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SEPA backs plan for Scotland’s first semi-closed salmon farm

An illustration of the proposed salmon farm, which now has a CAR licence. Image: Loch Long Salmon.
An illustration of the proposed salmon farm, which now has a CAR licence. Image: Loch Long Salmon.

A plan to establish Scotland’s first salmon farm using floating, semi-closed pens has been granted a permit from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) licence gives Loch Long Salmon permission to deploy five enclosures of 140 metre circumference, with a biomass limit of 3,452 tonnes.

Four of the enclosures will be used for growing fish, and the fifth will be used to hold stock prior to harvesting.

Stewart Hawthorn: Project provides an opportunity to show what is possible.
Stewart Hawthorn: Project provides an opportunity to show what is possible.

85% of waste collected

The site on Loch Long at Beinn Reithe, near Arrochar, is not suitable for standard net-pen farming because of relatively low water exchange. However, SEPA has given the go-ahead because of Loch Long Salmon’s proposed farming method. This involves collecting more than 85% of fish faeces and uneaten feed from the enclosures and pumping it ashore for treatment. 

Water for the semi-closed containment systems (SCCS) is pumped into the enclosures from a depth of more than 20 metres, beneath the layer of the water column where sea lice live. For this reason, Loch Long Salmon has not requested permission to use chemicals to treat sea lice. If lice do become a problem, it plans to tackle the issue with other methods such as freshwater baths, cleaner fish or mechanical treatments.

Thorough but helpful 

Loch Long Salmon director Stewart Hawthorn said: “We are delighted SEPA has granted the CAR licence for our Beinn Reithe site in Loch Long, particularly for their thorough but helpful approach which will help bring semi-closed containment aquaculture to Scotland for the first time.”

He added: “This farming system has been operating successfully in Norway since 2014 and is now being deployed in the Faroes and Canada, but this is the first time it will be used in Scotland. 

“This exemplar project provides an opportunity to show closer to home what is possible and to secure the future of the salmon farming industry in Scotland. It will reduce environmental impacts while continuing to support vital jobs and economies in rural Scotland.”

Loch Long Salmon will use semi-closed containment systems like this. An SCCS has a floating collar and uses an industrial-strength PVC enclosure with a standard net inside. Water is pumped from below 20 metres to help exclude lice. Click on image to enlarge. Illustration: Fiizk.
Loch Long Salmon will use semi-closed containment systems like this. An SCCS has a floating collar and uses an industrial-strength PVC enclosure with a standard net inside. Water is pumped from below 20 metres to help exclude lice. Click on image to enlarge. Illustration: Fiizk.

Aspirations for aquaculture

SEPA acting chief executive Jo Green said the agency wanted an aquaculture sector where operators recognise that protecting the environment is fundamental to their success and is foremost in all their plans and operations.

“We want Scotland to be a world-leading innovator of ways to minimise the environmental footprint of food production and supply, and for aquaculture operators to have a strong and positive relationship with neighbouring users of the environment and the communities in which they operate,” added Green.  

She said semi-closed containment systems, such as that proposed by Loch Long Salmon, had the potential to play a significant role in enhanced sustainability through reduced medicine use and discharge.

“We will continue to encourage and support businesses across the sector to introduce environmentally innovative approaches to fish production,” said the executive.

‘A great example’

Dawn Purchase, aquaculture programme manager for the Marine Conservation Society, told BBC Scotland: “The use of semi-enclosed systems to farm salmon is a great example of the innovation needed to address environmental impacts and challenges of production, such as seabed pollution and sea lice management.

“We are keen to see this type of farm becoming widely adopted to help deal with these persistent problems.”

The next step for Loch Long Salmon, is to win planning permission from the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority.

The company’s application is expected to be considered by the authority in June.

Loch Long Salmon will capture 85% of waste. The remaining waste is dissolved in the water and won't settle out before the volume of water in the enclosure is exchanged by pumps. Illustration: Loch Long Salmon.
Loch Long Salmon will capture 85% of waste. The remaining waste is dissolved in the water and won't settle out before the volume of water in the enclosure is exchanged by pumps. Illustration: Loch Long Salmon.