A ROW has erupted over plans to build a new type of fish farm in the waters of a Scottish loch.

Loch Long Salmon (LLS) is aiming to construct a fish farm using “semi-closed containment systems” (SCCS) – which would be a first for Scotland – next to Shuna Island in Loch Linnhe.

Objections from activist group Long Live Loch Linnhe (LLLL) include the location of the site, claims around the technology involved, and the impact on the environment.

Speaking to the National, both sides pointed to work by CtrlAqua, an aquaculture research centre in Norway which produced its eighth and final annual report in August.

LLS managing director Stewart Hawthorn quoted that report, which states: “We have concluded that the tested systems work as intended regarding health, welfare and performance. They have no lice, and the fish do not escape.”

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But LLLL campaigner Jane Hartnell-Beavis highlighted that the CtrlAqua chair, Trond Rosten, had said in April that “there are still some uncertainties that mean that there is higher risk associated with working on [SCCS] facilities compared to [traditional farms]”.

Semi-closed systems see fish housed in nets within impermeable enclosures. Fresh water is pumped into the system from 20 metres below the surface – where problematic sea lice do not live – in order to reduce a reliance on chemicals for controlling the pests.

Waste and excrement exits the net but is held by the impermeable enclosure (below), where it sinks to the bottom and can be pumped out and used, for example as fertiliser.

The National: A diagram of semi-closed aquaculture technology by FiiZK that would be used by Loch Long Salmon (Credit: FiiZK)

LLS has asserted that it could extract as much as 85% of the waste from the system, but Hartnell-Beavis said there are serious questions about that claim.

She told the National: “They've had to admit themselves that … nowhere on the planet has anyone ever achieved 85%. It's an aspiration.

“A company called Akvafuture in Norway that had been experimenting with waste extraction, has published their operational data. We got from their data that they were managing to extract 6 to 7% – not 67 – 6 to 7%.”

Hartnell-Beavis raised concerns that Sepa had granted a licence for a similar SCCS on Loch Long with the 85% figure in mind, and said activists had written to the government body about it.

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The Loch Long application, in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, has been “called in” by Scottish ministers after an initial rejection from the park authority. A final decision from the government is expected in the new year.

But Hawthorn argued that the 85% figure was “absolutely realistic”.

“Don't believe me on that because I would say that, believe Sepa on it,” he said. “They’re the regulator which has got a duty of care to the environment.

“The process was quite involved and took many months of work with significant input from Sepa to check the methodology that was being used to come up and to develop this confidence.”

The National: Stewart Hawthorn is the managing director of Loch Long Salmon

Hawthorn (above) said he had visited the Akvafuture site over the summer, and they were “now at 40 to 50% waste capture”.

He said the visit “actually reassured me that the work that we've done is accurate” because LLS aims to use adaptations in the system which are not present in Norway.

However, Hartnell-Beavis raised concerns that the farm would have to be built before data could show whether 85% was unachievable – and by then the damage would be done.

“All the amazing creatures that are on the sea bed and the marine environment, they would be just showered with poo,” she said. “Really, I mean completely obliterated.

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“We've got 8000 tonnes [of salmon per year]. It's the equivalent of 11,000 cows. Even at 85%, that's 15% of 8000 tonnes. The equivalent of a 1200-tonne farm with 100% pollution into the loch.”

Hartnell-Beavis added: “The least-worst-case scenario is that you have severely polluted the loch. You have dumped thousands of tonnes of concrete on our shoreline. You have had huge lorries going backwards and forwards. You've wrecked our loch.”

However, Hawthorn argued that the Loch Linnhe application would see a farm built near to many others, meaning it would “fit in with the environment rather than spoil the environment”.

He went on: “I think my vision for the west coast of Scotland is very, very different from the [LLLL group]. Their vision seems to be a very narrow focus on tourism. I'm not against tourism – I don't think this project would affect tourism at all – but I do think we need to have a balanced economy.

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“If Scotland ever wants to be a stand-alone nation then we need a strong economy and we need to use the resources that help us be successful. I think our ocean is one of our key strategic resources. It’s about how we use it and, for me, using innovation that improves fish health and reduces environmental impact is really important.”

LLS has submitted a Proposal of Application Notice to Argyll and Bute Council notifying it of intentions with regards to the Loch Linnhe site.

The proposed farm would include eight SCCS, each approximately 50m in diameter. This is a similar size to other open-net enclosures currently in use in Scotland.