An illustration of the proposed salmon farm, which has been recommended for refusal by planning officers.

Planners ‘have got it wrong over semi-closed fish farm’

Loch Long Salmon says expert opinion has been ignored by officers who recommend refusal of Beinn Reithe application

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The company planning a floating semi closed containment salmon farm in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park is hoping the park’s board members will ignore a recommendation by planning officers to refuse its application.

Loch Long Salmon (LLS) wants to place four large enclosures plus a floating harvest enclosure at Benn Reithe on Loch Long and says the project would be “transformative” for Scottish salmon farming.

However, a report from officers has recommended that the park’s board should block the plan at a special meeting on October 31.

The 101-page report concludes that the proposal does not comply with the relevant policies of the Local Development Plan (LDP), and there are no material planning considerations which would justify a departure from the LDP.

Contrary to park aims

Officers say that the proposal would be contrary to the National Park aims and greater weight must be given to the primary aim of conserving and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of the area.

Loch Long Salmon plans 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.

Among other things, they say the development would have an industrial appearance and would erode many distinctive characteristics and qualities of the surrounding seascape / landscape and consequently, the strategic importance of the largely undeveloped gateway into the National Park would be compromised.

“Loch Long is without a doubt an iconic, accessible, fjord-like loch,” states the report.

Officers also say that in reviewing the consultation responses from statutory consultees, “it is clear that there is an inherent risk highlighted”.

'Too great a risk'

“After careful consideration, officers have concluded that there is not a body of sound evidence on which to rely to make a decision on this new technology,” says the report, submitted by director of place Stuart Mearns. “The National Park’s native migratory fish stocks are already in decline and it is too great a risk to accept that mitigation, monitoring or management alone can provide certainty of no risk.”

LLS has responded by pointing out what it believes are inconsistencies in the report. It argues that the Benn Reithe project has been supported by an unprecedented array of MPs, MSPs, councillors, communities and local people, and highlights examples where it claims the report ignores advice from national bodies and international experts.

These examples include:

  • The report’s assertion that the development will impact the Endrick Water Special Area of Conservation (SAC), despite NatureScot stating “the proposal could be progressed with mitigation” which the company have agreed to.
  • The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) saying it had “No objections to the proposed development and no consentability concerns”.
  • NatureScot’s assessment that there would be “no adverse impacts to marine mammals”.
  • The planning officers’ referral to the technology as “experimental”, contrary to evidence from Dr Asa Maria Espmark, director of the internationally recognised CtrlAQUA research consortium, which shows semi-closed technology has been well proven to be operated with no sea lice treatments required and no escapes.
  • The Atlantic Salmon Trust’s recognition that “this technology has been used successfully in other countries”.

Transformative technology

Stewart Hawthorn, managing director of LLS and an experienced fish farmer, said: “The Scottish Government and the National Park have both said this project is of national significance. It has the support of bodies such as SEPA, Forestry & Land Scotland and NatureScot; the local MP; a cross-party grouping of MSPs and councillors; the host community council; and a range of local people and groups.

The technology has been proven for decades and has operated without any fish escapes over hundreds of production cycles.

LLS MD Stewart Hawthorn

“This transformative technology could have a positive environmental impact across Scotland by leading positive change in salmon farming, a critical food production sector and a vital part of our rural economy.

“The technology has been proven for decades and has operated without any fish escapes over hundreds of production cycles. It removes the threat of sea lice and the need for treatment, protecting the seabed, and will never require acoustic devices to deter seals.

The ideal location

“Waste and uneaten food gathers at the bottom of the enclosure, is brought on shore and can be used as the basis for fertiliser or green energy, contributing to the circular economy while growing the lowest carbon animal protein in the world.

“Loch Long is the ideal location for our demonstration site. We are confident Board Members will see the benefits of this game-changing project, furthering the National Park’s goals by promoting sustainable business growth, creating jobs, and supporting communities.”

In total 276 representations were received about the planning application: 202 objections, 72 in support and two neither supporting nor objecting.

MSPs Jenni Minto (SNP), Fergus Ewing (SNP), Angus Robertson (SNP), Pam Gosal (Conservative), Donald Cameron (Conservative), and Finlay Carson (Conservative) were among those supporting the proposal, and Green MSPs Ariane Burgess and Ross Greer objected to it.