SCOTLAND could welcome its first ocean fish farm as part of a trial aiming to minimise the industry’s environmental footprint.

Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) hopes the trial, which would follow SalMar ASA’s world-first in Norway, would maximise fish survival.

Jim Gallagher, SSF managing director, said: “For this ambition to be realised, however, we need an engaged, robust and forward-thinking regulatory framework that enables Scotland’s salmon farmers to continue growing in a responsible manner and helps the sector reclaim its competitiveness on the world stage.

“With this in mind, we’re eager to take the next step by opening the dialogue with Marine Scotland, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities to see if this ambition is matched and if our aspiration of piloting a full-scale ‘ocean farm’ can be realised.”

The multi-million-pound funding needed to develop the concept, if given the go-ahead, would be provided by SSF’s Norwegian owner Norskott Havbruk AS.

SalMar ASA’s ocean farm cost £60 million and had strong first crop results with high survival, high quality and consistently low lice levels.

Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing welcomed the project.

“This is exactly the kind of landmark inward investment opportunity that Scotland needs to thrive and grow, and I am determined that we seize that opportunity.

“The potential benefits of farming in deeper, more exposed locations have been raised many times over recent years by all sides of the debate.

“So to see Scottish Sea Farms step forward and commit the time and investment involved in exploring that potential here is hugely welcome news.

He said: “Such a concept, if realised, promises significant advances in fish welfare and environmental protection, not forgetting new jobs and business for Scotland, and as such it is something that the Scottish Government is keen to progress in partnership with the relevant regulatory and local authorities.”