Salmon farmers have hit out at an “arbitrary and completely unnecessary” rent increase which they claim amounts to a 95% hike in fees.

The rise was announced yesterday by Crown Estates Scotland (CES), the government body responsible for leasing Scotland’s seabed, who claim that the move ensures fees “fully reflect market value”.

CES also states that the new charges will see firms pay 1.5% of production turnover, placing them on a level playing field with other commercial users of the natural resource.

However, trade body Salmon Scotland said the decision effectively doubles the rent for its members and shows that salmon farming is now “a cash cow to be exploited”.

The organisation called for the increase to halted, particularly as it comes on the back of increased costs and losses due to Brexit and Covid.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “Scotland’s salmon sector, employing 2,500 direct jobs in coastal and island communities, is very disappointed by Crown Estate Scotland’s arbitrary and totally unjustified decision to almost double rents on salmon farms.

“CES presumably now see salmon like offshore wind – a cash cow to be exploited.

“Our members have paid more than £20 million into CES over the last five years – a charge which is set to almost double under this new framework.

“Scotland’s salmon farmers would be more likely to accept such a steep increase if they could see the benefit in terms of local investment of these charges.”

He called on the increase to be stopped, at least until an independent review into the regulation of salmon farming is published.

CES currently leases around 750 sites for finfish and shellfish farming.

Under the existing fee structure, farms pay £27.50 per tonne of sellable fish, however the new scheme will base rent on overall market value produced by a site.

Salmon Scotland also claim that a highlands and islands 10% discount, which aimed to help farms with the extra cost of transporting fish from more remote areas, has also been scrapped.

The changes will be phased in from January next year and all farms will also have to report on the management of plastic within their lease area.

Ben Hadfield, chief operating officer for Scotland for salmon firm Mowi, claimed the timing of the announcement “couldn’t be any worse”.

He said: “Salmon is by a long way Scotland’s biggest food export and that demand is growing as people look to eat more healthy proteins.

“But, at the same time, the industry has had to deal with the effects of Covid which had a real impact on profitability as restaurants were forced to close their doors. We’ve also had increased costs for food and equipment, and then there’s been Brexit, which hasn’t gone away.

“It’s been a difficult time.”

Mr Hadfield added that it would be easier for farms to accept the changes if it was clear that some of the money was going back into communities associated with the industry.

Alex Adrian, Aquaculture Operations Manager at Crown Estate Scotland, said: “This review was essential to ensure that we keep up with the pace of an ever-changing sector. Aquaculture businesses sustain jobs in some fragile, remote communities and their operations impact the environment. We want to ensure that, in line with legislation, sustainable development is the core principle underpinning seabed leasing.”