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Council / Relief among fishermen as Yell Sound stays clear of salmon farm developments

Shetland’s largest salmon farming company Scottish Sea Farms expressed its disappointment and said the potential of the area’s masterplan has not been realised

The Sullom Voe harbour area. Map: NAFC Marine Centre UHI 2019

SALMON farming will continue to be banned in Yell Sound and the Sullom Voe harbour area for the foreseeable future.

The move was welcomed by the local fishing industry, which has strongly lobbied against the proposal ever since changes to the status started to be considered four years ago.

Scottish Sea Farms, the largest salmon producer in Shetland, called the decision a “missed opportunity”.

On Tuesday, Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) development committee adopted a masterplan for the Sullom Voe harbour area which also recognises the potential of future development opportunities for renewable energy projects in the area.

Nova Innovation has already secured a seabed lease for a large array of tidal energy turbines east of the island off Bigga, in Yell Sound.

Back in 2018, the SIC embarked on several extensive consultation exercises as a result of lobbying by the salmon industry keen to expand production into the area.

Tanker traffic to the port of Sullom Voe has fallen sharply over the years and councillors at the time felt a moratorium that prevented other developments in the stretch of water should be looked at again.

However, any proposals to lift the development constraints that have been in place ever since oil started to be shipped from the port were strongly opposed by the council’s harbour master as well as the local fishing industry which said expanding areas for development would encroach or “potentially damage” fishing in the area.

In addition, with large renewable energy projects on the agenda associated with the ORION project, the council’s own future energy team felt the integrity of the Sullom Voe Terminal should not be compromised by lifting those development constraints.

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Councillors agreed unanimously and without discussion to leave the moratorium in place “at this present time”.

“This is due to the reasons of maintaining safe navigation and operation of the ports of Sullom Voe, inshore fishing interests and too not sterilise future developments potential opportunities relation to ORION and other related projects,” a council report said.

Councillors agreed to review the masterplan again in five years, or sooner if required. The masterplan will become part of the council’s non-statutory planning guidance and has still to be ratified by the last full council meeting before the election on 16 March.

Executive officer with Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) Daniel Lawson said fishermen will be relieved to see their fishing grounds and livelihoods being protected.

“As well as the multi-million pound economic benefit of the fish and shellfish caught in the pristine and productive waters of Sullom Voe and Yell Sound, these inshore areas are also believed to provide important spawning sites and nursery grounds for juvenile fish – essential for sustainable future fish stocks around the isles,” he said.

“Local and national planning policy clearly states that existing fishing activity should be protected, and the industry will be pleased at Shetland Islands Council’s support for the cornerstone of our island economy.”

Scottish Sea Farms’ head of sustainability and development Anne Anderson however called the decision “a real missed opportunity for an otherwise forward-thinking Shetland”.

She added: “The need for food security and green energy provision has never been greater, and the masterplan had the potential to set an inspiring and sustainable vision for the best way forward – potential that hasn’t been realised.

“At a company level, we will continue to think innovatively in our use of shared marine spaces, farming responsibly and engaging with local partners and stakeholders alike to identify synergies that could be of mutual benefit to the islands and Scotland as a whole: from wave, wind and tidal energy generation at farms, to hydrogen use as an alternative to fossil fuels.”

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