Creel fishing jobs would be ‘lost forever’ if salmon farm goes ahead

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Creel fishermen would have to tie up their boats and sell them if plans for a new fish farm off Mull go ahead.

A proposal by the Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) to set up a new farm at Little Colonsay would cost each of the four local creel boats that fish there about £10,000 each a year – as well as jobs that would be lost forever, Mull Community Councillors have been warned.

Representatives from the Scottish Salmon Company and a number of fishermen’s associations joined the Zoom session on April 6 to give both sides of the proposal and share information.

SSC wants to put six pens in two rows of three on the site with a feed barge at the north east end of the farm, off the west of Mull. But the meeting heard the spot is prime fishing ground for lobster, crabs and prawns. The Faroese-owned company, which owns 45 fish farms across Scotland, has decommissioned its Inch Kenneth site, close to Ulva, with workers now deployed elsewhere.

The proposal is still in its early stage but a planning application could follow in nine to 12 months time.

Nick Turnbull of Mull Fishermen’s Association (MFA) said that although his organisation was not anti-fish farms in any way and in the past had supported SSC at other sites, such as Gometra, ‘for us we can do nothing else but object to this site’.

He said: ‘It’s a red line for the fishermen. We know they (SSC) are going to try and progress it.  We don’t want to be at loggerheads but it seems the fishermen are at the bottom of the heap and are the ones who would lose out here.

‘Four local creel boats work this area – about £10,000 per boat per year is what they would lose. That’s not inconsiderable for local boats and there are other fishermen who come from Mallaig and the north-west.’

Mr Turnbull also told the meeting the Little Colonsay site had first come up three years ago but SSC had accepted the area was prime for lobster, crabs and prawns and tried another site west of Ulva which was probably not as successful as they had hoped for, he said.

Chairman of West Coast Regional Inshore Fisheries Group Simon Macdonald said eight new jobs being created by the proposed salmon farm would be great but far more fishermen’s jobs would be lost.

He said that with two people on each of the four creel boats local to the site, that would be ‘eight jobs gone straight away’.

SSC has already made some changes to initial plans by moving the site further off the shelf  area and looking at reducing the length of its mooring lines but that ‘does not go anywhere to solve the problem at all’, said Mr Macdonald

He also expressed concern about fallout of faeces and uneaten food from pens and chemicals used to delice fish. He gave an example of a fish farm elsewhere where within one year of it starting up, what had been a site for top quality shellfish was ‘totally barren’ the next year. ‘There was no other excuse for it except fallout,’ he said, adding: ‘My concern is that not just the footprint of the farm would be affected but a further radius as well.’

SSC said it was the clear water and good oxygenated current flow that were among factors making the Little Colonsay site so important to them.

Kenny Coull of the Scottish White Fish Producers and Mallaig and North West Fishermen’s Association said other members who would be affected were still evaluating what their losses would be if the plans went ahead.

Mull community council convener Tom Nelson raised the question of compensation, asking if it would be an option.

SSC’s Zane Pretorius said direct compensation would probably not be on the table but community funding and helping with shared resource infrastructure projects would be ‘absolutely possible’. SSC vessels have been carrying builders’ equipment over to Ulva free of charge while properties on the island are being renovated, he told the meeting.

Mr Macdonald told SSC representatives that generations of fishermen had worked the Little Colonsay area and for small creel boats it would be ‘too risky for them to work in between your lines and too risky for them to go elsewhere – the only thing for them would be to tie up their boats and sell them.’

At the end of the discussion, MCC convener Mr Nelson said: ‘We would support any community involvement moving forward. We want to make sure there are no opportunities missed for the community to comment.’