Scottish Sea Farms wants to consolidate the biomass allocations for four sites into one much bigger farm in Yell Sound.

Scottish Sea Farms trials new consenting process for Shetland site expansion

Company's plan to use four biomass permits to create a 6,000-tonne farm will be considered under ‘more joined up’ approach

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Scottish Sea Farms is the first of two salmon producers to submit a planning notification to help trial a new, improved process for farm consents.

The trial follows an independent review by regulatory expert Professor Russel Griggs in 2022, commissioned by Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon, which found the current process of consenting and licensing for aquaculture to be complex, with no joined up approach and which therefore “does not work as well as it could”.

In the months since, a Consenting Task Group, set up by the Gougeon-led Scottish Aquaculture Council, has been working on a more coordinated process, with Shetland Islands Council and Highland Council – both of which have been involved in the Group – being the first to pilot the changes.

In Shetland, Scottish Sea Farms is proposing to apply to consolidate four existing farming consents into one by expanding its Fish Holm site further offshore. It is part of SSF’s wider policy to streamline its estate into fewer but larger farms sited in the best growing locations, helping boost fish health and welfare.

Anne Anderson: New approach should lead to a swifter decision.

SSF’s sustainability chief Anne Anderson said: “The pre-application process will see the two main consenting regimes, namely the local authority planners and Scottish Environment Protection Agency, work together to review the submission in consultation with key stakeholders, rather than each body consider the applications separately, as currently happens.

“This new, more coordinated approach is anticipated to take three to four months and pave the way for a swifter decision once the formal application has been submitted.”

Community consultations

Engagement with local residents and businesses is central to the new licensing and consenting process, and SSF has already been in discussion with Shetland Island Council, community councils and other marine users about the proposals.

There are also two scheduled consultation events where the wider community can put their questions to the team. These will be held on Wednesday, February 21, from 3pm to 7pm in Voe Public Hall, and on Thursday, April 4, also from 3pm to 7pm, in Vidlin Hall.

“We’re keen to talk local communities through our proposal, which is to consolidate four separate consents into one farm of 6,000 tonnes, which is a modest increase of 764 tonnes overall,” said Anderson in a press release.

“Should our application prove successful, this would see a potential 29 salmon pens and three feed barges reduced to a maximum of 12 pens supported by one barge.”

Mowi application

Scotland’s biggest salmon farmer, Mowi, is also involved in trialling the new licensing and consenting process, which will apply to new and existing farms. Mowi will submit the second planning notification using the new process, in its case to Highland Council.

Once both planning notifications have been through the new process, the Consenting Task Group will carry out a thorough review of its success at each key stage.

“The Group will be looking to identify any scope for further improvement, informed by feedback from all key stakeholders, including communities, ahead of rolling out the new, coordinated approach to other local authorities.”

12 x 200m pens

SSF’s proposed development would see farming consents for existing farms Hamnavoe (1,910 tonnes of maximum allowed biomass), Boatroom Voe (216t) – both currently fallow – and Collafirth (1,200t) consolidated into neighbouring farm Fish Holm (1,910t), with a further 764 tonnes applied for.

If approved, the expanded Fish Holm farm would be equipped with up to 12 x 200-metre circumference pens, each with double netting systems and bird poles, contained within a 150m mooring grid. The farm would also have a feed barge.

Although common in Norway, 200m pens are new to Scotland, with Mowi introducing the first of that size to its high-energy site at Hellisay, Barra. Currently, SSF’s biggest pens are 160m.

Larger pens enable more efficient and harvesting of fish and ride the waves better in rough weather. They also allow more room for salmon to retreat towards the centre of the pens if predatory seals are circling in search of food.