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December 14, 2016

COAST take to the water

As the Scottish Government’s oft stated ambition to empower communities begins to grow arms and legs with an ever increasing array of initiatives – not least the Community Empowerment Act coming into force next month – there are going to be times when it cuts across ‘business as usual’ for other parts of Government. It’s at times like these that Scottish Government will have to decide how truly committed it is to putting communities in the driving seat. One west coast community took to the water in a flotilla of small boats and kayaks to make their point

The Scotsman

Campaigners have been making waves with a water-borne protest against plans for a major salmon farm expansion in a pioneering marine conservation area off Arran.

Environmentalists and concerned members of the local community jumped aboard boats and kayaks to demonstrate their opposition to the proposals, which they have branded “short-sighted and unsustainable”. They claim increasing the size of the scheme will pose an unacceptable threat to wild sea life from deadly diseases and parasites, greater use of chemical treatments and a rising tide of fish sewage.

COAST’s Andrew Binnie asks, ‘What is the point of community supported Marine Protected Areas, the Government’s Community Empowerment and proposed Islands Acts if the locals are ignored at the first sign of short-term financial gain? People on Arran and in many other West coast communities want to be at the heart of long-term sustainable and imaginative development. Unsolicited fish farm applications are a distraction. These farms are undermining community aspirations for revived and healthy seas that support a more resilient marine economy’.

The Scottish Salmon Company (SSC), an internationally owned fish farming firm, has applied to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for permission to increase the scale of its operation in Lamlash Bay. The farm’s open-pen cages are situated within the newly designated South Arran marine protected area (MPA) and close to Scotland’s first ever no take zone – an area where fishing is banned to protect important marine species. The SSC, registered in Norway, operates 40 fish farms around Scotland and accounts for around a fifth of the country’s salmon production.

Now bosses want to increase the depth of cages and up the number of salmon they rear in the bay by 50 per cent.But campaigners have condemned the move, claiming it will contaminate the local marine environment. The protest comes just days after SSC reported a quarterly loss in profits due to “exceptional” numbers of fish deaths and biological challenges. Andrew Binnie, executive director of Community of Arran Seabed Trust, the conservation group behind Lamlash Bay’s no take zone, says locals will do everything in their power to block the plan. “We will pursue all available options to prevent this unwelcome expansion,” he said. The group insists it is “not compatible” with the conservation and restoration of globally important marine features in the MPA, such as maerl beds and seagrass meadows. Stuart Turner, of Lamlash Improvements Association, added: “Our government is jeopardising our natural resources by allowing multinational fish farms to expand within protected areas.”  Barbara L’Anson, from volunteer group Arran Eco Savvy Community, says members will be “disappointed” if official consent is granted. Politicians and campaign groups along Scotland’s west coast have also lent their support to the protest. Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said: “This application could have dire consequences for the MPA network as a whole and that is why I will be pushing the government to call in this decision so that it can be reviewed and given the attention it deserves.”

The Scottish Government has said it will consider calling in the application to be decided by ministers. A decision is expected in the next few days. A spokesman for SSC said: “We are committed to sustainability and take our environmental responsibilities very seriously. Our focus is long-term sustainable development and we are sensitive to the different environmental conditions specific to each of our sites, working to stringent industry best practice.”