New demand spurs Scottish aquaculture

No gulls, no stink of dead fish or of submerged midden greet a visitor to the Glenfinnan salmon farm, near Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. It is remarkably unsqualid, for a fish farm. This is good, because Scotland will soon have many more. A combination of Scottish government policy and global politics is churning the waters.

A few years ago the industry was still recovering from a crisis caused by global over-supply. Then, in 2010, the Oslo-based Nobel prize committee awarded the peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese civil-rights activist. China promptly switched preferred trade partners from Norway to Scotland. In the first nine months of 2010 Britain exported just eight Metric Tons (MT) of salmon to China. In the same period last year the figure was 2,920 MT. This year it reached 4,897 MT.

The difficulty of obtaining planning permission had previously checked growth. But aquaculturists have learned to court communities. Salmon farming employs just 2,124 workers in Scotland, but it employs them in job-thirsty places. Now that most decent fish-farming spots on the west coast have been filled, companies are looking to the archipelago. Marine Harvest, which produces almost a third of Scottish salmon, has taken to plebiscites. The 21-strong population of Canna narrowly edged them out, but on South Uist and Barra people have been more welcoming. Two new farms will bring 12 jobs to islands with a population of around 3,000.

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