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Salmon farmers welcome Scottish Government deliberation on coastal community housing investment. Salmon farmers have welcomed a Scottish Government commitment to consider their call for £10million-a-year in licence fees to help tackle a housing crisis in rural Scotland.

Trade body Salmon Scotland launched a campaign last year to overhaul the current system so that the millions sent to Crown Estate Scotland in Edinburgh are instead directly ringfenced for coastal areas where farms operate. This would echo the system in Norway where rents are used to benefit local communities.

Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, has now confirmed the government is open to the revenues being used to support housing. She was responding to questions at the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs and islands committee on Wednesday.

Rhoda Grant, MSP for Highlands and Islands, highlighted how the lack of available, affordable housing is affecting the ability of people to live and work at local salmon farms. She said young people “are really struggling to a get home” and asked what the government was doing to help them and what work it was doing with the sector.

Rachael Hamilton, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, also raised the issue and asked if the government supported Salmon Scotland’s call.

Ms Gougeon pointed to existing agreements with local authority body Cosla, adding:

“I of course welcome any suggestions and happy to consider that.”

Scotland’s cluttered licensing regime and planned rent hikes means that more than £20million per year is soon expected to be paid by salmon farmers to various regulators and quangos. At present, salmon farming contributes more than £5m directly to Crown Estate Scotland (CES), or more than a fifth of the quango’s revenues, with this fee set to nearly double. But CES overall revenues are expected to soar from £26million in 2021-22 to £102million in 2022-23 due to ScotWind offshore licensing fees. Net CES revenues are currently handed to the Scottish Government and redistributed across the country, but Salmon Scotland believes that a greater share of aquaculture contributions should be ringfenced to support coastal communities. The trade body is therefore calling for government reform to ensure that around £10million is reinvested in rural communities, with a particular focus on housing.

A recent independent review of aquaculture regulation in Scotland by Professor Russel Griggs recommended a new single licencing payment for the sector, which he said should “address community benefit as well” – echoing the set-up in Norway. Scottish salmon generates more than 2,500 jobs across the Highlands and Islands, and the sector plays a key role in attracting people to come and live and work in coastal communities, while also retaining locals to help to tackle de-population.

Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland, said:

“We are pleased to see that MSPs and the Scottish Government are acknowledging the importance of addressing the housing crisis in our coastal communities. The lack of available and affordable housing has been a pressing issue, impacting the ability of people to live and work in these areas. We are encouraged by the government’s open-minded approach and their recognition of the need to support coastal communities. Reinvesting the funds generated through salmon farm rents directly back into these communities will have a transformative impact, particularly in addressing the housing challenges faced by local residents. The Scottish salmon sector plays a vital role in creating jobs and contributing to the economy of coastal regions. We firmly believe that the benefits should be felt closest to the farms themselves. By working together, we can drive positive change, ensure sustainable growth of the salmon sector, and make a lasting impact on the communities we serve.”