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Marine / Salmon company criticises MSP’s ‘ill-informed’ views on proposed new Shetland farm

However Green MSP Ariane Burgess said there is a need to reduce salmon farming’s environmental impact

Yell Sound. Photo: Scottish Sea Farms

A LEADING salmon company has described a Highlands and Islands Green MSP as “ill-informed” after she gave her reaction to a proposed large new development in Shetland.

Scottish Sea Farms, which own the most salmon sites in Shetland, has responded resolutely to Ariane Burgess after the MSP questioned the sustainability and environmental impact of the proposed Fish Holm farm.

Plans emerged recently for a new £8 million salmon farm which would feature 200m pens – the largest ever in Shetland.

Developer Scottish Sea Farms said the fish farm, which would be located in the waters between Mossbank and Lunna Ness, would result in consents for four other sites being consolidated into one.

But the move has drawn concern from Burgess, whose party has previously called for a moratorium on new salmon farms particularly over environmental concerns.

“The proposals from Scottish Sea Farms would secure consents for 6,000 tonnes of farmed salmon,” she told Shetland News.

“This would all be located at Fish Holm, a site which failed every seabed quality survey carried out, when it farmed just 2,000 tonnes of salmon.

“How will it be possible to sustainably stock 6,000 tonnes at the same location?

“6,000 tonnes of farmed salmon would produce the same amount of waste as a town 10 times the size of Lerwick. It would be a marvel if all of that untreated waste did not damage seabed habitats and marine ecosystems.

“Scottish Sea Farms say they are moving salmon farms into the best growing locations, but this will not reduce the quantity of chemical, medical and faecal outputs damaging our seas – although it may reduce the number of jobs they provide.”

Scottish Sea Farms head of sustainability and development Anne Anderson. Photo: Scottish Sea Farms

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But Scottish Sea Farms has come out firing, claiming Burgess is spreading “misconceptions”.

The company said it hosted Burgess at a Shetland farm site in 2021, where it was able to address similar “misconceptions” about issues like medicine use, sea lice management and fish waste.

It added that it has had no contact with Burgess since the visit despite the offer for further dialogue.

Speaking to Shetland News, Scottish Sea Farms’ head of sustainability and development Anne Anderson said in response to Burgess’ views on Fish Holm: “It’s more than a little alarming that an elected official, from a party whose slogan is ‘For people, for planet’, can remain so resolutely ill-informed about a sector that has one of the lowest carbon footprints in farming, has minimal impact on the environment and is the second biggest employer in the Shetland Islands.

“We would urge Ms. Burgess to bring herself up to speed with the previous modelling regime she refers to, its failings, and the new, improved regime introduced – all of which is publicly available – and we would be happy to host her out on farm, as we have done before, to address these latest claims.”

The company said Burgess had referred to old data when speaking about previous seabed quality surveys and production figures, which it said were under a different regulatory framework.

It said the new framework introduced in 2018/19 shows that updated modelling finds that Fish Holm would be capable of hosting “considerably more than the 6,000 tonne consent being applied for”.

The company also took aim at the claim that 6,000 tonnes of farmed salmon would produce the same amount of waste as a town ten times the size of Lerwick.

It said that to compare “organic fish faces to human excrement […] demonstrates a lack of understanding”.

The company said what comes out of an urban water waste treatment system is “vastly different” to organic fish faeces, particularly as staff know what the fish are consuming.

Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands Ariane Burgess.

It added that given the “high energy” location of Fish Holm, waste would be dispersed by the current rather than settle on the seabed.

Scottish Sea Farms also said consolidating sites into a smaller number of farms is a “deliberate move” to reduce medicine use further by “maximising fish health” and decreasing the interventions needed.

It said in the last five years it has already reduced its annual medicine use from 30.4kg to 12.8kg, something it says is ongoing through “alternative fish health treatments and innovation”.

When it comes to the impact consolidating sites into one could have on jobs, Scottish Sea Farms said there is “simply no truth” to the claim Fish Holm could reduce the number of roles it provides.

It said all existing jobs would be protected, with employees transferring to Fish Holm, and that it anticipates the number of direct and indirect jobs to increase over the coming years.

In response Burgess said: “Scottish Greens will always stand up for people, for planet. That’s why the Bute House Agreement states that aquaculture ‘must operate within environmental limits and with social licence and ensure there is a thriving marine ecosystem for future generations’.

“That means there is a need to reduce salmon farming’s environmental impact, which is well-documented by independent research.

“The Scottish Government’s Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture sets out a number of improvements that will need to be made by producers, supported by improved regulation, innovation, spatial planning and community engagement.”

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