SSAC Report - Use of Science and Evidence in Aquaculture Consenting and the Sustainable Development of Scottish Aquaculture

Generic recommendations to the aquaculture communities with respect to procuring, interpreting and using science (science practice)

The four main recommendations (executive summary) are assigned ownership within the SG since the remit of SSAC is to advise Scottish ministers. However, for the aquaculture sector to deliver the benefits it can undoubtedly bring for the Scottish people, there are actions that all stakeholders can take. Aquaculture is a significant contributor to Scotland’s future success and therefore it behoves all stakeholders with evidence and experience to share those in an objective and efficient manner. 

Communication: it is clear that social media is extensively used by communities to discuss concerns around various aspects of aquaculture. This is not necessarily closely connected to the scientific literature and evidence based. There is perhaps a role for scientists in government and its agencies to adopt more innovative approaches to engage the wider public with their research through seeking advice from professionals in the use of social media in science communication space. (For example, Science Media Centre.) 

Engagement: there is increasing recognition in other countries of the importance of stakeholder engagement in policy relevant research through co-creation, co-design, and co-delivery (New Zealand: Our Land & Water - Toitu te Whenua, Toiora te Wai (; and Europe: Home - FIT4FOOD2030). Such programmes give examples of relevant social science methodology. Scotland too has examples of good practice in stakeholder engagement; for instance, Loch Roag Management Group and the Salmon Interactions Working Group (SIWG) (examples provided during the roundtable). Recommendation 1 suggests SG action to facilitate access by all stakeholders to expert advice from social scientists to manage and better understand differences of opinion. All stakeholders should be encouraged to proactively seek such advice when conflicts of interpretation arise. 

Transparency: it is recognised that scientists within industry are often ahead of science produced by government but for competitive advantage reasons are not in a position to share those data publicly. The same is true for academics and entrepreneurs who need to protect their intellectual property to generate investment for future development. It would increase trust, however, if confidentiality agreements could be reached to share as much data as possible with government and its agencies to provide insights on where aquaculture is going in the longer term, to ensure regulation can be up to date and ideally with enough foresight to model future impacts. Other stakeholders are encouraged to be wholly transparent about their processes and sources and avoid using limited funding for repeating research already published. A regular forum of all the stakeholders to discuss the scientific evidence openly would enhance transparency and help build the trust that is currently absent.

Resolving contested science areas: as in most areas of science in the 21st century, large volumes of research results have already been published. Models help make sense of large amounts of data, but as highlighted in one of the roundtable presentations (see Annex C) and emphasised to us by multiple stakeholders, models need to evolve as understanding deepens and new data become available - with interpretation again being key. During the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advisers used the outputs of multiple models and discussions with scientists from a range of disciplines to inform their decision making. The chapter on sea lice modelling11 refers to the coupling of models as a means of driving sea lice models. This was the result of a collaborative effort amongst scientists. It was clear from our stakeholder discussions that engaging in professionally moderated face-to-face discussion with a range of disciplines and perspectives represented is more likely to lead to resolution than other approaches including exchanges of emails.

Fragmentation of aquaculture research: one of the issues for Scottish researchers accessing funding, is that while there are funds available in Scotland for applied research, funding for more upstream research usually comes from the UKRI Research Councils (RC). In Norway, the Norwegian RC has funding for four aquaculture-relevant funding themes every year, namely: social perspectives, management and market; fish health and fish welfare; production biology, nutrition, breeding and genetics, and; production and processing technology. If the communities agree these are a priority for Scotland, these themes could be passed on to UKRI research strategy development.

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