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‘Offshore’ salmon aquaculture and identifying the needs for environmental regulation

Academic article
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Trine Dale
Lauren Watson, Lynne Falconer, Trine Dale, Trevor C. Telfer


‘Offshore’ aquaculture has gained increased attention as a potential route of expanding production of commercially important finfish species such as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). However, there is a lack of clarity about the term ‘offshore’ and how different ‘offshore’ environments are, compared to more traditional coastal or inshore locations. This uncertainty is an issue for effective governance and regulation and is a bottleneck for development that must be addressed. This study used a mixed method approach to evaluate what is meant by ‘offshore’ production and determine if existing approaches are suitable for licensing and regulating ‘offshore’ salmon aquaculture in Scotland, as a case study. First, a systematic literature review was used to assess academic studies and then an online questionnaire was used to gather views from salmon aquaculture stakeholders in Scotland and other countries. The results show there is inconsistency in what is perceived by the term ‘offshore’ aquaculture, making it challenging to determine a global definition. Literature, which was not limited to salmon production, tended to focus on distance from the coast but salmon aquaculture stakeholders had very mixed views, though a slight majority considered wave exposure was the key characteristic. The stakeholders indicated there may be a number of benefits of ‘offshore’ salmon aquaculture, but also suggested that existing regulations are not appropriate for ‘offshore’ salmon production and could be enhanced. The study results suggest that regulators and stakeholders need to agree on consistent terminology that characterises the production environment. Depending on local or regional complexities, several classifications that reflect key features, may be required. Additionally, new or adapted approaches to aquaculture licensing, regulation and site suitability may also be needed to account for physical and ecological differences from more traditional farming locations. Ultimately, environmental regulation will only be fit-for-purpose if it is evidence-based and relevant to the environmental conditions, surrounding ecosystem, and species being produced. Ironically, the biggest constraint to ‘offshore’ aquaculture regulation seems be understanding what ‘offshore’ is and means, and until this is addressed there will continue to be uncertainty and confusion that hinders development of the sector.