PLANS for a giant underground salmon farm in Shetland have been proposed by a Norwegian company.

Norwegian Mountain Salmon A/S have entered into discussions with landowners and Shetland Islands Council to scope out whether Fora Ness on Shetland’s mainland is a suitable site for the project, according to the company’s chief executive Bård N Hjelmen.

The company is also looking at a site at Mealista near Uig in Lewis.

The plans consist of drilling large tunnels into the rock which would house up to 112 large fish tanks, which could produce up to 45,000 tonnes of salmon every year.

“We are now investigating the sites in Lewis and in Shetland, and then we are going to decide which of the two locations we are going to go forward with first,” Hjelmen said.

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Hjelman added that the company would invest more than £300 million between the start of construction in 2028 and full production in 2035.

The farmed salmon industry in Scotland has faced considerable criticism for its environmental impacts.

Intensive salmon farming in open nets can result in the spread of diseases and sea lice to wild fish.

Farmed escapees can also interbreed with wild populations of salmon, whose populations have plummeted.

Indeed, last year saw the lowest catch for wild Scottish salmon on record.

However, the Norwegian company believes land-based salmon farming represents a solution to the industry’s negative environmental impacts.

It lists no sea lice or escapees, separate biological zones and effective treatment systems as benefits of land-based farming and added that they were surprised nobody in Scotland was doing it already.

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Hjelman added that Scotland had the optimal water temperature profile for land based through-flow salmon farming.

The company believes that the system of locating tanks below seawater level and taking water from around 50-metres of depth would result in a more sustainable product.

When asked by Shetland News how drilling deep holes in the rock could be financially feasible, chief technology officer William Vossgård said: “In Norway tunnelling is well known and there is a lot of expertise.

“Tunnelling is not that big an exercise for Norwegians, and it is less stone to move than excavating the whole site”.