributing to both of these problems, in large part due to its demand for feed fish,” the statement continued.

Rowan Smith, a solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, which is acting on behalf of Feedback, said: “The legislation is clear that the UK government and devolved administrations were under a duty to devise policies to ensure aquaculture, including farmed salmon, doesn’t have a negative impact on climate change and marine ecosystems.

“However, there is no evidence in the Joint Fisheries Statement that the authorities have discharged that legal obligation. Our client hopes that a full explanation will be given, otherwise legal action may follow.”

Last year, responding to the government’s consultation on the draft version of the joint fisheries statement, green watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection welcomed the ambition of the statement, but flagged six areas where the proposals should be strengthened, warning that “overall, the current draft lacks the detail needed to deliver government’s ambitions”.

In February 2022, an independent review of the regulation of Scottish fish farming proposed that a single consent process should be introduced, replacing a confusing series of separate rules.

DEFRA has been approached for a statement.