A photo-montage of what the OMF sites will look like if they get the go-ahead. Image: OMF
A photo-montage of what the OMF sites will look like if they get the go-ahead. Image: OMF

New operator plans Orkney salmon farms

A new player is planning to enter Scottish salmon farming. Orkney Marine Farms Ltd (OMF) has applied for licences for two farms in Shapinsay Sound, which separates Orkney Mainland from Shapinsay.


OMF has been set up by Orkney businessman Barry Johnston, who is the sole director of several wind power companies and was also behind the development of the world’s largest tidal power generator, as well as establishing an Innovation Centre in Orkney to encourage business locally.

Johnston also owns Scotmarine Ltd, which owns the Multicat vessel Orcadia II. The vessel has been on a long-term lease to Marine Harvest, which has installed a Thermolicer on board, and it was through this that Johnston developed an interest in salmon farming.

Two-year process

“We started this process probably two years ago, when we went around all the different consultees – Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Harbours and Orkney Ferries, to name a few – and said: ‘Where can we put some fish farms in Orkney?’

“We started off with 11 sites and very quickly that went down to about four potentials, and then we went to the Crown Estate and requested some options to lease.”

Barry Johnston became interested in salmon farming when Marine Harvest leased Scotmarine's workboat, Orcadia II. Photo: Damen
Barry Johnston became interested in salmon farming when Marine Harvest leased Scotmarine's workboat, Orcadia II. Photo: Damen

Johnston said OMF spent the next six months going through a due diligence process with the Crown Estate to prove it had both the competence and finance to establish salmon farms.

The result was that OMF secured options to lease, two of which – Yinstay West, north of Yinstay Head, and Yinstay East, west of Rerwick Head – are awaiting Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) licences from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

“We are hoping to hear a bit of feedback about the CAR licences in the next month or so,” said Johnston.

“Only then will we submit a planning application, but we’re ready to do that after taking the risk and considerable cost of doing the Environmental Impact Assessments for these two sites.”

High-energy locations

OMF has applied for 2,500 tonnes of biomass at each of the sites, which are in high-energy locations.

In its CAR licence applications, OMF says AutoDEPOMOD modelling indicates there would be zero deposition of material remaining on the seabed, minimising the potential environmental impacts from the proposed farms.

The company wants to use 12 pens of 120-metre diameter with nets extending 12.5m deep at Yinstay West, where water is around 22m deep. At Yinstay East, where there is a depth of around 18m, OMF proposes 14 pens with nets extending 10.5m deep.

“We chose some more-exposed sites,” said Johnston. “I know about tidal sites and the local environment here. The two sites currently in for CAR licences are quite high-flow sites, but we know there are other sites of similar speed in Scotland operating very well, so we know it’s possible on these sites.”

The sites have been chosen so that they’re far enough from the shore to avoid impinging on creel fishing sites but not so far out that they interfere with shipping, said Johnston.

If OMF gets its CAR licences and planning permission, it intends to employ six technicians plus an assistant manager and a manager on each site. In addition, there would be new office and vessel staff.

Aquaculture reserve fund

Johnston is also proposing to establish an “aquaculture reserve fund”, similar to the reserve fund Orkney built up during the heyday of the oil industry. He envisages an as-yet-undecided amount per tonne of harvested salmon going into the fund to benefit the community.

The entrepreneur is optimistic his salmon farming venture will succeed, even though it will cost £9-10 million to establish each farm. “It’s a challenge, but I think if we can do things well and raise the initial investment – and there’s a lot of options out there to do that – we can be relatively successful because Orkney, the brand, is very, very good.

“There are no lice issues to speak of and the sites we have chosen are away from other farms, so hopefully in terms of disease we should be on a relatively good footing.”

OMF plans to develop more sites in the future if successful.