Mowi “holding communities to ransom” over relocation of fish farm sites says campaigner

Mowi’s site at Loch Ewe is one of two fish farms the company has “identified as candidates for relocation”.

A prominent salmon farm campaigner this week criticised industry giants Mowi for attempting to “hold communities to ransom” over two of its sites in Wester Ross and Lochalsh

On Tuesday, Mowi announced that the sites in Loch Ewe and Loch Duich had been “identified as candidates for relocation” due to their proximity to sensitive wild salmonid habitats.

The managing director of Mowi Scotland, Ben Hadfield, said: “Mowi has strived to improve relations with the wild fish sector and has been clear that it will seek to expand its operations in Scotland, whilst securing reduced impact on the environment and further developing the significant economic contribution that it makes to rural Scotland.

“In absence of a regulatory framework that enables relocation of a farm’s biomass, we are wanting to engage with our government, environmental groups and salmon fishery boards to pursue this opportunity.

“The site will be closed conditional to the support from our regulatory system to transfer the biomass to other locations and to sustainably expand our production in the best possible areas for salmon farming thus protecting the associated jobs.”

Hitting back at Mowi’s suggestion that the closures should be conditional, salmon farm campaigner Corin Smith told the Free Press: “Mowi, the Norwegian salmon farming giant, appears to be attempting to hold communities, fishery boards and the Scottish Government to ransom as a result of their own failings. The Loch Ewe farm has failed the required environmental standards for nearly 15 years. Mowi, despite virtually unlimited resources, were apparently unwilling or unable to make the necessary changes.

“The Loch Ewe farm is non-compliant, and it should close. The notion that Mowi insists some ‘backroom’ deal needs to be done first is an insult to the integrity of Scotland and those making tough decisions to protect Scotland’s environment and rural communities.

A long-time opponent of salmon farming, Mr Smith came to national prominence earlier this year through his underwater footage of diseased salmon at the Vacasay site in Loch Roag, Lewis owned by the Scottish Salmon Company which formed part of a BBC ‘Panorama’ documentary Salmon Farming Exposed broadcast in May.

In January 2018, the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee agreed to undertake an enquiry into the state of salmon fishing in Scotland and in November 2018 the regulatory body SEPA published proposals for a revised regulatory regime for the finfish sector. Within these proposals, SEPA said it would begin a programme of work to “modernise the regulation of existing sites”.

Mowi’s head of environmental management, Stephen MacIntyre, said that the company wanted to “align its growth” with recent recommendations. The company had plans to sustainably grow their fish production levels over the next few years by “expanding into new high-energy farming areas located further offshore”.

Bill Whyte, convener of the Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board, said he welcomed Mowi’s recognition of the wild salmonid habitats and added: “We will expect further clarity about the process of biomass relocation. However, if Mowi can provide evidence through EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) planning and SEPA regulatory structure that the relocated biomass will have reduced potential impact on wild migratory fish, then we would be prepared to support biomass relocation on a conditional basis.”

*A spokesperson from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), said: “It is really encouraging to see that industry is proactively choosing to consider more sustainable locations for fish farms, away from more sensitive waters where pressures on the marine environment are greatest.

“SEPA’s new regulatory framework for marine cage fish farming, launched on 1 June, 2019, combines more accurate modelling and enhanced monitoring to encourage a more sustainable approach to the siting of fish farms.

“In practice, we anticipate this will lead to fewer fish farms in shallower, slow-flowing waters and more fish farms in offshore locations where the environment capacity can better assimilate wastes. The new framework is designed to actively support operators who are seeking to relocate to more sustainable locations, and through improved practices and the innovative use of new technologies, reduce their impact on the marine environment.”

They went on to add: “Indeed, our new framework provides exactly the type of flexibility and outcome-focus Mowi outlines it is looking for. Within this new framework, we will consider each individual proposal on its merits against the legal standards. We encourage Mowi and other operators to work with us and other interested parties to explore their innovative proposals under our new framework. We look forward to doing so.

  • SEPA’s statement was received after our print deadline so was not included in the article which appeared in the Free Press edition dated 12th July.

Article by Adam Gordon