CAMPAIGNERS have called for a judicial review following the decision to allow the expansion of a controversial salmon farm in a scenic Highland loch.
The calls come after Highland Council yesterday gave the go-ahead for 46 new underwater cages at the Isle Martin fish farm in Loch Kanaird, near Ullapool, despite nearly 50 objections over fears of pollution and harmful effects on wild salmon and sea trout.
Those opposed to the move are concerned over the farm’s “unsatisfactory” record on seabed pollution, sea lice infestations and its location near rivers used by migrating wild fish.
Campaigners from Protect Wild Scotland (PWS), an action group against salmon farms and wind farms, are now demanding a judicial review after the council chose to ignore 47 representations that were unanimously against the proposal.
“It is unbelievable that Highland Council could have reached this decision as they were well aware of the facts, many of which were detailed in objections by the main wild fish organisations in the country,” said Jenny Scobie, a local landowner and the group’s chair.
“This decision leaves democracy with a big question mark in the Highlands and leaves us no option other than to look into further legal recourse.”
After a freedom of information request, PWS revealed that Wester Ross Fisheries, which operates the salmon farm, has been breaching seabed pollution limits for more than a decade.
Despite this, Sepa, Marine Science Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and local community councils raised no objections.
Wester Ross Fisheries is Scotland’s oldest independent salmon farm, operating since 1977 at sites in Loch Kanaird and nearby Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom. It uses mainly wooden pens to house the fish and currently operates without planning permission under a Crown Estate lease and development consent issued in 2003. The new permission allows a further 46 steel cages to be installed at the Loch Kanaird site for the next ten years.
Don Staniford, director of PWS, said the council’s decision to back the move would mean “the floodgates will be opened to expansion, and wild salmon and sea trout on the west coast are all doomed”.
He added: “It beggars belief that Highland Council can approve this salmon farm expansion despite over a decade of pollution, 100 per cent community opposition, sea lice infestation problems, no current planning permission and its proximity of less than a mile to a salmon river.”
Objections also came from the Salmon & Trout Association, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board, Wester Ross Fisheries Trust, Association of Salmon Fishery Boards and the Rivers & Fisheries Trusts of Scotland.
Other critics of the scheme include the family of West End lyricist Sir Tim Rice, whose Dundonnell Estate lies close to the fish farm.
Donald Rice, son of the man behind Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, wrote to Highland Council claiming salmon from nearby rivers had been found smothered in up to 500 lice.
“We are past crisis point,” said Mr Rice. “Government agencies pass the buck and the law is not remotely stringent enough.”