Aquaculture is a major contributor to the Scottish economy, with Scottish exports of fish and seafood accounting for 60% (or £1.0 billion) of total Scottish food exports in 2021. It consists of three subsectors: finfish, shellfish and seaweed, with finfish being by far the biggest sub-sector (over 95% of total marine aquaculture value). Shellfish are important for coastal communities in particular and interest in seaweed for food, animal feed, biostimulants (fertilizer) and its potential for carbon offsetting is growing rapidly. Care needs to be taken to ensure science and regulation keep pace with entrepreneurial interest.
In recent years the Scottish Government (SG) has published an overarching vision for the Blue Economy4 to include the marine, coastal, and interlinked freshwater environment of Scotland, the different marine and maritime sectors it supports, and the people connected to it. Legislation, policies, and management need to be aware of the interconnections between sectors within this overarching vision, as does the scientific research which provides the data to inform policy development, monitor, and evaluate success.
Within aquaculture, each sub-sector is required to seek permissions and assessments prior to operating, although only finfish and shellfish are required to provide environmental impact assessments and not always for the latter. Permissions and assessments depend on science and local evidence (i.e. evidence collected in a systematic and independent way), and whilst it is understandable that stakeholders in the sector desire certainty from scientific advice, it is important to recognise that scientific knowledge is based on the best available data and understanding at any given time and is subject to refinement and revision as new data emerges. Indeed, science often progresses through disagreement. This emphasises the importance of a broadly shared understanding across the sector of where science can provide reassurance and how it should be used. Given the number of stages in the consenting process in which science is being quoted, this confirms the need identified by the Griggs report5 for: “the creation of a central science and evidence base…” However, ensuring that such a synthesis is respected as authoritative (rather than simply an addition to the existing portfolio of papers) is not so straightforward and was a key challenge for this study.