Fish farm expansion approved despite local opposition

The fish farm on Loch Leven is located in a National Nature Reserve.

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Plans to expand a fish farm in Loch Leven have been approved by Highland Council, despite opposition from Lochaber councillors and local organisations.

All three Lochaber councillors that attended the south planning committee meeting on Tuesday supported a motion to refuse Marine Harvest’s application to upgrade and expand its site near north Ballachulish to a 16-cage farm.

Their attempts to block the expansion were unsuccessful, however, as they were out voted at the meeting by fellow south planning committee members.

Councillor Andrew Baxter, who lodged the motion for refusal, said he was ‘disappointed’ with the final result, saying: ‘I think it would have set down an important marker for the aquaculture industry that we won’t just accept the impact of sea lice infestation and its affect on surrounding lochs and rivers.

‘It is now vital that council officers make sure the environmental management plan is adhered to and know that local communities won’t accept a breach of that plan.’

Prior to the council’s decision, the application had objections from two local fishery bodies, Nether Lochaber Community Council (NLCC) and the National Trust for Scotland. The main concern for them all was the environmental impact of the expanded fish farm.

Iain Jenner, chairman of NLCC, expressed his dismay over the council’s decision. ‘This is a real missed opportunity,’ he said. ‘As a community we don’t doubt the good intentions of the local fish farm manager but we are well aware of concern in south Lochaber about the damage to fish stocks. We have missed an opportunity to establish a community partnership here.

‘Precautionary principles applied to fish farms on the east coast are being ignored on the west coast. Organisations such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Marine Science Scotland are being muzzled in those regards on the west coast.

‘The planning committee has let us down. Lochaber councillors tried their best. The councillors who voted in favour of the application are all from the east coast where the precautionary principles apply, so there’s never a problem there.’

Lochaber District Salmon Fishery Board, a statutory consultee, and Lochaber Fisheries Trust (LFT), also objected to the application on the basis the proposal will have a significant impact on wild salmonids, particularly in the rivers Coe, Leven and Laroch, as well as other small burns that enter the sea loch.

The LFT outlined that the rivers surrounding the fish farm site are in poor health and ‘do not have the resilience to cope with the increased risks posed by the expansion of the farm’.

The National Trust for Scotland also raised concerns over the impact of the upgrade to the landscape, considering Loch Leven forms part of a national nature reserve.