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Scottish Sea Farms has reassured Oban Community Council over plans to expand its marine farm at Dunstaffnage.
The company hopes to increase the number of salmon pens from nine to 14 at the 34-year-old farm which lies 1.5km off Ganavan Sands.
Company development manager Mark Steward gave a presentation and took questions at a virtual meeting of the community council.
He said each pen would be roughly six-metres wider than the ones currently in place – increasing the total surface area to the equivalent of about two-thirds of the Ganavan shinty pitch, although it would not bring the farm any closer to Ganavan Sands, he said.
Nor would there be any corresponding increase in working hours, daily boat traffic, noise levels or navigational lighting. Fish feed deliveries would also be unaffected, he said.
Council members raised questions about sea lice, use of medicines, how the farm deterred wild animals such as birds and seals, and any impacts on the main bathing beach.
Member Laura Corbe asked him: ‘Do you expect there to be an increase in the density of sea lice and can you guarantee that you won’t be using the chemicals that are listed in the environmental impact assessment?’
Mr Steward said it was not the case that the expansion would increase sea lice and therefore more medicinal treatments.
The farm has low levels of sea lice and the company’s focus was on ‘non-medicinal’ methods such as using cleaner fish such as wrasse, lice skirts or hydrolicers.
It had also invested £6 million in a thermolicer which effectively uses warm water to cause the lice to drop off naturally.
Mr Steward said that when it did use medicines, the ‘very, very low’ diluted concentrations were less than those found in some ‘mouthwashes’.
He added: ‘I swim, I have a paddleboard, I go to Ganavan with my kids and I can’t keep my dog out of the water – personally I don’t have any concerns.
‘They are used safely and are also medicines approved by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate with lots of safety precautions.’
Regulators the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) rated Dunstaffnage as ‘excellent’ with fish survival rates of 92 per cent and high-perfoming standards of fish welfare and health.
To deter birds and seals, Mr Steward added that special high-tension netting was used.
Councillor Roddy McCuish thanked Scottish Sea Farms for its continued investment in the area.
Councillor McCuish said he was ‘delighted’ that the cages would be no closer to Ganavan as they would be on the Dunstaffnage side.
Mr McCuish said: ‘Let’s hope your presentation has addressed some of the fears of some of the public from around this area. By doing things like this, it’s really helpful that people get a full understanding.’
The application for Dunstaffnage is part of plans to grow three farms with the other two sites being Lismore West and Shuna.
In total it would create 15 new roles and an additional £730,000 spending with suppliers, said Mr Steward.
Scottish Sea Farms already employs close to 200 staff locally and has a wage bill of £7.8m – spending around £8.5 million annually with suppliers – 96 per cent of which are in Argyll and Bute, he said.
It has also donated nearly half-a-million to local causes, the presentation heard.
More than 50 per cent of profits are reinvested into the business during the last decade , including a multi-million pound hatchery at Barcaldine as well as a processing plant and offices at South Shian.