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Marine / Growing concern from fishermen about displacement from traditional grounds, SFA says

It comes as two large salmon farms are proposed in Shetland, including one off Vementry which could impact inshore fisheries

Photo: Cooke Aquaculture Scotland

A WARNING has been made that the voice of inshore fishermen is being “hushed by the promises of higher earnings” from other developments like salmon farms.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) officer Sheila Keith said the organisation’s members are “increasingly concerned” about activities that displace fishermen from their traditional grounds.

It comes as two large salmon farms are proposed for Shetland – one off Vementry, and the Billy Baa development on the westside.

The Cooke farm off Vementry would see 12 x 120 metre salmon installed pens as part of the £5 million development.

Billy Baa, planned by Scottish Sea Farms, would feature nine 160m salmon pens and one 120m pen, and it could cost around £4 million.

Both companies say they plan to relinquish existing sites as part of the process; Cooke for instance is considering ceasing its operations at its existing farm at East Aith Voe.

For both developments public events have been held by the developers as plans progress.

Regarding the Vementry farm, the SFA had encouraged any fishermen who may be affected by the plans to have their say.

Keith said the site under investigation for development would “impact on all aspects of inshore fisheries” including shellfish, demersal and pelagic species.

“What is of particularly importance is displacement from fisheries which simply cannot take place elsewhere, for example, scalloping,” she told Shetland News.

SFA executive officer Sheila Keith.

“There is only a small proportion of Shetland’s inshore seas suitable for scalloping so any displacement will result in lost revenue and undue pressure on other fishing grounds.”

Keith said as larger developments are proposed it is “only right that the cumulative impact of projects that increase aquaculture activities in Shetland’s inshore waters be fully assessed”.

She added that this assessment should include displacement of fishing effort, subsequent impact on earnings and the potential impact on the natural eco-system.

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Keith also said that new developments often come with the offer of relinquishing other sites, but these may be taken up by other aquaculture interests, therefore putting more pressure on inshore waters.

“With the government considering management measures for fisheries, such as the mooted ‘inshore cap’ our members, appeal that all seafood producers be given the space to succeed in a sustainable matter,” she added.

“For now, it feels like the voice of inshore fishermen is hushed by the promises of higher earnings from other developments.”

Meanwhile chair of the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) Alastair Cooper said the location of the proposed Vementry salmon farm is subject to “heavy fishing”.

Alastair Cooper. Photo: Shetland News

He also said that due to the depth of the water the anchors of the cages would be spread out, taking up a large area of the seabed.

“I think in fairness the shell fishermen are keen to see the salmon industry survive, because it’s a major part of the Shetland economy, but at the same time they’re not wanting to lose precious fish grounds,” Cooper added.

On a wider level the SSMO chair said there could be “less aggravation” if the salmon industry rationalised and relocated some farms to other sites.

“There’s no two ways about it – I think the two needs to co-habit, but on a basis of recognising where each is trying to make their living,” Cooper said.

Vementry salmon farm developer Cooke has held pre-application discussions with the SFA and SSMO.

Cooke Aquaculture Scotland communications manager Murray Spooner said: “We are in the pre-application period regarding the proposed development to the north of the island of Vementry, in St. Magnus Bay, Shetland.

“We initiated early and comprehensive engagement with a wide range of marine stakeholders and Cooke Aquaculture Scotland is currently collating and considering all stakeholder feedback to inform the future direction of the project.”

Meanwhile Scottish Sea Farms’ head of sustainability and development Anne Anderson said: “We’re always keen to engage with interested parties.

“It’s the single best way of explaining the shared benefits of our move to consolidate our estate into a smaller number of farms, with fewer pens, sited in the most suitable environments.

“With this in mind, we have already held, and will continue to hold, community consultation events throughout the application process. Equally, we’re just as happy to answer any questions in between times – whatever and whenever is most helpful.”

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