Plans to create a massive new salmon farm off the coast of a remote Hebridean island have sparked controversy.
Norwegian firm Mowi, the world’s largest farmed salmon producer, has laid out plans to create an eight-cage organic fish farm off the coast of Canna in the small Isles.
The new facility would cover more than 16,000 square metres, making it the biggest in the UK, housing thousands of tonnes of farmed fish.
But fears have been raised over the impact of the development on wildlife and the marine environment.
Government nature agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has warned that the giant farm could have “significant environmental effects” on seabirds, marine mammals are rare shellfish in the area, which is covered by several different environmental protections.
Fish farming is worth around £1 billion to the Scottish economy, with salmon the country’s top food export.
Scottish ministers have announced intentions to double annual production, currently around 160,000 tonnes, by 2030. But the industry has come increasingly under fire in recent years due to persistent problems with fish health and environmental pollution.
Conservation and fisheries groups believe open-cage farms harm the marine ecosystem, cause animal suffering and wipe out wild salmon.
A Scottish parliamentary inquiry into the environmental impacts of the industry found “insufficient evidence” to halt expansion.
The Scottish Government recently relaxed planning rules in an attempt to push farm sites further offshore and cut their ecological impact.
According to SNH, “Particularly sensitive features in relatively close proximity include fan mussel aggregations; northern sea fan and sponge communities; white cluster anemone and horse mussel beds.”
The site is also close to two identified haul-outs for seals, which are known to cause problems for fish farms.
Geraldine MacKinnon, chair of Canna Development Trust, which oversees the economic investment strategy for the island, said locals are split over the proposal and will be holding further talks with Mowi.
She said. “It’s a massive decision, so people just want to take their time.”