More than 340 people have signed a petition backing a tiny island’s fight against plans to site a large salmon farm on the sea route to Staffa.
The five-strong community of Gometra claim their safety will be at risk if they have to sail home in exposed waters, navigating around the 16 cages – each one 32 metres in diameter – proposed by the Scottish Salmon Company.
Residents on Gometra fear that 100 acres of sea will be privatised for the “factory farm.”
However, the company says, if the plan is approved, the navigation marker exclusion zone for boats would be determined by the Northern Lighthouse Board on safety grounds.
The Save Staffa Archipelago petition, which is collecting signatures online, objects to the planned site north of Gometra, an island just 2.3 miles from Staffa. It also questions a second plan by the company to site a 14 cage fish farm at Ardmeanach, on Loch Scridain, Mull – on one of the sea routes to Iona.
Opponents fear that, as well as being a blight on internationally renowned scenery, the farm will use anti-seal sonar equipment that will scare off basking sharks and bottle-nosed dolphins, which the area’s tourism is dependent on.
Iain Munro, 58, of Gometra, who has farmed in the area for 27 years, has more practical concerns.
He says the half-hour journey to his home island, protected by the shoreline from Ulva Ferry, on Mull, will be longer and more dangerous as residents will be forced into exposed waters to circle the fish farm.
He said: “We use a 23ft boat and can be caught out at night if there is a breeze. This farm would mean you would have to sail around another 100 acres. Most of the fishermen I know have all been caught up in ropes from fish farm cages, so to take a chance at night is not going to be safe.”
Roc Sandford, who owns the isle of Gometra, said the plan was “out of scale”.
He added: “We are 2.3 miles from Staffa here and about three miles from the Treshnish Isles and I have always felt that the Staffa Archipelago had to be seen as a whole. If you start eroding the wild land values that people experience on their way to Staffa you erode the value of Staffa.”
The Staffa Archipelago lies within the Loch Na Keal National Scenic Area, and Mr Sandford said: “I think this is an internationally valuable resource and it needs our protection. In my view, if there is anywhere you shouldn’t put a salmon farm, it is in the Staffa Archipelago, the wildlife is important, the landscape is important.”
Four new jobs would be created at the Gometra site and four at Loch Scridain, with the venture forecasting £1.5-2 million of investment for the local economy.
Dr Stewart McLelland, chief executive of The Scottish Salmon Company, said the company has pledged to invest £40m in five years across the West Coast and Scottish islands, to increase production to 40,000 tonnes and boost growth at existing sites.
Dr McLelland said: “To do this, we need to develop 10 new farm sites and provide 100 much-needed, high-quality new jobs for rural communities and we are confident that the proposed Ardmeanach and Gometra farms can play a successful part and provide a multi-million pound boost for the economy of Mull.”