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Scottish Government ‘exploring strategies’ for mort burial site

The Whiteshore Cockles Ltd salmon mort burial site on North Uist. Photo: Scottish Government.
The Whiteshore Cockles Ltd salmon mort burial site on North Uist. Photo: Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government has confirmed it is looking at ways to improve operations at a North Uist site used for the burial of fish farm mortalities.

The Times today reported that officials were considering legal options to address the failure of owner-operator Whiteshore Cockles Ltd to comply with a Method Statement (agreement), allowing it to continue burying morts after the practice was made illegal in 2016.  

The agreement was intended as a short-term stop-gap until the company installed £2 million fish drying technology to turn carcasses into fish oil, but that is still not in place.       

Liquified fish morts partly covered with seaweed at the Whiteshore Cockles site on North Uist. Photo: Scottish Government.
Liquified fish morts partly covered with seaweed at the Whiteshore Cockles site on North Uist. Photo: Scottish Government.

Enforcement options

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are continually working to improve the policy and regulatory framework to mitigate the environmental impacts of the aquaculture sector and to support its sustainable growth.

“The burial of salmon morts has been illegal since 2016, however an exemption was granted to the operator of a site in North Uist until a proposed fish waste dryer became operational.

“Concerns were raised with Scottish Government officials that previously agreed burial practices are not being followed at the site and strategies and enforcement options to address this are currently being explored.”

Complaints from public

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act include a report from a Scottish Government official stating that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) was “starting to receive complaints from members of the public about the smell from the site”, and that local residents’ quality of life was being “severely hampered by the current practices at Whiteshore”. The nearest homes are reported to be around half a mile from the site.

Another document extract states: “The pits themselves have been made out of sand from the beach as CnES (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) [is] assuming capacity to bury more fish morts on the site is running out. The pits are remaining uncovered for weeks with little seaweed cover, which is producing a smell [that] locals are complaining about. According to the original Method Statement, Whiteshore would cover pits with seaweed and sand within a day. CnES reported that due to the liquid content of the fish waste, it was difficult to cover the pits in sand. Basically, sinking to the bottom of the liquid fish waste.”

Dryer delays

In a letter sent to Whiteshore Cockles in February 2019, machinery supplier Tidy Planet said that Whiteshore’s decision to increase the capacity of equipment it had ordered from 20 tonnes to 50 tonnes of morts per day would cause delays for a variety of reasons.

These included having to re-design the main part of the drying and separation system to move from a fixed capacity batch type system to a semi continuous system to comply with regulations that morts couldn’t be stored for more than 48 hours.

“As the system is bespoke to your requirements and is significantly smaller than a commercial fish waste processing facility and yet substantially larger than a farm-based system, we have had to design a continuous cooker and batch dryer from scratch and this has taken much longer than anticipated as there is no pre-existing equipment to base our design on,” wrote Tidy Planet.

Limited electricity

“We have had to test each stage of the process to ensure that it will be as efficient as we need it to be as there is a limited supply of electricity and other services on the site and now that we have completed this, we have finalised the new designs and gone back to our manufacturers for lead times.

“I’m very sorry to inform you that the best lead times we can get for this specialised equipment manufacture is 28 weeks, as the designs have to be approved by an international body for pressure rated equipment and their lead times have been extended as a result of a rush for approvals before the end of March in case there are any implications following Brexit.”

Always legal

Angus MacDonald, the owner of Whiteshore, told The Times that his company had always operated legally. The firm’s waste drier would be operational by March 2022 and would provide ten local jobs, he said.

“Regulators, our local council and various authorities have been fully involved in every stage of our development,” he added. The firm will “continue to liaise with all the relevant authorities, as they always have done, while the company waits for the final go-ahead [for the plant] from SEPA, Scotland’s environmental regulator”.