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Marine / Planning consent given for £4m salmon farm

The area where the salmon farm could be located. Photo: Scottish Sea Farms

A PROPOSED £4 million-plus salmon farm in Shetland has been granted planning consent.

Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) said its Billy Baa project – to be located to the west of South Whiteness – is part of a drive to “modernise and consolidate its estate into fewer but larger farms, sited in the best growing locations”.

It has now been awarded planning approval by Shetland Islands Council, with a total of 17 conditions attached to the consent.

The salmon farm would feature nine 160m salmon pens and one 120m pen, and create at least six new jobs.

The biomass that is being proposed is just over 4,000 tonnes.

SSF said four existing consents to farm in the more sheltered, shallower waters of Sandsound Voe – Brei Geo Inshore (1,209 tonnes), Brei Geo Offshore (2,635 tonnes), Sandsound Voe (100 tonnes) and Sandsound Bixter (1,000 tonnes) – will be surrendered.

“In their place will be one new farm, Billy Baa (4,091 tonnes), sited slightly further offshore where hydrodynamic modelling found there to be even better growing conditions, but without any increase to overall environmental load,” a company spokesperson said.

There is also a condition from the planning service that the nearby Fore Holm site is relinquished, due to its proximity to the Billy Baa site.

During the planning process there was representation from a group of local anglers who believed the siting of the farm at the mouth of Weisdale Voe would cause “further damage to the runs of wild salmon and sea trout” in the area such as the Weisdale and Strom burns.

They said there is scientific evidence that sea lice from fish farms have a detrimental effect on wild salmonoids.

The anglers – who suggested the development be moved to a different location – added that it is their belief that a salmon farm in the Billy Baa site “could result in extinction of these vulnerable fish in this area where Shetland’s only two sustainable salmon populations are struggling for survival”.

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The WildFish charity, formerly known as Salmon and Trout Conservation, also expressed similar concern.

SSF said in response that it endeavours to achieve a target of zero escapes across all of its sites.

It noted that the development may increase the risk to local wild salmonoids “should sea lice not be effectively managed” but added that consolidation of sites should allow for a more efficient use of sea lice management resources.

The company also said salmon farming is not the “determining factor” in the decline of wild salmon, as there is a “complex range of reasons” behind this.

The Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) did not object but raised general concern on navigational safety around the site, as well as discarded salmon farm equipment in nearby waters.

One scallop fisherman described the general area from Scalloway north to Sandsound/Weisdale as “a minefield” of discarded anchors, ropes, wires and other salmon farm-related debris.

In response SSF said any equipment identified by a ROV survey would be removed prior to the development of Billy Baa.

The Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council had no comment to make on the application, and there were no objections from the Sandsting and Aithsting Community Council.

Commenting on the planning consent, Scottish Sea Farms’ head of sustainability and development Anne Anderson said: “By combining four smaller consents into one location, equipped with fewer but larger pens, we’re seeking to maximise water exchange and oxygen levels – two key factors supporting fish growth – in and around the farm.

“It will also be a more efficient approach to farming this stretch of Scalloway’s waters, enabling the team to concentrate their time, skill and resources in one location, further boosting fish health, welfare and survival.”

Those local to the area will not see any change for some time yet, however.

SSF said the next step is to secure the SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) CAR licence which, if awarded, will set permitted levels on fish volumes and veterinary medicines in order to minimise any environmental impact from the farm.

“These levels will be informed by the capacity of the marine environment to disperse materials and any local sensitivities,” Anderson said.

Should the SEPA CAR licence be granted, the farm is likely to be stocked with its first fish in 2026.

“Our policy has always been to secure the relevant approvals and licences first, before ordering the farm infrastructure or assigning fish,” Anderson said.

“We don’t assume anything; the planning and consenting process is there for a reason.

“Should we be successful, however, we would hope to be in a position to be stocking Billy Baa in 2026.”

Scottish Sea Farms also has a second proposed new development, Fish Holm in Yell Sound, under consideration by Shetland Islands Council.

This would consolidate four existing farms into one further offshore.

It would present a potential investment of around £8 million and would feature the largest pens ever used in Shetland at 200m circumference.

This is one of two planning notifications that are helping to trial a new licensing and consenting process for salmon farms.

Under the new process, local authority planners and SEPA work together to review submissions in consultation with key stakeholders, rather than each body considering the applications separately, which is what currently happens.

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