Salmon farmer plans first ocean farm for Scotland

SalMar's Ocean Farm 1

A NORWEGIAN style ocean farm capable of holding 1.25 million fish could be sited off the coast of Scotland if one of the country’s leading farmers receives approval for its plans.

Scottish Sea Farms is looking to trial Scotland’s first open ocean farm if it gets the go ahead from regulators, the company announced today.

It believes growing fish in ‘considerably deeper, more exposed waters’ will enable it to expand production sustainably to meet growing demand for Scottish farmed salmon.

Several potential locations have been identified, said the Norwegian owned producer, although it would not disclose further details.

It did say, however, that its new farming concept could be at least two miles from the shore and would encompass ‘all-new technologies’ designed specifically for more exposed conditions.

Providing the multi-million pound investment needed to develop such a farm would be Scottish Sea Farms’ owner Norskott Havbruk, which is a 50/50 joint venture between Lerøy Seafood Group and SalMar.

SalMar developed the world’s first offshore fish farm – Ocean Farm 1, which is anchored in the Trøndelag region of central Norway – in 2017.

The £60 million, 110m x 68m structure is equipped with pioneering offshore technology, and reported a strong first harvest, with high survival, high quality and consistently low lice levels meaning no delousing treatments were necessary.

The Scottish proposal has already won the backing of Scotland’s rural economy minister, Fergus Ewing.

‘This is exactly the kind of landmark inward investment opportunity that Scotland needs to thrive and grow, and I am determined that we seize that opportunity,’ he said.

‘The potential benefits of farming in deeper, more exposed locations have been raised many times over recent years, by all sides of the debate.

‘So to see Scottish Sea Farms step forward and commit the time and investment involved in exploring that potential here is hugely welcome news.

‘Such a concept, if realised, promises significant advances in fish welfare and environmental protection, not forgetting new jobs and business for Scotland, and as such it is something that the Scottish government is keen to progress in partnership with the relevant regulatory and local authorities.’

The proposed ocean farm would be Scottish Sea Farms’ second sizeable capital investment in recent years, following the completion in 2019 of the company’s £58 million Barcaldine RAS (recirculating aquaculture system) hatchery, which aims to grow more robust smolts better able to withstand the environmental challenges.

If the concept for Scotland’s first ocean farm is approved, it would be stocked at a level deemed viable by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), said the company. By comparison, SalMar’s Ocean Farm 1 stocks circa 1.25 million fish.

SSF managing director Jim Gallagher

Scottish Sea Farms’ managing director Jim Gallagher said: ‘We put a great deal of time and care into identifying the best farming locations, both in terms of finding the optimum growing conditions and ensuring that the local marine environment can naturally sustain such activity.

‘Over recent years, the scope of this work has widened to include the potential of more exposed locations; locations that could add to the volumes of salmon grown at our existing 42-strong farming estate.

‘For this ambition to be realised, however, we need an engaged, robust and forward thinking regulatory framework that enables Scotland’s salmon farmers to continue growing in a responsible manner and helps the sector reclaim its competitiveness on the world stage.

‘With this in mind, we’re eager to take the next step by opening the dialogue with Marine Scotland, Sepa and local authorities to see if this ambition is matched and if our aspiration of piloting a full-scale ‘ocean farm’ can be realised.’

Chairman of Scottish Sea Farms and Norwegian owner Norskott Havbruk, Leif Inge Nordhammer, said: ‘Both Lerøy Seafood Group and SalMar are ready to give their backing to this latest investment and we look forward to working with the Scottish government and regulators to see whether, together, we can make it happen.’