Trial for new consenting process gets underway

Anne Anderson, Head of Sustainability and Development, Scottish Sea Farms

Scottish Sea Farms is the first of two salmon producers to submit a planning notification to help trial a new, improved process for farm consents.

Scottish Sea Farms will be applying to merge four of its Shetland sites into one, while Mowi will be making an application to the Highland Council.

The trial follows the independent review by regulatory expert Professor Russel Griggs in 2022, commissioned by Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon, which found the current process of consenting and licensing for aquaculture to be complex, with no joined-up approach. Griggs, in a highly critical report, concluded that the system was not working “as well as it could.”

In the months since, a Consenting Task Group, set up by the Scottish Aquaculture Council to deliver the recommendations, has been working on a new, more coordinated process, with Shetland Islands Council and Highland Council – both of which have been involved in the Group – being the first to pilot the changes.

In Shetland, Scottish Sea Farms is proposing to apply to consolidate four existing farming consents into one expanded farm further offshore, Fish Holm – part of a wider drive to streamline its estate into a smaller number of farms sited in the best growing locations, helping boost fish health and welfare.

The proposed development at Fish Holm would see farming consents for existing farms Hamnavoe (1,910 tonnes), Boatroom Voe (216 tonnes) – both currently fallow – and Collafirth (1,200 tonnes) consolidated into one neighbouring farm, Fish Holm (1,910 tonnes) and a further 764 tonnes applied for.

If approved, the expanded Fish Holm farm would be equipped with up to 12 x 200m pens, each with double netting systems and bird poles, contained within a 150m mooring grid.

The farm would be supported by a barge, housing camera-monitored feeding system, office and welfare facilities for the team, and a store for fish feed.

Yell Sound (photo: Scottish Sea Farms)

Trialling the new process

Scottish Sea Farms’ Head of Sustainability Anne Anderson (pictured) said: “The pre-application process will see the two main consenting regimes, namely the local authority planners and Scottish Environment Protection Agency, work together to review the submission in consultation with key stakeholders, rather than each body consider the applications separately, as currently happens.

“This new, more coordinated approach is anticipated to take three to four months and pave the way for a swifter decision once the formal application has been submitted.”

Engagement with local residents and businesses is central to the new licensing and consenting process, with Scottish Sea Farms having already been in discussion with Shetland Island Council, community councils and other marine users about the proposals.

There are also two scheduled consultation events where the wider community can put their questions to the company’s team:

  • Wednesday 21 February 2024
    3pm to 7pm, Voe Public Hall
  • Thursday 4 April 2024
    3pm to 7pm, Vidlin Hall.

“We’re keen to talk local communities through our proposal, which is to consolidate four separate consents into one farm of 6,000 tonnes, which is a modest increase of 764 tonnes overall,” said Anderson.

“Should our application prove successful, this would see a potential 29 salmon pens and three feed barges reduced to a maximum of 12 pens supported by one barge.”

Also involved in trialling the new licensing and consenting process, which will apply to new and existing farms, is fellow salmon producer Mowi which will submit the second planning notification – this time to Highland Council.

Once both planning notifications have been through the new process, the Consenting Task Group will carry out a thorough review of its success at each key stage.

“The Group will be looking to identify any scope for further improvement, informed by feedback from all key stakeholders, including communities, ahead of rolling out the new, coordinated approach to other local authorities,” said Anderson.

Professor Russel Griggs

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