Fish farm seeks permit to ‘pollute’, say campaigners

Ganavan beach, close to the Dunstaffnage fish farm, is popular all year round with water users.

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Fish farm objectors are opposing plans to almost double the number of salmon being produced in pens at Dunstaffnage, close to popular Ganavan beach.

This week campaigners on Facebook posted that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) had just issued notification it intends to allow Scottish Sea Farm to increase its fish production from 1,300 tonnes to 2,350 tonnes at the Dunstaffnage site.

Save Seil Sound warns it would mean more pollution being dumped from the pens into the sea next to one of Argyll’s few sandy beaches.

Pesticides, fish excrement and uneaten fish food are just some of the ‘unsavoury’ pollutants, including ‘deadly’ Emamectin Benzoate used to control the sea lice that live on salmon, says the action group.

The insecticide Emamectin Benzoateis is known to be toxic to lobsters and crabs and stay active on the seabed for several years.

The water around Ganavan is well-used in all seasons by kayakers and wild swimmers, says Ewan Kennedy from Save Seil Sound.

‘It’s a popular recreation area for Oban, people kayak and people swim all year round. If these plans go ahead then it’s a bigger area that could be out of bounds,’ he said.

Argyll District Salmon Fisheries Board has also registered an objection with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) over worries any increase in farmed fish at Dunstaffnage could increase the threat of sea lice on wild salmon and sea trout.

Save Seil Sound claim the permit being sought by Scottish Sea Farms is permission to pollute.

There is a whole raft of regulations fish farms have to go through to get consent for plans and changes, but there is no particular order to do it in. Following Scottish Sea Farms’ application to SEPA, a planning application to Argyll and Bute Council is expected to be submitted.

If an application goes to the council, people will be able to object said Mr Kennedy.

Scottish Sea Farms’ Managing Director Jim Gallagher said: ‘The results for our Dunstaffnage farm speak volumes about the care and attention shown by the team, both in terms of high fish welfare and minimising any impact on the surrounding environment. The average end of crop survival rate for the most recent generation of fish, harvested out in Autumn 2019, was 86.9 per cent (for a species with a survival rate of 5 per cent or less in the wild) and the farm has received a rating of Excellent in the SEPA Compliance Assessment Scheme for the last four consecutive years – rates that we will work every bit as hard to uphold going forward.’

A spokesperson for SEPA said: ‘As one of a number organisations regulating finfish aquaculture and following our largest ever public consultation, in 2019 SEPA introduced a revised regulatory regime for marine pen sites. Our evidence based approach significantly strengthened environmental standards to protect the marine environment, including the use of medicines. The regime is also backed by enhanced monitoring to ensure those standards are met.

‘Using that evidence based approach, SEPA has now completed its proposed determination of the application to vary the existing licence for Dunstaffnage Marine Pen Fish Farm.

‘In reaching that determination SEPA took account of all representations received during to the public consultation process. We recognise that environmental applications can often draw contrasting views. We have therefore notified those who made a representation of our determination to grant the authorisation and the reasons for that decision.

‘Those that responded through the consultation process now have 21 days from the receipt of the proposed determination (issued 13th February 2020) to raise any objections to our proposed determination with Scottish Ministers. It is then for Scottish Ministers to consider any objections made at that point.’

Earlier this week Save Seil Sound as well as Friends of Loch Etive and Friends of the Sound of Jura were among 18 action groups endorsing and supporting a potential boycott of all Scottish farmed salmon products over what they say is Scottish Ministers’ failure to regulate salmon farming to protect wild fish.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of the Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) has issued an ultimatum for Easter.

He said that despite the Scottish Government setting up two working groups over a year ago to look at the issue, those groups were still way behind schedule and still deliberating without a timeline to reach any conclusions.

Hamish Macdonell of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation said fish health and welfare has never been a higher priority, with sea lice levels at their lowest for six years.

He also said it was ‘unsurprising’ that these pressure groups, ‘having failed to get what they wanted during an exhaustive parliamentary process which found a lack of definitive scientific evidence of any link between salmon farming and wild fish numbers’ were leading this latest initiative.