Opponents of a fish farm extension in Wester Ross have accused developers of submitting “disingenuous or incorrect” evidence to lend weight to their planning application.
The Scottish Salmon Company wants to install an extra four 100-metre pens in addition to the 10 it already operates in Outer Loch Torridon.
However, the company came under fire this week after activists released a video which they claim showed salmon at the firm’s site in poor condition and suffering from “welfare abuse”.
Anti-fish farm group Scottish Salmon Watch, who captured the footage this month, have submitted complaints of “animal cruelty” to the Scottish Government’s fish health inspectorate.
In the wake of the video, locals reported increased activity on site this week – including vessels fitted with specialist ‘hydrolicing’ equipment to deliver non-chemical lice treatments.
Shieldaig Community Council are calling for salmon farm expansion in the loch to be halted until “proper environmental controls are in place”.
A petition backing the community council stance has been signed by 70 people in Shieldaig and surrounding villages.
But consultees from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Historic Environment Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage have issued no objections to the extension proposals.
SNH’s planning submission said: “There are natural heritage interests of international importance on the site but, in our view, these will not be adversely affected by the proposal.”
SNH add that SSC has an adequate deployment plan in place for the use of acoustic deterrent devices – equipment which emits sounds to prevent porpoises and dolphins from approaching and becoming entangled in nets.
Objectors believe the plan amounts to the company agreeing to turn off the ADDs if cetaceans are spotted – something which they say is impossible to monitor if the site is unmanned.
The community council’s statement adds: “The Shieldaig community has always been broadly supportive of the salmon farming industry. A number of residents are employed in the industry or have worked within it previously. Shieldaig residents were among the first to introduce salmon farming to Loch Torridon.
“We are not opposed to the principle of salmon farming; we are opposed to the expansion of this salmon farm at this location. The council should be aware that this objection is shared throughout the community as a whole.”
In its supporting statement, the SSC said their neighbouring site supports two full-time jobs and adds around £2.4 million of direct value to the Scottish economy every year, while the proposed development would increase this to £3 million per year.
The Scottish Government has supported targets to increase production in a bid to double the value of the country’s aquaculture to £3.6 billion by 2030 and to double the number of jobs in the sector by 18,000 over the same period.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Inspectors from both the Fish Health Inspectorate and Animal and Plant Health Agency visited a fish farm site in Wester Ross, following a report regarding the welfare of farmed fish.
“Preliminary reports have been made to the company and a follow-up inspection is planned to ensure that advice has been complied with.”
The Highland Council are due to consider the planning application in late July.
Article by Keith MacKenzie.