Planning permission for an innovative semi-closed salmon farm at Loch Long, on Scotland’s west coast, has been refused.
At a hearing last night the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority refused the application for a new fish farm at the foot of Beinn Reithe.
The Authority’s Convenor, James Stuart, said: “This application is for development within a National Park and it is our view that such a nationally important landscape is not the appropriate location to host development of such an industrial scale and where the risk of an escape of farmed fish could impact on designated water courses.”
Stuart Hawthorn, Managing Director of the developer, Loch Long Salmon, said: “The National Park Board have missed an opportunity to sensitively use the natural resources within the park to support local communities and fulfil their mission to improve the wider environment beyond the borders of the Park.”
“In doing so they have gone against the wishes of the community, expert advisers, national regulators and a cross-party group of elected officials.”
The Loch Long proposal would have involved a semi-closed containment system with an impermeable membrane with water from lower levels in the sea loch pumped up into the pens.
The technology, the company says, would ensure that fish would not escape and would be protected from sea lice and other biological hazards. As it would also protect against seal attacks, the farm would not require acoustic or other deterrent devices that might harm marine mammals.
Loch Long Salmon said the technology being proposed has also been endorsed by environmental groups such as the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust.
The proposal had also been supported by a number of MSPs including Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and Fergus Ewing, former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.
The system, or its equivalent, has been trialled in Norway and Canada, but this would be its first deployment in Scotland.
Other authorities including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Marine Scotland and NatureScot had not objected to the plan although they had stressed that it entailed risks which would need to be monitored.
Officers at the National Park Authority had, however, recommended to the Board that the application be refused.
Convenor James Stuart said: “The semi-closed containment systems proposed – whilst noted as a substantial step forward for the industry – have not yet been trialled in Scotland and there is not a sound body of evidence on which to base decision making.
“There is a clear risk that the technology may not be sufficiently successful and the location of the application site in Loch Long – with connectivity to the Endrick Water Special Area of Conservation and its fragile population of Atlantic salmon – means that the impacts associated with a potential escape of farmed fish is a significant concern.
“The proposed development also presents a number of significant landscape, seascape and visual issues. It would have an industrial character and would notably contrast with the largely undeveloped and remote character of the local landscape.”
He added: “The National Marine Plan, the Local Development Plan, our National Park Partnership Plan and Scottish planning policy all require the special landscape qualities and landscape character types of the National Park to be conserved and enhanced. This is also the founding aim of the National Park to which greatest weight is given in any planning decision.”
Stewart Hawthorn said: “There are a range of options available to us to continue our efforts to bring the benefits of semi-closed containment aquaculture to Loch Long. We will explore those options carefully over the coming days and weeks before deciding on the next steps.”
The company would have the option of appealing to the Scottish Government, if it chose to do so.