THE Scottish Information Commissioner has ordered the release of “confidential” information over salmon farming, The National can reveal.

The data watchdog ruled Scottish ministers “failed to comply” with regulations when they “wrongly withheld” facts about the import of fish eggs for the big-money aquaculture sector.

Last year the annual economic value of Scottish salmon broke the £1 billion barrier and the sector’s 200-plus active farms support around 10,000 jobs.

But plans for further expansion have proven controversial, with critics citing large-scale “morts” of farmed salmon at some sites due to infestations of killer sea-lice, or efforts to eradicate it.

Treatments can include the use of chemicals, and the release of effluent from facilities is also the subject of criticism from activists who fear harm to natural waterways and native wild salmon stocks, which earlier this year were said by Fisheries Management Scotland to be at their lowest level since records began in the ‘50s.

READ MORE: Campaign predicts poor results for Scottish salmon sector

The use of imported eggs has also drawn controversy. While Norwegian authorities have banned the use of ova sourced from Scotland for fear of harming native stocks, Norway-owned salmon farms in Scotland – including Scottish Sea Farms – are free to use imports from that country or others to boost their businesses.

More than 65 million ova were shipped in during 2018, prompting questions about how “Scottish” the final product is.

Campaigners are urging a boycott on the ‘Scottish’ salmon.

Using Freedom of Information laws, Scottish Salmon Watch, which backs a ban on ova imports, asked for data on salmon ova imports since January 1 2017, including any tests for disease and health certificates.

While the Scottish Government provided some details, they withheld some numbers of imports, source countries and source companies on the grounds that disclosing these would cause “substantial harm to the commercial interests of Scottish Sea Farms Ltd” by giving their competitors insight into the company’s industrial commercial strategy for production of salmon in freshwater.

The Scottish Information Commissioner denied this and ordered the information’s release by mid-December.

In a written determination, the watchdog said ministers had “failed to comply fully” with environmental information regulations.

Don Staniford of Scottish Salmon Watch told The National: “It beggars belief that the Scottish Government value the confidentiality and commercial interests of a Norwegian-owned company way ahead of environmental protection’.”

The National contacted Scottish Sea Farms for comment.

The Scottish Government said it will change its disclosure practices where there is a need to do so, adding: “There is no question of Scottish Ministers unfairly protecting any company from proper public scrutiny. We acknowledge the decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner and note Scottish ministers’ decision not to disclose certain information was made in good faith due to concern that significant commercial harm would result and the public interest in withholding the information would outweigh the public interest in making the information available.”