Trust fearful of potential Canna fish farm impact

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The landowner of Canna has voiced ‘significant concerns’ about plans to build a large fish farm in waters just off the island.

The world’s largest fish farming company, Mowi, formerly known as Marine Harvest, is scoping out plans to install an eight-pen salmon farm in a marine area considered to be one of the most environmentally protected in the UK.

With a 160m circumference each, the pens would be the largest in the country, covering a surface area equivalent to two football pitches and would sit less than 200 metres from the shoreline, north-east of Canna Pier. The moorings, meanwhile, would stretch to cover over 222,000sq metres of seabed.

Canna is subject to a swathe of environmental legal protections and regulations, and sits within the Small Isles marine protection area.

If these initial plans are developed and approved, the farm will hold a maximum of 2,500 tonnes of fish at a time, a third less than a conventional farm of the same size.

However, the owner of the island, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) -which was gifted the land by previous owner Gaelic folklorist John Lorne Campbell upon his death – is wary of potential damage to the island’s environment and visitor appeal.

Stuart Brooks, the NTS’s head of conservation and policy, said that although no planning application has been made by Mowi as yet, the trust has been made aware of the scope and nature of its plans and will formally respond in due course.

‘As the conservation charity charged with the protection of Canna’s rich heritage, we have significant concerns about the potential effect on the internationally important marine environment,’ said Mr Brooks.

‘There could also be implications for tourism, which is a major source of income for the island. We expect the regulators to ensure any proposal in such a highly sensitive and protected area is supported by a comprehensive, evidence based assessment.

‘We are in ongoing discussions with Mowi and the Isle of Canna Community Development Trust.’

Scottish Natural Heritage has also said that Mowi’s proposals could lead to ‘significant environmental effects’ on the area’s seabirds, porpoises and seals, and threaten other rare marine life on the seabed.

Mowi could employ up to 10 people at the Canna site and has offered jobs to islanders. The company has also hinted that any incoming employees would be based on Canna year-round, adding to the 18 people already resident on the island.

The Canna Development Trust, which oversees the island’s economic investment strategy, said the islanders are undecided over the proposal and will also make a formal decision in due course after further discussions with all parties.

Scottish ministers recently relaxed rules regarding farm pen sizes in an effort to push salmon farms further offshore to reduce pollution and marine welfare problems.

A Mowi spokesman said the Canna site would be ‘adding to the success’ of similar farm developments at Muck and Rum.

‘Mowi and the Canna Development Trust have agreed to produce an environmental impact assessment for further discussion regarding a potential aquaculture development. Mowi has recently announced its interest in following the recommendation of the recent Scottish Government inquiry that encourages off-shore, high-energy fish farming sites.

‘We continue to explore sites that are fit for today’s modern salmon farming regulations and will work with communities that express interest in building a development that helps support local economies.’