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Insufficient evidence for salmon farm moratorium. Calls for a moratorium on new salmon farms in Scotland’s waters have been rejected by MSPs.

Members of Holyrood’s Rural Economy Committee said there was “insufficient evidence” to support banning new developments – but also stressed the need to “raise the bar” in regulating fish farms.

They also recommended regulators to have the power to step in and shut sites down if there are “serious fish mortality events”.

That was one of 65 recommendations for reform of the salmon farming industry in a report by MSPs on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee after an in-depth inquiry into the sector.

The committee highlighted the “economic and social value that the salmon farming industry brings to Scotland” by providing jobs and investment in rural areas.

But they added that the industry “also creates a number of economic, environmental and social challenges for other businesses which rely on the natural environment”.

Regarding concerns about the number of fish that have died in disease outbreaks, the report accepted there is “a level of mortality in  in all livestock production” – but added that the current level of deaths was “too high in general across the sector”.

MSPs said they were “very concerned” about the “extremely high mortality rates at particular sites” – saying there should be no expansion at these until the problems are tackled.

The report also stated: “There should be a process in place which allows robust intervention by regulators when serious fish mortality events occur. It considers that this should include appropriate mechanisms to allow for the limiting or closing down of production until causes are addressed.”

The MSPs stressed the “highest possible environmental and fish health regulatory standards” should apply to the salmon farming industry in Scotland, but raised concerns that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union could mean that those standards become “misaligned” after Brexit.

This in turn could cause problems for fish farms in Scotland looking to sell to the European market, with the committee saying the Scottish Government should set out how it will work with UK ministers to ensure this issue is addressed.

Overall, the committee found that “maintaining the status quo in terms of the regulatory regime in Scotland is not an option”, as it called for “a comprehensively updated package of regulation should be developed by Marine Scotland and other regulatory bodies, both to ensure the sector will be managed effectively and to provide a strong foundation on which it can grow in a sustainable manner”.

Committee convener Edward Mountain said: “The salmon farming industry offers significant economic and social value to Scotland, providing jobs and investment in rural areas. There is a desire within the industry to grow.

“However, if this is to happen, it is essential that the serious challenges it faces such as the control of sea lice, lowering fish mortality rates and reducing the sector’s impact on the environment are addressed as a priority.”

He added: “If the reputation of Scottish salmon as a premium product is to be maintained, Scotland’s salmon farmers must demonstrate responsible and sustainable production methods.”