By Democrat reporter
Six fish farming companies given government handouts of over £10 million have made profits of £926 million since 2010, The Ferret investigative journalism bureau has revealed.
A total of 20 aquaculture industry bodies received 104 grants amounting to nearly £20 million over the last ten years from the Scottish Government, its enterprise agencies and the European Union.
Critics argue that “taxpayer bailouts” should not boost profits for an industry which they claim has dumped 300,000 tonnes of pollution in lochs and harmed marine wildlife. Campaigners question whether fish farming in its current form is environmentally sustainable.
Government and industry, however, point out that fish farming is worth £885 million a year to the Scottish economy, and contributes £94 million in taxes. The industry disputes the level of pollution, and says that lochs have “good” water quality.
The Ferret has uncovered how much taxpayers’ money has been funnelled into fish farming companies, and the profits they have made. The public grants were designed to help businesses by funding equipment, aiding management and encouraging growth.
Their analysis was founded on freedom of information responses they and others received from government bodies, as well as on annual reports from fish farm companies.
Their investigation was carried out as part of a series on fish farming in partnership with the Italian journalist, Francesco De Augustinis. It was funded by journalismfund.eu, an independent, non-profit organisation in Brussels that supports cross-border investigative journalism.
Five of the six companies who have been given £10 million in grants and made £926 million net profits since 2010 are owned abroad. They all market their salmon as Scottish.
Campaigners have demanded an end to public funding of the industry. “The sheer scale of taxpayers’ money the Scottish Government has poured into the pockets of the billionaire salmon barons will be difficult for many to accept,” said the activist and researcher, Corin Smith, who runs the Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlots website.
“Questions should rightly be asked about the undue influence the open cage salmon farming industry has over ministers. We need serious long term economic thinking and leadership, not political vanity projects.”
Using official figures, Smith calculated that 300,000 tonnes of salmon sewage have been dumped from fish farms into lochs around Scotland in the last ten years. He pointed out that other countries were investing in replacing farms in open waters by closed, land-based farms.
The full story of this investigation is in The Ferret. Top picture of a salmon farm off the West Coast of Scotland by Bill Heaney.