Cooke wants to expand its East Skelwick farm, pictured, and consolidate smaller sites in the Westray production area.

Cooke proposes fewer but bigger salmon farms in Orkney


Salmon farmer Cooke Aquaculture Scotland is considering streamlining operations in its Westray production area, Orkney, by closing some farms but expanding others.

The Canadian-owned company presented its plans for possible change at an informal drop-in event at St Ann’s Kirk, Papa Westray in north Orkney on Wednesday, and at the Junior High School Community Room on the neighbouring island of Westray yesterday.

BBC Radio Orkney posted a report of the Papa Westray meeting on its Facebook page and included photos of posters Cooke used to explain its potential move.

Seven farms

On the posters, Cooke explains that it currently has seven licensed fish farms off the coasts of Westray and Papa Westray, including the recently consented East Moclett farm which will be developed later this year.

The planning application for the East Moclett farm, which is 2.2 miles offshore and will have a maximum permitted biomass of 3,850 tonnes, attracted some local objections but none from the six bodies that were statutorily consulted.

On one of its posters displayed at the drop-in session at St Ann’s Kirk, Cooke said over the next three to five years it would like to expand its other Westray area offshore site, East Skelwick, while streamlining operations in the near coastal waters between Westray and Papa Westray.

Visual impacts

“Previous discussions with some local communities have raised concern regarding the number of farms in the area, particularly with regard to cumulative visual impacts,” wrote Cooke.

“In response to these concerns CAS (Cooke Aquaculture Scotland) have committed to proposing a plan to consolidate (combine) some of the sites in the area, specifically in the near coastal waters between Westray and Papa Westray. Such a plan would reduce the overall number of farms as well as provide the opportunity to modernise the remaining farms, helping us to further reduce our environmental impacts.

“The purpose of this event is to collaboratively explore how we can achieve these changes in a way which maximises benefits and minimises impacts on the local communities in Westray and Papa Westray.”

Different options

On a second poster, Cooke explained that there are number ways to consolidate sites.

These include reducing the total number of sites, for example by having fewer but larger sites, and/or reducing the number of pens per site, for example by having fewer but larger pens.

The company wrote: “Any consolidation plan will need to meet all environmental and planning requirements whilst meeting the company’s business needs, including its ability to continue to provide secure well-paid employment opportunities in the local area.”

From five to two

It added that environmental benefits associated with having a smaller number of larger sites with fewer but larger pens included fewer vessel movements and associated emissions.

It presented a hypothetical plan in which three near coastal farms – Ouseness, Scarfall Point, and Bay of Cleat South – were closed, leaving two others, Vestness and Bay of Cleat North, which Cooke said would have to be expanded.

“We have suggested this could be achieved by relocating them further away from the coast,” wrote Cooke, which included a map of potential areas for the expanded farms.

Cooke said it was also looking at developing a bespoke feed storage barge that could store feed for a number of its sites in the area.

The company told BBC Radio Orkney that community feedback received this week will inform its future plans.

“As we are at such an early stage, we will return to both islands in due course for further pre-application consultation once we have more defined proposals,” said Cooke.