Salmon farmers are calling for £10m-a-year in licence fees to be reinvested in affordable housing to tackle the growing property crisis in rural Scotland.
Trade body Salmon Scotland has launched a campaign to overhaul the current system so that the millions sent to Crown Estate Scotland in Edinburgh are instead directly ring fenced for coastal areas where farms operate.
The system would be similar to Norway, where rents are used to benefit local communities.
New analysis by the trade body shows that average home prices in areas where salmon farms operate have risen more sharply than the national average, while the average time it takes for local councils to provide housing assistance has soared.
The average house price in Scotland from Q1 2003-04 to Q4 2021-2 has risen nationally by 122%.
However, rural communities such as Orkney, the Western Isles, and Shetland have seen increases of 206%, 207%, and 216% respectively.
As a result, the lack of available, affordable housing is affecting the ability of people to live and work in Highland and Island communities.
While the farm-raised salmon sector is already one of the largest private sector employers in many rural parts of north and west Scotland, the shortage of housing is preventing key vacancies from being filled and acting as a drag on the local economies.
Scotland’s licensing regime and planned rent hikes means that more than £20m 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), with this fee set to nearly double.
But CES overall revenues are expected to soar from £26m in 2021-22 to £102m 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 ring fenced to support coastal communities.
The trade body is therefore calling for government reform to ensure that around £10m 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 licensing payment for the sector, which he said should “address community benefit as well” – echoing the set-up in Norway.
Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “The farm-raised Scottish salmon sector creates jobs and wealth right across Scotland, but we believe our neighbours – the people who live closest to our salmon farms – should be the ones who benefit the most.
“Rather than this money going into a central pot in Edinburgh, seabed rents paid to the Crown Estate should be returned to benefit our coastal communities.
“The most pressing crisis facing our Highland and Island communities is the complete lack of access to available, affordable housing.
“So we’re calling for the money raised through salmon farm rents to be re-invested in local communities to address the biggest issue affecting our coastal communities – access to affordable housing.
“Salmon farmers are embedded in their local communities and want the economic benefit generated by Scotland’s biggest food export to be shared in the local communities where they operate.”
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, helping to tackle de-population.
The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.