UNIQUE, pest-free and fish-friendly – salmon farmers are making big claims as they prepare the first facility of its kind in Scotland.

The big-money sector is worth more than £2 billion to the economy and supports hundreds of jobs within the country’s 2200-head aquaculture industry.

But campaigners say the sector is too big and poses a threat to the country’s wild fish stocks, with the prevalence of killer sea lice – which are also found in nature – the use of chemicals and the the discharge of waste amongst the biggest concerns.

Loch Long Salmon (LLS) say their venture is different. It will use semi-closed farming systems currently gaining popularity in Norway to “exclude sea lice, catch most of

the organic waste and improve the health and welfare of the farmed stock”. The move is the first of its kind in the country. While operations are being announced today for the Beinn Reithe site on the Argyll waters, five others are also under consideration.

LLS director Stewart Hawthorn, formerly of major trout producer Dawnfresh, says the system is an “innovative solution”.

He told The National: “We can’t keep doing what we are doing now.”

The farming method keeps fish separate from the ocean environment by surrounding the farm with an impermeable bag. Deep water free from juvenile lice and harmful plankton is pumped into the farming enclosure using energy efficient low-head pumps.

Hawthorn said: “I’m looking forward to farming fish in ideal conditions in the natural ocean environment. By using this type of farming system, we will have healthier fish that do not need to be constantly treated for sea lice. This means that the fish can be left to grow in a stress-free, clean environment. Salmon farming has been vital for Scotland’s rural economy. By using these low impact systems, we will ensure that the industry continues to prosper and support the livelihood of people in our rural environment.”