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Modelling the behaviour of nutrients in the coastal waters of Scotland - an update on inputs from Scottish aquaculture and their impact on eutrophication status

Fisheries Research Services (Funder) (2005) Modelling the behaviour of nutrients in the coastal waters of Scotland - an update on inputs from Scottish aquaculture and their impact on eutrophication status. [Report]

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A previous study estimated that salmon farming contributed approximately 6% of Scotland's nitrogen-nutrient input to coastal waters, and 13% of phosphorus (based on 2001 production figures). However, in some areas of the west of Scotland with small freshwater catchment areas and low levels of human habitation, aquaculture inputs represented greater than 80% of the total. In 2002, FRS published results from an ecosystem modelling study involving a collaboration with the Institute for Marine Research, University of Hamburg, and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen, to assess the eutrophication impact of various nutrient inputs to Scottish waters. The results suggested that a 50% reduction in aquaculture salmon production would have only a small impact on water quality which would be undetectable against the background of natural variability due to climate variations. Estimating aquaculture nutrient discharge is a difficult task. The 2002 study was based on data relating to the consented biomass of fish at farm sites in sea lochs. Since then, new data have become available on the actual harvest of fish at all sites in Scotland. In this report, we re-assess the salmon production in Scotland in 2001 and the consequent nutrient discharge, and repeat the ecosystem model runs to estimate the impact of reduction scenarios on eutrophication status. The new data indicate that the previous study had overestimated salmon production and nutrient discharge by approximately 18% Scotland wide. Production and discharge at Shetland and in the Southern Hebrides had been under-estimated, whilst that in the Minches had been over-estimated. New runs of the ecosystem model show that the original conclusions on eutrophication impact were sound. A scenario of 50% reduction in salmon production produced regional changes in water quality which were less than 25% of the natural variability due to climate. New runs simulating a cessation of aquaculture showed that even this extreme reduction scenario produced changes in water quality that were less than half the natural variability.