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The Shetland blog: At the cutting edge of aquaculture

Every month, lawyers from Harper Macleod - the biggest Scottish law firm with an office in Shetland - share their insights on issues which can affect local businesses and individuals.

Chris Kerr, Partner and business lawyer at Harper Macleod, looks at challenges and innovations in the aquaculture sector.

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The inaugural Aquaculture UK conference took place in Stirling in June this year. The conference theme – growing together – accurately highlights the development taking place in this sector.

Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms, is worth £1.6bn annually to the Scottish economy. A 2016 working group of industry leaders set out a growth strategy for this sector and stated aquaculture could be worth £3.6bn by 2030.

Our specialists work with a number of businesses operating and supplying the sector, which is so important in Shetland, so it was interesting to see the themes emerging from that event.


Challenges for producers

Scotland is the third largest producer of farmed salmon globally. According to the NASDAQ Salmon Index, prices are at historic highs. Notwithstanding this there are challenges – one of which is less than 1.5cm in length: lice. These parasites – often spread by being blown across the water surface - damage skin and transmit disease.

In recent years it has been argued that lice are developing resistance to pesticides and medicines used to treat this problem. The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation’s 2016 figures show that over the past two years spending on medicinal treatments have seen a 43% drop. Unquestionably, innovation is essential in securing a strategy to eradicate this problem.


Innovation – leading the way

One of the plethora of ideas being trialled is cleaner-fish – mainly Wrasse and more recently Lump fish - which eat the lice naturally. The use of this biological tool has led to the creation of a sub-industry in supplying these fish. This, like so many other elements in the aquaculture supply chain, is boosting the industry through job creation and economic growth. However, limited research on these fish is proving a challenge.

Biological tools are not the only weapon being piloted with investment in technology increasing. In particular, the use of lasers to remove sea lice directly from fish has been trialled. This pursuit of innovation is, in turn, influencing new areas of focus in further education. Stirling University, for example, has funded a PhD to research the effect of these lasers. Enclosed structures are also being used in order to protect fish from parasites.

Significantly, Shetland became the first place in Scotland to use the Thermolicer which exploits lice intolerance to sudden changes in water temperature. The Hydrolicer, which uses low pressure jets to displace the lice, has also been utilised.


Dealing with a developing sector

Undeniably, the aquaculture industry is in search of innovative solutions to fully unlock its potential. The legal implications surrounding this growing sector are also great.

Our specialists have a breadth of experience in providing advice on matters affecting developing sectors. In particular, advice on matters such as business structure, commercial contracts, procurement and intellectual property are often ones to be considered in a burgeoning and innovative sector.


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This article originally appeared in the Shetland Times